Thursday, December 30, 2010

Personal holiday

Name Day: 40 years ālīesan

1. to loosen, deliver, set free, let loose; liberate
2. to redeem, ransom

And happy birthday to Wren House: 25 years

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Journey through the US: 'untouchable subjects'

Through a Windshield Darkly
Canadian writers drive in search of the American identity
An empire rarely changes its mind simply because it fails. It is driven by a larger sense of its own destiny, no matter how stupid that is. -- John Ralston Saul
Excerpts from a review by Mark Frutkin, in the Literary Review of Canada (Dec. 2010):

Most Canadians will admit to considerable ambivalence in their feelings about America... In Breakfast at the Exit Cafe, an engaging travelogue by two of Canada's esteemed writers, we gain a front-seat view, literally through the windshield... Wayne Grady and Merilyn Simonds begin their journey in Vancouver, deciding to return to their home in eastern Ontario by driving their Toyota Echo through America in a 15,000 kilometre U, passing through 22 states, taking in much of the western and southern and some of the eastern United States...

Simonds and Grady point out that Americans manifest one distinct difference [from Canadians] -- many tend to remain blind to the rest of the world, which neatly dovetails with their belief that the U.S. is the centre of the universe, the only remaining great power, the world's saviour. Manifest destiny is still the guiding spirit of America. It is God's country, after all. Why would anyone ever want to live anywhere else? Isn't this, they insist, not only the greatest nation in the world, but (as I have heard it expressed) the greatest in the history of the world?...

A subtext, a dark undercurrent, informs their meetings with Americans. This is something anyone can notice travelling in the U.S., especially in the South. A hearty friendliness is apparent on the surface, and a genuine generosity tends to prevail. However, certain untouchable subjects must not be broached: religion, race, politics, sexuality. And one must never question the place of America in the world. Touch on these subjects and the smile dissolves. They are not up for rational discussion.

Near the end of the book and their journey, Grady writes: 'Partly, I still think what I thought before we made this trip, because those thoughts were based on the image America projects to the outside world: its overweening sense of its own rightness, its casual assumption that it can buy or sell whatever it wants, its ability to proceed as though everything were on the table, its refusal to learn from its own history... It is not anti-American to wish America had been better than it was, or to want it to be better than it is.'

In the early 20th century, Clemenceau also said: 'America is the only nation in history which miraculously has gone directly from barbarism to degeneration without the usual interval of civilization.' An exaggeration, of course, but one with a disturbing modicum of truth.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Poll of Canadians: 'oil received the poorest score'

Feds should clean up energy sector, poll says

Vancouver Sun: A majority of Canadians believe the energy sector is one of the most important parts of Canada's economy, and the federal government should lead the way in 'cleaning' it up by finding alternatives to oil, says a newly released report.

The study, produced for Natural Resources Canada by Decima Research, found that 88 per cent of Canadians were either 'very concerned' (47 per cent) or 'somewhat concerned' (41 per cent) about the environmental impact of energy use and that 87 per cent were 'very concerned' (46 per cent) or 'somewhat concerned' (41 per cent) about the impact of energy production...

Doug Anderson, senior vice-president for Decima Research [wrote] 'They believe that this may not happen without some sort of leadership, with objectives and time frames in place for this transitional process, and ideally, investments made in facilitating this transition.'...

'Participants tended to recognize that this transition may cost them (as consumers and as taxpayers) some money,' said the report. 'But they believed that an investment in this area has the potential for them, and for the country, to benefit, both economically and environmentally in future.'...

Canadians from every region viewed natural resources as being more important to the economy than the manufacturing and service industries... with a majority of respondents (57 per cent) correctly identifying Canada as a net exporter of energy...

When asked about specific energy sources, oil received the poorest score with 89 per cent of Canadians expressing concerns about its environmental impact... When asked to identify Canada's most important natural resource, without prompting, 46 per cent of respondents said water.
Image source here.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Quote for the day

Paul Woodward, War in Context:
With Mossad conducting operations in Iran, Yemen and Somalia, Israel sees itself as an indispensable partner with the United States in the enduring global conflict through which each nation now defines its identity and upon which each has become economically dependent. No two nations on the planet are more threatened by the possibility of peace.

Happy hypertext! Twenty years of W3

World Wide Web turns 20
Toronto Star: Almost exactly 20 years ago, physicist Tim Berners-Lee uploaded the first web page onto the Internet and started a global revolution. Now, there are at least 255 million active websites across all domains, according to the December Netcraft web survey...

'The World-Wide Web (W3) was developed to be a pool of human knowledge and human culture, which would allow collaborators in remote sites to share their ideas and all aspects of a common project,' Berners-Lee said.

But it wasn't called the World-Wide Web that day on Dec. 25, 1990 when Berners-Lee and Robert Caillaiu, a systems engineer, created, which still exists... CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is where Berners-Lee and Caillaiu worked and where, the previous March, Berners-Lee wrote his hypertext proposal.

'The idea was to connect hypertext with the Internet and personal computers, thereby having a single information network to help CERN physicists share all the computer-stored information at the laboratory,' Berners-Lee wrote. 'Hypertext would enable users to browse easily between texts on web pages using links.'...

'The power of the web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect,' Berners-Lee said last year.
Image: The historic NeXT computer used by Tim Berners-Lee in 1990. It was the first web server, hypermedia browser and web editor; source here.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Beautiful ceilings II

Binh Duong province, Vietnam. Gallery here.
The Café showcases the versatility and strength of bamboo. It was built using traditional Vietnamese weaving techniques, without machinery, metal structures, or nails.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Newfound human ancestor roamed Asia

NPR: DNA taken from a pinkie bone at least 30,000 years old is hinting at the existence of a previously unknown population of ancient humans... The pinkie bone in question was unearthed in 2008 from what's called the Denisova Cave. 'The Denisova Cave is in southern Siberia in the Altai Mountains in central Asia,' says David Reich, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School in Boston. 'This bone is the bone of a 6- to 7-year old girl.'

Reich says there were several remarkable things about the group of people this girl is from, a group he and his colleagues call Denisovans. 'On the one hand it's a sister group to Neanderthals, which means that it's more closely related to Neanderthals on average than it is to modern humans.'... As he reports in the journal Nature, the other remarkable finding was that the Denisovans' genome was more closely related to humans currently living in New Guinea than it was to genomes of people in Europe or Asia...

New Human Relative: DNA Says 'Denisovans' Roamed Widely in Asia
AP: Apart from the genome, the researchers reported finding a Denisovan upper molar in the cave. Its large size and features differ from teeth of Neanderthals or early modern humans, both of whom lived in the same area at about the same time as the Denisovans...

Of people now living in Melanesia, about 5 percent of their DNA can be traced to Denisovans, a sign of ancient inbreeding... that suggests Denisovans once ranged widely across Asia... Somehow, they or their ancestors had to encounter anatomically modern humans who started leaving Africa some 55,000 years ago and reached New Guinea by some 45,000 years ago.

Der Spiegel: Some 300,000 years ago [the Denisovans] split off from the branch which eventually developed into the Neanderthals. Whereas the Neanderthals spread westward into ice-age Europe, the Denisovans moved east...

The scientists compared DNA from the Denisova cave with that of modern man... Clear indications of intermingling were only found among the inhabitants of Papua New Guinea. The two types of hominids, researchers believe, must have encountered each other somewhere in Southeast Asia some 30,000 years ago. The two groups must have interbred, perhaps not as a matter of course, but periodically. Later, the modern humans and their genetic dowry moved further south, whence today's Melanesians developed.
Image: Denisovan molar; source here.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Arctic: 'dramatic changes taking place'

Eastern Arctic warming trend alarms scientists

NunatsiaqOnline: Ice has cracked up -- once in a while taking Nunavut hunters with it. Lakes continue to dry up, while permafrost melts and the tundra is greening... Observations from the ground in the Eastern Arctic, from places like Iqaluit... and views taken by satellites at 500 kilometres above the Earth's surface showed... that ice formation in 2010 is abnormally slow...
  • Air temperatures 20C above normal at the beginning of the year in the Baffin Island communities of Clyde River and Qikiqtarjuaq;
  • Large ice cracks south of Resolute Bay last January, which caused a hunter to float off on an ice floe;
  • Other cracks in land-fast ice spreading throughout the High Arctic islands, endangering research stations, causing problems for polar trekkers and swallowing up a Twin Otter.
This past spring, ice on Hudson Bay broke up three to four weeks earlier, and the Nares Strait between Ellesmere Island and Greenland, which usually freezes fast from February to July, never froze up solid.

Weak ice [can] lead to more storms as ice cracks cause water temperatures to warm and then lead to even more ice breakup and more storms in a frightening loop. What's needed is more monitoring with more remote sensing devices...

More monitoring of lakes and other fresh waterways also needs to be done... said Frederick Wrona from the University of Victoria... 'We have dramatic changes taking place,' with the Arctic becoming a place of rain instead of snow,' said Wrona, who predicted that there will be more extreme events like floods in the Arctic's future.
Image: Frobisher Bay; source here.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Quote for the day

John Punter, in The Vancouver Achievement: Urban Planning and Design (UBC Press, 2003):
The city's spectacular natural setting; its attractive residential vernacular and well-treed streets; its relatively smooth transition from railhead and resource-exporting port to provincial corporate centre and now to high-amenity Pacific Rim metropolis; and its sustained postwar prosperity all have provided a platform for the development of an environmentally conscious planning regime since 1970. This regime has stopped freeway intrusions, promoted neighbourhood conservation, replaced redundant industrial and port lands with new high-density residential neighbourhoods, reclaimed the waterfront for public use, and reinforced the diversity, vitality, and attractiveness of its downtown and inner neighbourhoods. Vancouver has achieved an urban renaissance more comprehensively than any other city in North America.
John Punter is Professor of Urban Design in the Department of City and Regional Planning, Cardiff University, Wales.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

We trashed Mars first

'Are We All Martians?'
DER SPIEGEL: NASA scientists have discovered strange bacteria in California's Mono Lake. The microbes incorporate arsenic, which is usually poisonous for life forms, into their cells. Are they originally from another planet?

Dirk Schulze-Makuch [Geologist, Washington State University]: No, that can be ruled out. The arsenic bacteria also did not arise independently from the other organisms on Earth. Like all microbes, they multiply best when there is enough phosphorus around. They only use arsenic when there is not sufficient phosphorus...

SPIEGEL: What does this discovery mean for the search for extraterrestrial life-forms?

Schulze-Makuch: ... If we can find such exotic organisms on Earth, what strange beings could exist on other planets? We have to free ourselves from the idea that life-forms will resemble what we know from Earth... When we send space probes to other worlds, we should expect the unexpected. Life can appear anywhere: in poisonous seas or in hot clouds.

SPIEGEL: Where could the resistant arsenic bacteria thrive?

Schulze-Makuch: Arsenic-eating microbes would probably feel very at home on our neighboring planet, Mars. Its conditions are well suited to them... However, it could be that any life-forms on Mars aren't actually aliens, but are related to us...

Almost 4 billion years ago, Mars was a planet well suited to sustaining life, with massive rivers and lakes. Back then, the first primitive organisms appeared on Earth. These single-cell life-forms probably made it to our neighboring planet Mars by way of meteorites and established themselves there. It is possible that descendants of these primitive bacteria could have survived in nooks and crannies on Mars until today. Equally fascinating is the opposite possibility: Life could have started on Mars and then, via a meteorite, made its way to Earth. That would raise the question: Are we all Martians?
Image: Mono Lake; source here.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Solstice eclipse of the Moon

This year Winter Solstice is heralded by a total eclipse of the Moon -- the first time these two celestial events have coincided in 456 years. The next lunar eclipse is June 15, 2011, but North America will be turned the wrong way. Another, on December 10, 2011, will be interrupted by moonset and sunrise. The next total lunar eclipse for North America won't be until April 14-15, 2014.

So carpe diem! Or, um, noctem.

NASA Eclipse website: for information, chats, and live streaming.
Time Zone Converter:
In Vancouver, totality starts 11:41 pm tonight, ends 12:53 am Solstice morning.

CBC: If you were to stand on the moon's surface looking up at the sky, you would see Earth hanging above, nightside down, and completely hiding the sun behind it. Rather than being completely dark, the Earth's rim would appear as if it were on fire. Around its circumference, you would be seeing every sunrise and every sunset in the world at the same time.

This surrounding light will actually beam right into Earth's shadow, giving it a rusty glow. From the Earth, the moon would appear as a giant red orb because the only sunlight visible is refracted through the Earth's atmosphere.
Source of images: Mr.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Quote for the day

John Ralston Saul:
At key historic moments every society burns into its unconscious the outline of patterns for agreement and disagreement. These become the civilizational model and remain in place for centuries. The spring of 1849 was the defining moment for modern Canada. On one side was the European monolithic model, the colonial party, loyal to whatever empire was dominant, provided that this loyalty brought them power, income and psychic comfort -- power and income without real responsibility. Like all colonial elites they were pessimistic about their own capacity as elites to think and act in a manner appropriate to this place.

On the other side was a democratic movement that sought to develop new approaches to the public good. In Canada that meant loyalty to an unprecedented idea of complexity, which in turn means that everyone, leaders in particular, would have to discipline themselves through restraint -- restraint as encouragement to a civilization of complexity involving the other. Each Canadian crisis since 1849 has been a replay of these opposing patterns.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Upper class people show empathy 'deficit'

Rich people have no idea what you're thinking
MSNBC: Upper-class people are less adept at reading other people's emotions than their lower-class counterparts, according to a new study published in the journal Psychological Science.

In other words, if you're looking for a little empathy, you're more likely to get it from a poor person than a rich one... 'We found that people from a lower-class background -- in terms of occupation, status, education and income level -- performed better in terms of emotional intelligence, the ability to read the emotions that others are feeling,' said Michael Kraus, co-author of the study and a postdoctoral student in psychology at the University of California, San Francisco.

In a series of studies, more than 300 upper- and lower-class people were asked to interpret the emotions of people in photos and of strangers during mock job interviews. In both cases, those with more education, money and self-defined social status weren't nearly as adept at figuring out if a person was angry, happy, anxious or upset as their lower-class colleagues.

Kraus says that's likely because people from lower-economic backgrounds may have to rely on others for help. 'You turn to people, it's an adaptive strategy,' he says. 'You develop this sort of heightened interdependence with other individuals as a way to deal with not having enough individual resources.'

Upper-class people, on the other hand, don't need to ask for help that often. 'One of the negative side effects of that is that they're less concerned and less perceptive of other people's needs and wishes. They show a deficit in empathic accuracy.'... Kraus admits the results he and his colleagues came up with 'scare us a little bit' but says the effects aren't permanent.

Psychological Science: A final experiment found that, when people were made to feel that they were at a lower social class than they actually were, they got better at reading emotions. This shows that 'it's not something ingrained in the individual,' Kraus says. 'It's the cultural context leading to these differences.' He says this work helps show that stereotypes about the classes are wrong... 'It's all about the social context the person lives in, and the specific challenges the person faces. If you can shift the context even temporarily, social class differences in any number of behaviors can be eliminated.'
Photo source incendiarymind.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Preserved Arctic forest offers climate clues

2-million-year-old 'mummified' forest discovered in Arctic
Postmedia News: A research team probing a melting glacier near Canada's northernmost point of land has discovered a 'mummified' forest that's at least two million years old, with 'perfectly preserved' tree trunks, branches and leaves from a time when the Arctic was transforming from a temperate environment into [an] ecological icebox...

The present-day thaw at the north end of Ellesmere Island -- another sign of the widespread warming now taking hold of Canada's polar frontier -- has served up intact spruce and birch trees believed to have been buried in a landslide during the Neogene period of Earth history between two and eight million years ago.

The U.S. scientists studying the ancient forest, who say the liberation of the long-frozen relics will offer a unique window on a lost world, are also warning that pent-up carbon released from such sites across the Arctic could worsen the modern-day climate change being driven by human activity...

'When the climate began to cool 11 million years ago, these plants would have been the first to feel the effects,' said Joel Barker, an Ohio State University earth scientist, in a summary of the findings. 'And because the trees' organic material is preserved, we can get a high-resolution view of how quickly the climate changed and how the plants responded to that change.'...

His research team unearthed a number of birch and spruce trees, some that had lived as long as 75 years when they were rooted in the once-rich soil of Ellesmere Island millions of years ago. Today, top-of-the world Ellesmere is mainly a home for muskoxen and one of the world's most inhospitable places for humans...

'These trees lived at a particularly rough time in the Arctic,' Barker said. 'Ellesmere Island was quickly changing from a warm deciduous forest environment to an evergreen environment, on its way to the barren scrub we see today. The trees would have had to endure half of the year in darkness and in a cooling climate. That's why the growth rings show that they grew so little, and so slowly.'
Source of images here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Quote for the day

From War is a Lie by David Swanson:

James Gilligan, in his book Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic, diagnosed the root cause of murderous or suicidal violence as deep shame and humiliation, a desperate need for respect and status (and, fundamentally, love and care) so intense that only killing (oneself and/or others) could ease the pain -- or rather, the lack of feeling.

When a person becomes so ashamed of his needs (and of being ashamed), Gilligan writes, and when he sees no nonviolent solutions, and when he lacks the ability to feel love or guilt or fear, the result can be violence. But what if violence is the start? What if you condition healthy people to kill without thought? Can the result be a mental state resembling that of the person who's internally driven to kill?...

The purpose of military training is to make normal people, including normal war supporters, into sociopaths, at least in the context of war, to get them to do in war what would be viewed as the single worst thing they could do at any other time or place.
Image source here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

And now, for some perspective

Powers of Ten (VIDEO)
A film dealing with the relative size of things in the universe and the effect of adding another zero.

This is a screen shot. To view video, go here.

Powers of Ten is a 1968 film adaptation of Kees Boeke's 1957 book Cosmic View: The Universe in Forty Jumps by designers Charles and Ray Eames. A demonstration of scale, the film begins in Chicago at a lakeside picnic and then moves both out to the structure of the universe and inward to the structure of matter, in factors of ten.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Border pact with US 'another lose-lose deal'

Border talks with U.S. fan sovereignty concerns
Less Whittington, Toronto Star: In what could be the biggest challenge to Canadian sovereignty since free trade in the 1980s, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is secretly cooking up a deal with the Obama administration that would give Washington a much bigger say in Canada's border security, immigration controls and information-sharing with American law-enforcement agencies.

John Ivison, National Post: If this deal is not negotiated well, we may inherit the worst of all worlds -- a border that remains 'thick' with security apparatus, as well as increased American presence in Canada's North... This deal has the potential to dramatically alter our relationship with the elephant with which we're obliged to sleep. Canadians should look closely at its details to judge whether the price paid is worth it.

Barrie McKenna, Globe and Mail: The list of barriers seems to grow longer by the month... The United States doesn't fully trust what is done beyond its own borders, by Canadians or anyone else... The perimeter concept will remain a fantasy and a side-show.

Greg Weston, CBC: One highly classified government document... describes various political and communications issues connected with the perimeter security plan. It warns the 'safeguarding of privacy and sovereignty will be of concern to Canadians.' No kidding.

Montreal Gazette Editorial: Hearing the yet another Canada-U.S. security pact is in the world, Canadians could be forgiven for thinking, irritably, that satisfying American security needs has become a never-ending giveaway on their part... The proposed new security pact, called Beyond the Border: A Shared Vision for Perimeter Security and Competitiveness, calls for integration on a scale that could prove a step too far.

Thomas Walkom, Toronto Star: Canadians have little reason to think that the U.S. will be anything less than its by-now usual paranoid self... In short, another lose-lose deal. We give up much; we gain nothing. Very classic.
Image source here.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Microscopic art

Riccardo Taiariol, fourth place: Wasp nest, magnified 10 times.

From the Small World Photomicrography Competition, held annually for more than 30 years. This year the contest received entries from 63 countries.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Canada sank ancient cultures under Persian Gulf

Flood of biblical proportions triggered by massive Canadian melt

Vancouver Sun: A British researcher has published a startling new theory that the remains of untold settlements from a 100,000-year stretch of human history were submerged by the rapidly rising waters of the Persian Gulf around 6,000 BC -- the result, in all likelihood, of a catastrophic, planetwide flood triggered in Canada.

There's a consensus among scientists that the collapse of a kilometres-high glacial dam at the end of the last ice age caused a massive outflow of meltwater into the Arctic or North Atlantic Ocean near Hudson Bay, generating a sharp rise in sea levels around the world and profoundly altering the Earth's climate.

Some scientists have even speculated that ancient myths about great floods -- culminating in the biblical story of Noah's Ark -- were inspired by the worldwide deluge.

But the new theory, advanced in the latest issue of the journal Current Anthropology by University of Birmingham archeologist Jeffrey Rose, offers the clearest picture yet of what may have been lost at the Middle East nexus of human civilization when Canada's super-sized Lake Agassiz -- a remnant of which is today's Lake Winnipeg -- suddenly burst its banks 8,000 years ago.

The resulting rise of the Indian Ocean flooded a Great Britain-sized expanse of the Arabian Peninsula that had previously been above water and was almost certainly inhabited by ancient people for as long as 100 millennia... The flooding of those lands... would have submerged extensive archaeological evidence of key moments in the evolution of the human race, of the initial stages of their eastward migration out of Africa, and of the cultural developments leading to the early civilizations of the Middle East...

[Rose] also referenced groundbreaking studies by University of Manitoba geologist James Teller, whose reconstructions of the colossal drainage of ancient Agassiz -- the meltwater basin that once covered most of Central Canada, and held a volume equivalent to 15 Lake Superiors -- have initiated a wave of new research on outburst impacts ranging from global climate cooling to the origins of agriculture in southern Europe.
Images: Persian Gulf and Lake Agassiz; sources here and here.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Next stop: 'joint security perimeter'

The Toronto Star: Among the cables released [December 5] was a list of critical infrastructure sites outside the United States that the Americans regard as vital to their interests. The list was compiled quietly by embassy workers for the Department of Homeland Security without notifying officials in host countries, including Canada.

Critical infrastructure sites in Canada
This is a screen shot. For interactive map, go here.

March 2005:

December 2010:

EU troops 'only to bow to what US wants'

EU doubts Afghanistan success: WikiLeaks files
CBC News: Leaked memos show European Union President Herman Van Rompuy told the U.S. ambassador to Belgium, Howard Gutman, that the EU no longer believes in the success of the military mission in Afghanistan.

Van Rompuy, a former Belgian prime minister, suggested European troops are still being deployed only to bow to what the United States wants.

'Europe is doing it and will go along out of deference to the United States, but not out of deference to Afghanistan,' he is quoted as saying in a cable posted by the WikiLeaks website [December 5]. In the 2009 memo, Van Rompuy is reported to have said the EU will wait until the end of 2010 to see whether progress is made in Afghanistan.

'No one believes in Afghanistan any more. But we will give it 2010 to see results. If it doesn't work, that will be because it is the last chance. And if a Belgian gets killed, it would be over for Belgium right then,' he says.

Norman Spector, in The Globe and Mail: On the Guardian's front page, we read: 'Britain's four-year military stewardship of the troubled Helmand province has been scorned by President Hamid Karzai, top Afghan officials and the U.S. commander of NATO troops, according to secret US diplomatic cables.' After reading this article about troops that have taken a very high rate of casualties in Afghanistan, my immediate reaction was to wonder what these same Afghans and Americans thought about the sacrifices that have been made by Canadian troops. Sadly, I found an answer of sorts in a brief squib on page 5 of the Guardian:

'Non-U.S. troops can stay home' is the headline in a cable recording a meeting Hamid Karzai had with the U.S. ambassador and Mike Mullen, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, at the end of 2009. Showing his strong preference for U.S. soldiers, in the Afghan president's view the 7,000 extra troops promised by NATO allies as part of the troop surge in 2010 were more trouble than they were worth.

Karzai jokes that it would be better if the countries announced extra troops but did not send them as their contributions were more of a 'headache' than a help. 'Admiral Mullen noted the political significance of these troop commitments, despite the challenges they might entail.'

Some joke. And, from the Americans, more cynicism than some might imagine.
Image source here.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

PISA: Canada's education 'among best in world'

Canadian students enjoy equal education regardless of background: Report
The Canadian Press: A new report ranks Canada's education system among the best in the world with its students performing well regardless of their socioeconomic background. The largest international assessment of reading, math and science in developed economies highlights Canada as a place where 'students tend to perform well regardless of their own background or the school they attend.'

The study from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development places Canada in the top 10 for all three categories, with scores that come in above average.

The highest Canadian score was in reading, where Canuck students ranked sixth. The ministers council ranked Canada fifth in reading because it doesn't consider the two-point difference with fifth-place Singapore to be statistically significant.

When it came to science, Canada placed eighth. Meanwhile, Canada placed 10th in math -- its weakest area --but the country still had above average scores. [The U.S. was 17th in reading, and below average in both science (18th place) and math (a three-way tie for 30th place).]

The Programme for International Student Assessment tests 15-year olds in 65 economies every three years to evaluate the quality, equity and efficiency of national education systems. The study found the best systems were the most equitable, meaning students from disadvantaged backgrounds were just as likely to do well academically.

Canada fared relatively well in this aspect with just 9 per cent of the variation in student's performance related to a pupil's background. That compared to 17 per cent in the U.S. The report also found Canadian 15-year olds on average performed more than one school year ahead in math than their U.S. counterparts.

A video series profiling policies and practices of education systems that demonstrate high or improving peformance in the PISA tests.
Excerpts from summary:
  • Most Canadian high school students do well in education, independently of their socio-economic status.
  • Handling the education challenges facing immigrant children is one of Canada's social and political priorities.
  • The general social environment in Canada is favorable for education. Society is viewed as having collective responsibility for children's educational welfare.
  • Canadian multiculturalism seeks to respect the importance of native cultures while incorporating immigrants into a distinctive Canadian identity.

Monday, December 6, 2010

December 6

For visitors to this post from other countries:
Status of Women Canada: Established in 1991 by the Parliament of Canada, this day marks the anniversary of the murders in 1989 of 14 young women at l'École Polytechnique de Montréal. They died because they were women. As well as commemorating the 14 young women whose lives ended in an act of gender-based violence that shocked the nation, December 6 represents an opportunity for Canadians to reflect on the phenomenon of violence against women in our society. It is also an opportunity to consider the women and girls for whom violence is a daily reality, and to remember those who have died as a result of gender-based violence. And finally, it is a day on which communities can consider concrete actions to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls.
Image source here.

Government of Nova Scotia: The Norwegian vessel SS Imo, carrying Belgian relief supplies, and the French freighter SS Mont Blanc, carrying munitions, collided in Halifax Harbour. The explosion killed more than 1,600 people instantly and injured over 9,000 others, in a metropolitan area of 65,000 people. Schools, churches, factories and private homes were swept away by the force of the explosion. Then hot furnaces and upset stoves ignited the wreckage and large areas were reduced to charred ruins. More Nova Scotians were killed in the explosion than were killed in World War I.
Image: Roome Street School. Eighty-eight students were killed in the explosion. Source here.