Gravity's Rainbow

botany, shoes, books, and justice

March 30, 2015
by sarcozona

Maybe we shouldn’t put the oil in a pipe or on a train

It looks like Keystone XL isn’t going to be built so all that bitumen from the tar sands is going to have to find another way to market. That means oil trains.

Lac megantic wasn’t the only oil train accident, though it was very deadly. Another particularly large accident was in West Virginia recently (it was one of four in just the last few months). Oil trains tend to blow up, burn, and spill lots of crude into local waterways.

Transporting oil is basically always going to carry some risk, but we could mitigate some of this with better regulations. Some crude is worse than others (like the stuff from the Bakken shale in North Dakota) and it could be treated prior to shipment to be less volatile. We should also make sure we’re shipping it in the safest cars with good rules to minimize operator error and collisions.

But tar sands production is quite expensive and shipping bitumen by rail is, too. Once you add in regulations to make it safe to ship, it may not be worth it. Especially since some think taxpayers instead of industry should foot the bill for implementing the regulations:

The issue “starts to revolve around the dollar sign,” Canadian Pacific Railway CEO E. Hunter Harrison told the Wall Street Journal. “Can we do this safer? Yes. But who’s going to pay? If you decide this commodity must be moved in the public interest, then I think all of us have to pay.” [link]

Oil companies already aren’t paying for the massive externalities of their heavily subsidized industry. I think they should cover the don’t blow us up in our beds fee.

The CEO of a railway is concerned about costs because operational regulatory changes could affect their profit margins:

The combined rulemaking has been a sticking point between the railroads, which want stronger tank cars but are more reluctant to embrace operational changes, and tank car owners and manufacturers, which say railroads need to prevent trains from derailing. [link]

I’m not going to comment on the balance of regulatory and cost responsibility between the railroads and oil companies. Instead, I’d like to draw your attention to the hilarity of an oil company criticizing the transport of their product.

In the meantime, we can use our money to switch to renewable energy sources. It’s nowhere near the public interest to support an industry where everything from getting their product out of the ground, to transporting it, to using it has unavoidable and terrible consequences.


You can read proposed regulations for new tank cars in Canada here.


March 28, 2015
by sarcozona

Instead of opening the field for actors of any race to compete for any role in a color-blind manner, there has been a significant number of parts designated as ethnic this year, making them off-limits for Caucasian actors,” complains Andreeva.


The math of Ferguson: percentages don’t show how bad it really is

“What’s our Nature paper?”

Are walking and cycling as green as we imagine?

The other issue is that cars look relatively good because the comparison is on a per kilometre basis. The emissions associated with the manufacture and disposal of cars are averaged over thousands of kilometres annually whereas the sort of trips where you could walk instead of drive might amount to hundreds of kilometres per year.There’s an irony in cars looking relatively better as the number of kilometres of driving – and hence the consumption of fuel – increases! There’s a natural limit to walking so pedestrians use local facilities and make fewer trips than drivers; the difference in the kilometres travelled by walkers compared to drivers is an order of magnitude; and so, therefore, are their emissions.

Researchers may have solved origin-of-life conundrum

The Rojava Spirit Spreads

The HDP is the latest attempt by Turkey’s Kurds to advance their interests by parliamentary means, and plays a crucial role in these talks—not yet negotiations—with its delegates relaying messages to and from Ocalan as he serves out his life sentence in an island prison. The party has much to its credit. A social-democratic bloc of Kurds, secularists, feminists, LGBT activists, and greens with twenty-eight seats in the Turkish national assembly (making it the fourth-largest party), the HDP has roots in the Turkish left of the 1960s and a lineage that goes back to the Democracy Party of Leyla Zana. It advocates equal rights for all minorities (including Alevis and Armenians) and state neutrality on matters of religion, as well as mandating at least one female co-chair at every administrative level and applying a sort of “affirmative action” for LGBT candidates.

Brutal Murder in Bangladesh Highlights Growing Religious Intolerance

A common over-the-counter cough suppressant can boost insulin

Daniele Watts, in her own words.

March 27, 2015
by sarcozona

Who the hell doesn’t know Stromae?

So sometimes I get really sad and dance and somebody wrote a song for that.*

Stromae is kind of insanely famous not-in-America. When he played at SXSW the marketing and crowd were very weird.

All over SXSW, kiosks were plastered with posters that posed a provocative question: “Who the hell is Stromae?”

It’s a question you wouldn’t ask in many places outside North America. The impeccably groomed Belgian singer is a massive global superstar, which created a funny juxtaposition at NPR Music’s SXSW showcase, held at Stubb’s BBQ in Austin, Texas. SXSW is an international festival, so for every curious would-be convert still hanging around after Courtney Barnett’s set, a Stromae superfan was in danger of losing bladder control at the sight of him.

* Actually this mood forms a significant part of my music collection (e.g.). Please post your favourite dance-while-sobbing songs in the comments. I need more.

Migraine Log – latest research edition

March 26, 2015 by sarcozona | 1 Comment

MarchSo January and February I got a lot of migraines. A lot. I don’t know why I’m getting so many. I guess I can be grateful that many of them are not severe.

Here’s a round-up of articles on migraine research that made me feel better than that graph:

March 25, 2015
by sarcozona

Don’t oversell tech or people might get trapped in their car and almost die

Last year, an older couple got trapped in their new car in their own garage. It was a car with a remote keyless system that automatically locked once they got in. But they’d left the smart key outside. It’s a brand new modern car, with this fancy wireless computer system controlling everything from the ignition to the locking to the windows. The salesperson had gone on and on about how secure and convenient this new technology was – how their car was basically non-functional without the smart key. They controlled their car through the smart key. Without it, they couldn’t unlock the doors. The solution to their problem had to involve getting that key, getting someone to get the key.

They couldn’t break the windows or attract anyone’s attention with the horn and eventually they’d used up most of the air. It’s a nice, modern, airtight design. The woman lost consciousness and they were both close to death when neighbours rescued them.

This is the interior of a 2014 Mazda 3.

Interior shot of 2014 Mazda 3 with shot of door. Clearly shows door handle and manual lock.

Interior of 2014 Mazda 3

You’ll notice that it has a perfectly normal manual door handle and lock. All they needed to do to get out of the car was manually unlock and open the door.

And they almost died. They tried to get out for 13 hours. AND THEY ALMOST DIED.

This story is being passed off as hilarious, the people, dumb and feeble-minded with age. And ok, it’s definitely no shining example of brilliance. But I think this sort of thing could happen to many people. When you get used to doing something one way, it becomes very, very difficult to see alternatives, especially if you’re tired and stressed, as these people were. Compounding the situation was the fact that they didn’t understand the technology and its limits. That’s something true of basically all of us in some situations.

And yeah, maybe being older made this situation more likely, but they weren’t failing at using a new technology. They were failing at using a very old technology – manual door locks. The problem was that they had seen so many things change so much (and had been told things had changed so much) that they didn’t expect even car doors to work the same way anymore. If we have the good fortune to get old, we may very well be bewildered by technological change, too.

We should be encouraging good UI and basic understanding of the tech around us and punishing dishonest marketers. Also maybe popping in to visit our neighbors more. It is so easy to be stupid. It would be great if it didn’t kill us.