December 2005

My Christmas playlist

As a genre, Christmas music is repetitive and nauseating. Even though we’re treated to it nonstop for nearly two months, its repertoire is surprisingly limited: we get endlessly insipid variations on very few songs — eighty bazillion versions of “Jingle Bell Rock” and “O Holy Night,” as Jennifer has discovered. I can’t recall a single original song in the past few decades that has entered the canon; most of the “popular” songs (read: snow and Santa rather than religious) are at least decades old.

Fortunately, the Christmas novelty songs provide some relief. Some of them are silly, some of them are filthy, and some are just as derivative as the latest forgettable pop star’s forgettable rendition of an old war-horse carol. But they’re the only things that keep me sane. And I’ve finally collected enough of them that I can offer you a playlist of them to keep you sane.

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And you thought the return of Ed Broadbent was something

Former Governor General Ed Schreyer is apparently running for the NDP in Selkirk-Interlake; an announcement is scheduled for later today. This would mark the first time that a former vice-regal representative has re-entered the political arena, though Schreyer has said some partisan things during elections after his term ended in 1984.

Somehow, though, this feels a bit unseemly — as though Prince Charles decided to be a candidate for the Liberal Democrats. But it raises an interesting question about what heads of state, ceremonial or otherwise, are supposed to do with themselves after their terms end, especially when they’re appointed so young (Schreyer is 69 now, so he was in his forties during his term). This wasn’t a problem when governors general, presidents and the like were generally old men; what was next was they retired, and probably died in fairly short order.

If nothing else, this plus Ed Broadbent’s return last time (he’s not running again) suggests that the NDP has definitely got an elder-statesman jones going on.

CN fined $75,000 for McBride accident

CN was fined $75,000 after it pleaded guilty to a charge related to an accident near McBride, B.C. in 2003: a trestle collapsed underneath a freight train, derailing the locomotives and five cars and killing the crew. (McBride is on CN’s Fraser subdivision, on the former Grand Trunk Pacific line between Edmonton and Prince Rupert.) Two other charges were stayed for lack of evidence. The Transportation Safety Board cited poor bridge maintenance as the cause; their report is here.

CN is not having a good week.

See previous entries: Two more CN derailments; What’s up with CN?

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Two more CN derailments

Two derailments for CN in one day: seven empties jump the tracks in the Cheakamus Canyon north of Squamish (the fourth derailment in that area since August); and an auto carrier plunged off a trestle into the Fraser River between Richmond and Burnaby. B.C. opposition politicians are pissed, and CN’s argument that there are no connections between yesterday’s Cheakamus Canyon derailment and previous ones is increasingly farcical.

See previous entry: What’s up with CN?

Update, 12/7 at 7:55 am: CBC coverage of the second derailment.

Update, 8:05 am: More Globe and Mail coverage of the two derailments: “So far this year, CN has experienced 11 main track derailments on the former BC Rail lines, which is nearly double the five-year average of six derailments a year that BC Rail had prior to 2004.” And apparently the 80-car limit excludes trains with mid-train locomotives: the train that derailed in Cheakamus Monday had six engines and 125 cars.

Update, 4:50 pm: Another order from the federal transport minister: the 80-car limit now applies to all trains, even ones with distributed power in the middle of the train, between Squamish and Clinton.

Update, 9:00 pm: CBC News on the minister’s order. Is there any way to verify CN’s claim that it’s “the safest railway in North America”?

Update, 12/14 at 10:05 pm: Another order, this one upping the limit to 99 cars on trains with distributed power heading north (usually empty); there are some other restrictions and oversights. Bottom line, the feds are watching CN very closely along this stretch of track.

Update, 12/15 at 6:37 pm: Holy crap: 15 empties derailed last night on a short train near Fort St. James (on former BC Rail trackage, naturally). Not in itself significant, but you can bet that every single CN derailment, especially in B.C., will get media attention.

I want to be a forest ranger

Much to my surprise, I’ll be reading up on forest management and silviculture over the next month. Homework for one of two working groups for PEP, the local environmental group. Jennifer, on the other hand, is on the other working group and will be looking at waste management.

When biologists play at grammar

A couple of weeks ago, I got the following question from Craig Sommers: “I recently received a comment from a Fish & Wildlife Service biologist who said that ‘garter snake’ is now one word for all common names. True?”

As I wrote back, the answer is a bit complicated, but his question reminded me that I’ve been thinking about this question for several years now. It’s a really arcane and insignificant question: whether snake names are one word or two — i.e., “garter snake” or “gartersnake.”

This little essay has been gestating in my mind for several years, but I’ve been putting it off because I didn’t think I knew my grammar enough to write with any authority. In the end, though, I figure it’s worthwhile — inasmuch as this whole subject is worthwhile, which is kind of debateable — to put out what I know and what I think, and leave the corrections to another time.

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New links without breaking the old links

Just like that, I changed all the links in this blog: all archive, category and individual entry pages now have new URLs and are new directories. There are good (albeit anal retentive) reasons for doing this. You shouldn’t notice a difference because I’ve forwarded all the old URLs to the new ones. Only Movable Type geeks will be interested to know how I did it: an .htaccess file generated from an MT template.