October 7, 2013
Collective Guilt  

W. G. Sebald, on a physical manifestation of collective guilt:

“And indeed, to this day one sees in Belgium a distinctive ugliness, dating from the time when the Congo colony was exploited without restraint and manifested in a macabre atmosphere of certain salons and the strikingly stunted growth of the population, such as one rarely comes across elsewhere. At all events, I well recall that on my first visit to Brussels in December 1964 I encountered more hunchbacks and lunatics than normally in a whole year.”

“At the far end of the room, in the dim light that entered by the Belgian bulls’-eye panes, sat a hunchbacked pensioner. She was wearing a woollen cap, a winter coat made of thick burled material, and fingerless gloves. The waitress brought her a plate with a huge piece of meat. The old woman stared at it for a while, then produce from her handbag a small, sharp knife with a wooden handle and began to cut it up. She would have been born, it occurs to me now, at about the time that the Congo railway was completed.”

The Rings of Saturn, pp. 123, 127.

September 12, 2011
Everyone Loves a Banker  

“A priest refused to bury the body of a usurer, one of his parishioners, who had died without making restitution. Since the dead usurer’s friends were very insistent, the priest yielded to their pressure and said, ‘Let us put his body on a donkey and see God’s will, and what He will do with the body. Wherever the donkey takes it, be it a church, a cemetery, or elsewhere, there will I bury it.’ The body was placed upon the donkey which without deviating either to the right or left, took it straight out of town to the place where thieves are hanged from the gibbet, and with a hearty buck, sent the cadaver flying into the dung beneath the gallows.” - Jacques de Vitry, Exempla 177, ca. 1215.

An anecdote from David Graeber’s new book “Debt: The First 5,000 Years

June 7, 2010
Book Reviews  
Now that anyone is free to print whatever they wish, they often disregard that which is best and instead write, merely for the sake of entertainment, what would best be forgotten, or, better still be erased from all books.

Niccolò Perotti, 1471

January 31, 2010
Men of the North  
Colby Cosh has an intriguing piece in the National Post that mentions forthcoming evidence from Pat Sutherland which will strengthen her claim that the Nanook site on Baffin Island is a Norse Settlement.

Sutherland’s original paper was dismantled by University of Waterloo anthropologist Robert Park in an article in Antiquity magazine entitled, “Contact between the Norse Vikings and the Dorset culture in Arctic Canada”.

One line of Park’s attack points to pre-870 A.D. carbon dating of supposed Norse material from the Nanook site. That is the accepted date of first Norse settlement of Iceland and documented in the famous Landnámabók. This would impose a firm time line on any contact further West.

A recent article in The Iceland Review though describes the analysis of physicist Páll Theódórsson which pushes the settlement of Iceland back 200 years. While his work has (as far as I can determine) yet to be thoroughly critiqued by others, it may weaken one aspect of Park’s arguments.

It will be interesting to see how these arguments play out.

December 14, 2009
Book Review  
A hilariously humorless review of Magnus Mills’ “The Maintenance of Headway” from The Socialist Worker.
May 28, 2009
Early Norse Contact on Baffin Island  

“At three sites on Baffin Island, which the Norse called ‘Helluland’ or ‘land of stone slabs,’ and another in northern Labrador, the researchers have documented dozens of suspected Norse artifacts such as Scandinavian-style spun yarn, distinctively notched and decorated wood objects and whetstones for sharpening knives and axes.”

The evidence looks fairly compelling that there was at least some level of contact, which seems reasonable given that they knew the area well enough to give it a name. Interestingly there is evidence of rat droppings which implies Viking ships at Baffin Island as opposed to contact possibly established in the other direction.

An early article states that radio carbon dating on some spun yarn gives a date several hundred years prior to Viking contact, which suggests earlier contact with Europeans than previously thought.

January 25, 2009
81-year-old father of Zacharias Kunuk, director of “Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner” found alive after 28 days  

Okay, this story is over a year old, but I missed it at the time.

Enoki Kunuk headed off to hunt caribou but got his snowmobile stuck by the thaw 100 kilometers from home. The military called of the search for him after more than two weeks, but he was discovered alive and well 10 days later having kept himself fed and sheltered. Not bad for 81.

August 6, 2008
Envisat Image of Foxe Basin  

A beautiful image taken by the ESA’s Envisat satellite. On the right (East) is Baffin Island showing Nettilling Lake which drains via the Koukdjuak River into Foxe Basin.

foxe basin

Nettilling Lake is the largest lake on an island in the world. The two islands in the picture are Prince Charles Island (the largest on the left) and Air Force Island which along with Foley Island (not pictured) are the last large landmasses discovered in North America.

They were only found to be separate islands from pictures taken by aerial overflights by the Canadian Air Force in 1948.

Oddly enough these islands are close by another group, the Spicer Islands, rediscovered in 1946.

A Canadian air-borne expedition to the Arctic has rediscovered the Spicer Islands and a number of hitherto unknown islands under the eaves of the continent. The Spicer Islands were discovered in 1897 by Captain Spicer of New Bedford. They were duly marked on maps and charts but had never since been found and there was doubt of their existence.

New York Times, September 10, 1946

August 5, 2008
Flooding Forces the Evacuation of Auyuittuq National Park  
Unusually warm temperatures coupled with heavy rains caused such extensive flooding in Auyuittuq that 21 hikers had to be evacuated from the park. This follows recent flooding in Pangnirtung that wiped out several bridges. There the flooding bore through the permafrost right down to the bedrock and there was some concern that the entire town could be undermined.
July 31, 2008
Antikythera Mechanism  

The above links to the original letter in Nature describing the new discoveries concerning the Antikythera Mechanism. There is also 40 pages of detailed supplementary material (10 times longer than the article itself!)

Among all the pieces written about it I couldn’t find any that referenced the actual article itself so I thought I’d put one here…

July 25, 2008
Phoenix Lander Location  

Some quick notes on the location of the Phoenix Mars Lander:

It is located at 68.218830°N 234.250778°E (or 68.218830°N 125.749222°W). Using the same prime meridian as Earth this would project onto a spot about 120 miles northwest of Great Bear Lake in the Northwest Territories of Canada.

The Martian Arctic Circle is at 64.81°N, which puts the lander around 3.4° North of the circle. Since Earth’s axial tilt is somewhat less extreme than Mars’ (23.439281° vs 25.19°), Earth’s Arctic Circle is at 66.56083°N.

Keeping the longitude the same, but projecting the position 3.4° North of Earth’s Arctic Circle places the landing spot at the equivalent of a location in Franklin Bay in the Arctic Ocean off the coast of the Northwest Territories.

See the map here.

July 24, 2008
Above the Martian Arctic Circle  
Martian Arctic Sun

The Phoenix Mars Lander took a series of shots of the sun hanging low over the Martian North Pole. With the lander being above the Arctic Circle and it being Summer in the Northern Hemisphere, the montage shows how the sun never dips below the horizon. Beautiful.

More details at the image’s page. The entire gallery of images is here.

June 19, 2008
Polar Bear Shot in Iceland  

For the second time since April a polar bear has made its way the 300km from Greenland. Even though it most likely drifted part of the way on an ice flow, in both cases they must have swum tremendous distances over the open Atlantic.

Polar bears are not native to Iceland. Prior to these two incidences there hadn’t been a bear seen in Iceland in 20 years. More details here, and a map.

April 29, 2008
“The Good Cop” on YouTube  

I updated a previous entry to reference The Good Cop on YouTube now that it is available there.

April 17, 2008
Film adaptation of Magnus Mill’s short story “The Good Cop”  

The above link references an interview with Alan Westaway who directed what I believe to be the first film adaptation of any of writer Magnus Mill’s works. The full 11–minute piece can be viewed for free, but unfortunately only through a custom application. I’m sure this will appear on YouTube at some point. The first minute or so is available as a teaser via flash:

"The Good Cop" is part of the short story collection, once in a blue moon publish by the acorn book company. It's available from Amazon UK but used copies can probably be found in the U.S.

The full text of the story was published online by The Guardian back in April, 2004.

April 14, 2008
Russian North Pole Tourism  

A Russian company will bring tourists to stay at a huge camp near the North Pole. € 10,000 for a 3-day stay:

Currently, the “Barneo” camp located [on] drifting ice flow close to the North Pole point has a 500 people capacity in the period April-May. From next year, the camp will be extended to handle up to 3000 (!?!?!) people.

My God, this is turning into a bigger farce than Mount Everest.

In a related story maybe they won’t be able to stay very long anyway:

The North Pole is at the moment covered only by one-year old ice, all of which will melt in the course of summer.

Baffinland Iron Mine Shipping Concerns  

Igloolik residents are starting to face the inevitable. I put together something on this project before that includes a map.

But nobody knows how the walrus that frequent Foxe Basin will react to the year-round presence of enormous freighters, up to 135,000 tonnes, that could become a daily sight by 2014 if the company’s plans become reality.

Igloolik was the setting for the movie Atanarjuat.

April 6, 2008
A recently published mini interview of Magnus Mills from 1998  
Mills seems to have gone into radio silence since the release of his last book in 2005. Here’s hoping we hear from him again soon.
March 25, 2008
The Decline of the Suburbs  

The article referenced above from The Boston Review explores similar themes to “The Next Slum?” in this month’s Atlantic Magazine.

Is this emerging meme driven by angst from the current housing downturn, or is it the start of a bigger trend? Interestingly, neither article explicitly mentions New Urbanism but both articles hint at forces pointing towards that model.

The Atlantic piece though does include a side-bar reference to the article “Towards a New Urbanism” from 2000. It features and interview with the authors of the book Suburban Nation which I found very illuminating.

March 18, 2008
South Georgia Iceberg Image  

A huge iceberg rends itself atwain off the coast of Shackleton’s resting place:


Iceberg A53A Splitting Apart East of South Georgia Island