The Walrus Blog

Monthly Archive: March 2012

Carried Away

Why do airlines limit the volume of carry-on liquids to 100 millilitres?
100-ml bottleWikimedia Commons100-ml bottle, not shown at actual size

We are well trained now: when travelling on planes, we know we can’t put anything over 100 millilitres into our carry-on luggage, and any mistaken attempts end with forfeiting our valued moisturizers and designer water bottles. Through hard battles lost, we’ve succumbed to the demands of airport security authorities, all for the belief that this restriction makes us safer. And now as we pause to consider, we wonder: why can’t we put liquids, gels, and aerosols in bottles larger than 100 ml, and why must all these bottles fit into a one-litre plastic bag?

Our first guess is partly right: it is something to do with a potential terrorist threat from liquid explosives. But solid explosives are widespread too. And in focusing our tunnel vision on individual passengers, we forget that a bomb in checked luggage can be large enough to take down a plane, while a few harmful millilitres in a purse may only blow out a window.

The so-called liquid limit got its start on August 10, 2006, when UK police arrested twenty-one suspects in London over a plot to detonate the liquid form of explosive TATP aboard as many as ten flights bound for Canada and the US. Immediately, the fortress gates of the three countries slammed shut: transport authorities banned all liquids (excepting baby formula, prescription medications, and a few others), and the US and UK even banned carry-on luggage. A month and a half later, the US Transportation Security Administration introduced its 3-1-1 rule, allowing 3.4 ounces (100 ml) of liquid per container, with all containers to fit in one quart-sized (950 ml) bag, per passenger. Another month and a half after that, Transport Canada imposed a 100 ml/1 litre rule for travellers at all Canadian airports. (more…)

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Posted in Ask The Walrus  •  5 Comments

The 100-Mile Dollar

What is a community currency and why would anybody want to use one?
Community currenciesCommunity currencies from Calgary, Salt Spring Island, and Toronto

Hundreds of communities around the world have created new currencies over the last few decades, trading millions of dollars’ worth each year. In Canada, at least Calgary, Toronto, and BC’s Salt Spring Island are taking part. While only the Bank of Canada can print paper to serve as legal tender, it’s perfectly lawful for any Canadian community to make its own alternative currency as long as it records transactions and files taxes — which means this currency needs to be exchangeable with the national dollar.

By their design, community currencies force people to spend locally, and usually quickly. They often stand as pillars of community-led attempts to rejuvenate depressed economies, such as  Totnes and Brixton Pounds in the UK’s Transition Towns, and Argentina’s wide adoption of the Crédito during its 1999 economic crisis. Most are managed by nonprofit organizations, who sell them in exchange for legal tender (one Canadian dollar buys one Calgary Dollar, for instance). The managing NPOs frequently have a surplus of funds (often from business participation fees or expired non-redeemed notes) that are funnelled into community projects or customer discounts. For example, 10 percent of all spent Toronto Dollars is donated to local charities, while the German chiemgauer, which started as a school project, has raised €100,000 for charities. (more…)

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These American Lies

The agony and ecstasy of fact checking
RetractedThis American Life episode No. 460: “Retraction

For my money, the four most important people on The Walrus editorial team are Victoria Beale, Gregory Furgala, Kristin Gorsline, and Sara McCulloch. These fact-checking interns, hired for a six-month stint, earn very little glory and no pay, but are vital to the work of the magazine. Every item we publish must withstand their scrutiny; they re-interview subjects, scour primary and secondary sources, and verify facts with experts. They consult frequently with editors and writers, debating and discussing the most accurate word choices and descriptions. If information can’t be verified to our standards, sections of stories are cut or reworked. It takes days, even weeks, for an intern to thoroughly fact check a story — only to be followed by another intern, who then double checks everything.

A few recent fact-checking endeavours at The Walrus: during some of the worst violence in Yemen, one intern tracked down a woman in that country, the sister of an memoirist, to corroborate details of family history; meanwhile, another intern spoke to about a dozen geneticists, researchers, and doctors to check a story about the Human Genome Project; yet another intern confirmed the length of one day’s parliamentary session down to the minute. Even fiction is fact checked in The Walrus: if, say, a protagonist has a coming-of-age moment during the 1998 Stanley Cup playoffs, an intern will verify the teams that played that year — for the record, Detroit Red Wings versus Washington Capitals. (That is, unless the author’s intention is to monkey around with reality. But in such cases, the story will be checked for internal consistency and logic.)

Mistakes still occur — none of us is infallible — but by the time the magazine is shipped to the printer, every effort has been made to ensure articles are accurate and truthful. This isn’t bragging or smug back-patting — this is very least that readers should expect from us.

I’m feeling especially grateful for our fact checkers at the moment, after spending the weekend absorbed in the news about the popular US public radio program This American Life and its retraction of the most-downloaded episode in its seventeen-year history. “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory,” broadcast in January, explores Apple’s manufacturing processes in China. The story was based on a one-man show by actor-writer Mike Daisey, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, an agit-prop exposé of the company’s labour practices abroad. (more…)

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Posted in Media  •  11 Comments

What London Sounds Like

Alberta-born, B.C.-raised author Craig Taylor talks Londoners, his new oral history of his adopted hometown
LondonersHarperCollins Canada

We have long used personal stories to record history, to log the ebb and flow of an era and the minute crises of each current. In 1930s America, the Federal Writers’ Project put the institutional force of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal behind the tradition of oral storytelling. People like Studs Terkel drove from Hooverville to farm to record and broadcast the silent sufferers of the Depression — and later the survivors of World War II — across radio waves, forging a national community in the process. Modern oral histories like some episodes of This American Life continue to document collective voices to make sense of a time. And now, joining that tradition, there is Craig Taylor’s Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now, As Told by Those Who Love It, Hate It, Live It, Left It, and Long for It.

Taylor is a Canadian writer who has lived in London for most of the past dozen years. He previously wrote “One Million Tiny Plays About Britain” (there are actually 110 of them), each a hilarious gem, in the Guardian newspaper, as well as Return to Akenfield, an update to Ronald Blythe’s seminal 1969 oral history of the town. In addition, Taylor edits the online literary magazine Five Dials. His latest book, Londoners, is an attempt to untangle his adopted home through its own voices.

Londoners greets us open-armed with the voices of a coiled city. Among many others, we meet a burly vegetable trader who works fifteen-hour overnight shifts to organize deliveries to the city’s farthest corners, and a gay Iranian refugee who ran toward Britain’s social freedoms by way of Tehran to Bangkok to Paris and finally to London. Although the voices are unquestionably British, they reflect the contrasts and conflicts of any global metropolis struggling to understand itself. I had the pleasure of interviewing Taylor about this precious collection. (more…)

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Posted in Chapter and Verse  •  1 Comment

Handle With Care

Why does Canada have more nuclear waste, per capita, than any other country?
Port HopeDerek ShaptonIn southern Ontario, the Cameco nuclear plant and a company storage site sandwich the Port Hope Yacht Club basin. Originally published with Kate Harries’ “Nuclear Reaction” (The Walrus, March 2008)
Second in a series of posts about underexplained people, places, and things that have arrested our collective attention.

Do you have a question about Canada and/or its place in the world? Ask The Walrus.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Canada has, by far, the world’s most nuclear waste per capita, and the second-most total nuclear waste. And yet we don’t have nuclear arms, use nuclear power for only 14 percent of our electricity, and have a strong anti-nuclear movement (British Columbia even has a no-nuke policy). So where is all this waste coming from?

The answer lies not just in the particulars of Canada’s nuclear energy sector, but also in what defines “waste.” By the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s definition, any material that contains a radioactive nuclear substance and has no use is defined as nuclear, or radioactive, waste.

To begin, Canada has one of the world’s largest uranium reserves, and more uranium (nearly a fifth of the global total) has been mined here than anywhere else. Our first uranium refinery opened in Port Hope, Ontario in 1932; northern Saskatchewan’s uranium mines currently provide 18 percent of the world’s supply. This enormous amount of uranium mining, refinement, and processing leaves a residue of uranium tailings, a radioactive sand. (more…)

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Unlawful Separation

What’s a Freeman-on-the-Land?
The Freeman-on-the-Land’s ideological leader, Robert Menard
First in a series of posts about underexplained people, places, and things that have arrested our collective attention.

Do you have a question about Canada and/or its place in the world? Ask The Walrus.

Canadian law enforcement officers are facing a new challenge: at times, when they stop a speeding car or one lacking official licence plates, the driver, instead of presenting a valid licence, brandishes a World Freeman Society membership card and declares that he or she is a “free man” on the land, not a citizen of Canada, and therefore is not subject to the statutes of Canadian law. Freemen reject police and court authority; they often refuse to pay taxes, mortgages, and even utility bills.

Freeman-on-the-Land is the Canadian manifestation of the global World Freeman Society, whose proponents believe that “A Freeman is a human being living in a common law jurisdiction under God, who has revoked consent to be governed by human laws.” The movement has surged in the last few years, following the 2005 publication of an online how-to book, How I Clobbered Every Bureaucratic Cash-Confiscatory Agency Known to Man: …a Spiritual Economics Book of $$$ and Remembering Who You Are. (Sample text: “We can not find safety and security in something that does not exist. There is no money.”) Last week, this CBC report stated that there are as many as 30,000 Freemen across Canada. Their online presence, however, suggests a much smaller group: The Sovereignty Report, one of the movement’s major websites, only has twelve email subscribers, thirty-one Facebook “likes,” and 105 Twitter followers. (more…)

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Posted in Ask The Walrus  •  6 Comments
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