Friday, February 4, 2011

Man's Most-Ancientest Best Friend?

Vulpes Vulples Arabica (Photo by Nepenthes)

So, if the Montreal Gazette is to be believed, it looks like mankind may have been domesticating foxes before dogs:

A Canadian-led team of researchers that discovered the oldest cemetery in the Middle East has also unearthed the remains of a red fox — buried alongside a human at the site in northern Jordan — that appears to be the world's earliest-known pet.

The site, by the way, is 16,500 years old.

Of course, it's by no means proven that these foxes were pets. It's possible, for instance, that the foxes were buried with humans for some ritual or religious reason. However, the "pet" deduction does make some sense: foxes are distantly related to dogs, which were almost certainly the first non-livestock critters to be domesticated (there is some neurological proof for this, in that the area of the brain given over to being a domestic is far larger comparatively in dogs than it is in cats). And while it's tricky to domesticate foxes, it's not impossible. It's a bit difficult to imagine foxes being used as hunting animals, but it's possible (and this is mentioned by the researchers in the above article) that they were camp scavengers who simply eventually "moved in."

In any case, it's interesting stuff, and it will become even more intriguing if more human-animal burials are discovered in the area!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Six Weeks Just Flew Right By There!

And... we're back. Lots to discuss, including an upcoming Tory leadership campaign in our fair province. Will we blog it? You bet! In the meantime, and just to work the kinks out, here's Aretha Franklin covering (and motowning up) the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby."

Also, the Sporcle list has been updated!

Monday, December 13, 2010

That Is What You Might Call A Thunderstorm

Photo by Sean R. Heavey. Click for larger version.

Came across that picture over here. I am glad not to have been directly underneath that thing (not trying to fly through it, for that matter).

Thursday, December 2, 2010

2018 & 2022

Congratulations are in order, I think, to this place:

View Larger Map

...and to this place:

View Larger Map

Why, you ask? Because of this!

Russia getting the World Cup makes perfect sense. The event has never been held in Eastern Europe, to begin with. Furthermore, the award comes at a time when Russian soccer is on the rise, both internationally and at club level. Yes, Russia failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, but that was viewed as a shock, where once it would have been accepted with a shrug. Finally, Russia should have no difficulty getting infrastructure together.

Qatar's win is a bit more of a puzzle. The economics of the thing should be no problem - Qatar is a very rich place, and the stadia they intend to build are gorgeous. However, it's a tiny country (this is going to be the most compact World Cup ever), and FIFA itself has raised concerns about the summer heat - concerns that the Qataris have responded to by promising air-conditioned stadia.

In both cases, however, I must say that I think FIFA got it right, with all due respect to the other countries who are bidding. The first ever Eastern European World Cup, to be followed by the first ever Middle Eastern World Cup? Sounds good to me.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Deep In The Kobold Warrens...

...The Blog hungers.

[Scene: A kitchen in the Warrens. Enter two panicky Kobold Blog-Herders.]

First Blog-Herder: Ohgodohgodohgodohgod - it's hungering! Do something!

Second Blog-Herder: Find it something to eat!

[They rummage through various cupboards, fridges, pantries, freezers, coolers, store-rooms, butteries, cellars, sideboards, and so on]

Second Blog-Herder: Aha! We could toss it a musical interlude or two!

First Blog-Herder: Won't work - it'll just be hungry again in a day or so. Should we fry it up a nice Catullus poem, or something like that?

Second Blog-Herder: Takes too long - that thing is ravenous (you could put some out to thaw, though - we haven't had any Catullus in a long time. Am I actually speaking in parentheses? I am! Cooooool...). Hey look! We've got half a barrel of Edmonton Oilers material - we could whip that up in a jiffy!

First Blog-Herder: Ennh, it's not very nutritious, especially right now.

Second Blog-Herder: Some Millwall, then?

First Blog-Herder: Better, but still - same problem. [wanders into cooler] Hey look! We've still got that pot of snark we made this summer and never used! You remember - the one with the ESPN guy who wrote the column about how the main problem with sports these days is that athletes don't hate each other enough, the column in which he completely screwed up the anecdote about Ted Williams! That one!

Second Blog-Herder: Ooh, I remember that - that was good snark! Well-researched, if I recall. Let's save that one for a special occasion, like next week.

First Blog-Herder: Ok. Hmm, what's in this jar marked "Use only on Fridays"?

Second Blog-Herder: Who cares, it's Thursday. [wanders into larder] Oh, here we go - I've got just the thing! [emerges from larder bearing bag labelled "Emergency Blog Food"]

First Blog-Herder: What's in that?

Second Blog-Herder: A slow loris being tickled.

First Blog Herder: Perrrfect.

[Exeunt. End Scene]

Thursday, November 11, 2010

November 11th

Ortona, Italy, December 1943. (National Archives of Canada, PA-136332)

The temptation, of course, is to try to say something meaningful, but I think instead I will simply let Lt. Col. McCrae take it from here:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Update: Also, go here and watch the video. You will probably want kleenex.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

'Bout Damn Time

As you are no doubt aware, if you follow the sport of hockey at all, last night marked the first inductions to the Hockey Hall of Fame of female players, namely Angela James and Cammi Granato. This has prompted a mild outbreak of hooting and feces-throwing in comments sections around the interwebs, but most people that I've read seem to recognize the inductions of James and Granato for what they are: thoroughly deserved and completely unimpeachable.

The question now, I think, revolves around who the next women inducted to the Hall as players will be. Hayley Wickenheiser, whenever she decided to call it a day, is probably automatic, and I've heard Manon Rhéaume's name out there as well. Angela Ruggiero deserves some consideration, I would think, and I'm sure I've left some out.

I would like to make a humble suggestion on this subject, however. In the photograph above, sitting in the front row at the viewer's far left, is a woman named Hilda Ranscombe, star of the Preston Rivulettes. The Rivulettes were basically the Edmonton Grads of womens' ice hockey, dominating the game during its first heyday in the 1930s. I will at this point cede the floor to this superb article on the topic of the Rivulettes and womens' hockey between the wars.

Let me close by saying merely that Hilda Ranscombe, among several other female players from that era, would be an admirable addition to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Eight And One-Half Minutes...

...And worth every second. Here's Mr. Springsteen at the height of his powers (Tom Morello's pretty good too):

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Omar Khadr Situation

And so we have a resolution, of a sort, to the whole Omar Khadr affair, which featured successive Canadian governments boldly and decisively aided and abetted in the torture and prolonged incarceration, without trial, of a juvenile Canadian citizen.

Oh, Omar Khadr got his trial in the end. And therein he was given a choice: Admit to being a war criminal, plead guilty, and be free man in a few years, or contes the trial and spend the rest of his life in prison (anybody who thinks the possibility of acquittal was greater than zero is deplorably naive). And hey, look, he admitted to being a war criminal and pled guilty! Well shit, I'm convinced!

Of course, the fact that Omar Khadr was physically, mentally, and emotionally tortured before being put though a judicial process that would give Josef Stalin pause for thought in no way reduces the magnitude of the tragedy that has befallen the family of Sgt. First Class Christopher Speer. Compassion for Khadr does not in the slightest degree preclude or prevent compassion for them.

Anyway, I have very little more to say about it, particularly given the volume of material out there on the case already. Here are a couple of good reads, though:

"America rewrites the laws of war for Omar Khadr" from The Guardian.

"Khadr case: This is war, not a war crime" from the Halifax Chronicle-Herald.

As one of Khadr's lawyers put it, accurately and succinctly, "fundamental principles of law and due process were long since abandoned in Omar's case."

Friday, October 22, 2010

Milk Through The Nose Time!

Truly, the internet is a wondrous place:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Civic Election Blogging

And thus ends an interesting month or two in local politics. It was actually, on the night, a bit anti-climactic here - every single incumbent got in, most of them handily. And, while the turnout was still low, it was (a lot) better than last time.

In the end, the right choice was made, at least as far as the mayoral race was concerned. Mandel may not be perfect, but he's better than the other guys, good Lord. He campaigned basically by not making mistakes, and by not getting that grumpy, even as his character, morals, business connections, leadership ability, and general decency were hammered away at by a consortium of shrill, petulant, passive-aggressive, dirty-tricks-playing whiners (yeah, Envision Edmonton, I'm talking about you), a mob whose repeated accusations of undemocratic behaviour were made all the more galling by the fact that they couldn't and didn't recognize democracy when it rose up and repeatedly bit them in the ass.1 In facing them down, Mandel never stooped to the level that, y'know, I just did.

And so congratulations to Mr. Mandel! The next three years should be good ones for Edmonton.

1Perhaps I am hard on Envision Edmonton. However, I remember overhearing a conversation one evening at the pub involving an EE volunteer, someone who'd been working fairly hard on their petition drive. That conversation dealt, in part, with Steven Mandel, and featured repeated uses of the word "Jew-boy." Now, I do not for a moment assert that Envision Edmonton is an anti-semitic organization, but one can occasionally be judged by the company one keeps.

Friday, October 15, 2010


Remember the bad old days? Remember how, back in Medieval times, if the bubonic plague or rampaging Vikings didn't get you, well, there were always the marauding packs of wolves to contend with? Remember that?

Yeah, marauding wolves. Good thing we don't have to worry about them any more!

In unrelated news, here's some surveillance footage of a completely routine traffic stop just outside Rostov-na-Donu, Russia:

And we would be remiss if we were to pass up this opportunity to provide the following musical interlude:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Good News, Everybody!

This was just plain heartwarming to watch:

Thursday, October 7, 2010


John Ulan/CP

And so another hockey season is upon us, and for those of us in Oiler land, it couldn't come fast enough given the debacle that was last season. And what's that wafting through the air? Could it be the sweet sweet smell of optimism drifting down this way from RX1?

Well, probably not, actually, at least not in the short term. I've seen the phrase "exciting last-place hockey" being bandied around the Oilogosphere, and it's not entirely tongue-in-cheek. Yes, there are going to be some long, long nights this season. The nights when the three musketeers (pictured above) are looking every bit as young as they actually are. The nights when whichever one of our 523 goaltenders is in goal is doing his best impersonation of a menhir. The nights when it is painfully obvious just how little depth we have on defense. The playoffs are almost certain to remain a phenomenon that happens to other teams.

Oh, but there will be other nights. The nights when the sheer amount of latent skill on this team shines through, and it feels like the kids can score at will. The nights when the breakout passes are hitting guys in stride. The nights when it's the Oilers taking liberties, and not, as has been so often the case in the past, the other team. The nights when it is obvious that Shawn Horcoff was the right choice for captain, thank you very much. The nights when we can see the first germinations of playoff runs yet to come.

So sit back and enjoy - these are the humble beginnings of something pretty special!

On a side note, various sibling units are taking part in the pre-game singing of "O Fortuna," from the Carmina Burana. If that's not an awesome way to kick off a hockey season, I don't know what is! May it inspire the lads to roll over the Flame-like things from Calgary.

Oh, and the Stanley Cup? Pittsburgh over Vancouver. Book it, done.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Pangur Bán

Well, I did say there was going to be something about an Irish monk...

View Larger Map

Ok, so it's about the 8th century A.D., and the scene is Reichenau Island,1 in the very very South of what is now Germany, as seen on the map above. Specifically, we are looking at the Benedictine Abbey of Reichenau, founded in A.D. 724 by St. Pirmin, who may have been a Visigoth although that's beside the point. The Abbey of Reichenau is believed (to this day!) to contain the jug used at the Wedding at Cana, although that too is irrelevant to our purpose.

No, our interest today is drawn to the abbey's scriptorium, wherein we shall find a possibly bored monk.2 He is busy working on a document that will become known as the Reichenauer Schulheft (Stift St. Paul Cod. 86a/1), which translates as the Reichenauer Primer. The Primer contains a general miscellany of writings, mostly in Latin, but including some Greek and bits of Old High German. It was probably intended purely as scribing practice, which may explain why the monk is bored. Here's a sample page:

One folio of the Reichenauer Schulheft. The chart on the right-hand side appears to be astronomical in nature, to judge from the constellation names. Click to see larger version.

And how do we know/suspect that the monk is finding this day's work a bit tedious? Well, we know because he has become distracted by the antics of his little scriptorium cell's other denizen. The end result of this distraction is a short poem, jotted down in the Primer in Old Irish, which we may safely assume is the monk's mother tongue. The poem is at the bottom of the left-hand page in the above picture, but here it is, in its original language, so that you don't have to squint:

Messe ocus Pangur Bán,
cechtar nathar fria saindan:
bíth a menmasam fri seilgg,
mu memna céin im saincheirdd.

Caraimse fos (ferr cach clu)
oc mu lebran, leir ingnu;
ni foirmtech frimm Pangur Bán:
caraid cesin a maccdán.

O ru biam (scél cen scís)
innar tegdais, ar n-oendís,
taithiunn, dichrichide clius,
ni fris tarddam ar n-áthius.

Gnáth, huaraib, ar gressaib gal
glenaid luch inna línsam;
os mé, du-fuit im lín chéin
dliged ndoraid cu ndronchéill.

Fuachaidsem fri frega fál
a rosc, a nglése comlán;
fuachimm chein fri fegi fis
mu rosc reil, cesu imdis.

Faelidsem cu ndene dul
hi nglen luch inna gerchrub;
hi tucu cheist ndoraid ndil
os me chene am faelid.

Cia beimmi a-min nach ré
ni derban cách a chele:
maith la cechtar nár a dán;
subaigthius a óenurán.

He fesin as choimsid dáu
in muid du-ngni cach oenláu;
du thabairt doraid du glé
for mu mud cein am messe.

Now, I confess that my knowledge of Old Irish is practically non-existent. I know that "bán" means "white," or "pale," or, in modern Irish, "blonde," and I can hazard a guess that "lebran," in the second verse, means "book," on account of us dealing with an Indo-European language. I've got some vague notions about a coupld of other words in the poem, but that's about as far as I can go, so I will step aside, and hand things over to a translation by J. Marchand (found here, with some other translations). Of all the translations of the poem that I've seen, I prefer this one, as I get the sense that it sticks quite closely to the original language.

The Scholar and his Cat

1. I and White Pangur, each of us in his special craft. His mind is set on hunting; my mind is on my special subject.

2. I love resting (better than any fame) at my book, with diligent understanding; White Pangur is not envious of me; he loves his childish craft.

3. When we are (tale without tiredness), in our house, being alone, we have an endless sport, a thing to which we may apply our skill.

4. It is usual, at times, by feats of valor, that a mouse sticks in his net. As for me, there falls into my net, a difficult rule with hard meaning.

5. He points fiercely against an enclosing wall his eye, bright, perfect. I myself direct against the keenness of knowledge my sharp eye, though it be quite weak.

6. He is happy with swiftness of movement upon a mouse sticking in his sharp paws. Which I understand a difficult pleasant problem, as for me, I am happy, too.

7. Though we may be indeed (like this) at any time, neither disturbs his partner; good to each of us is his art, each rejoices in them.

8. He himself is master of it, the work which he does every day. To bring clarity to difficulty, I am at my own work.

A more poetic translation may be found here. Anyway, there we have it. A monk at work in a scriptorium took a brain-break, and because of that, 1250 or so years later, we know of the existence (and name!) of a particular white cat. Neat, hmmm?

1At least, it's probably Reichenau Island, or at least somewhere in the vicinity.
2It is just possible that this monk is Sedulius Scottus, but we don't know for sure.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Serie A!

Photo by MJwho

Well, better late than never! Yes, Serie A is techinically 5 rounds into its season, but here we are with a preview nonetheless.

And what a bizarre 5 rounds they've been! If the season were to end today, Inter would win the title, which is not surprising at all, but they'd be joined in the Champions' League by Lazio, Chievo Verona, and Brescia. At the other end of the table, Lecce would be relegated, which may happen anyway, but AS Roma and Udinese would also take up residence in Serie B. Newly promoted Cesena, who haven't been in the top division in a couple of decades, have already drawn Roma and beaten AC Milan. Weirdness abounds.

The oddity that is this young season was perfectly encapsulated by the events that occurred late in the Brescia-Roma match on September 22nd. In the waning moments of the game, with Brescia leading 2-1, Roma goalkeeper Julio Sergio threw himself into a reckless sliding tackle on Brescia's Panagiotis Kone. The Roma player ended up with a yellow card, and, more seriously, a dislocated and generally torn up ankle. However, Roma were already down a man due to an earlier red card, and had used up all their substitutions. And so poor old Julio Sergio was hastily taped up, and then forced to remain in goal, though obviously in extreme distress, until the end of the match. It was all rather... well, awkward and uncomfortable, actually, although probably not as uncomfortable as it was for Julio Sergio, who's expected to miss a month or so of action. Here's the whole sordid affair, set to piano music for some reason:

Early season weirdness, however, does tend to sort itself out, as injuries pile up, slow starters get themselves settled, and talent, or lack thereof, begins to tell, and the final table will probably look at least moderately familiar. The big four look to be in pretty good shape to take the Champions' spots, but the wizened seers see the title moving across Milan to reside with Berlusconi's boys, with a lingering chance that this occurs for reasons other than on-field performance. As for the relegation question, Lecce and Cesena appear weak, despite the latter's early season feats, and I just have a bad feeling about Bologna. Between those two extremes it's a hard to say. Economic crisis and a new, more equitable, TV deal, are in the process of bringing more parity to Serie A, even as Italian clubs slip back a little bit in comparison with their Spanish and English counterparts (the German and Dutch leagues have undergone the same process in recent seasons). Although the big clubs still have their noses in front, it's likely that this season and those to come will see more competition and excitement than there's been in Serie A for some time! Anyway, here's your predicted final table:

1AC Milan
2Inter Milan
3AS Roma
15Chievo Verona