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Archive for February, 2007

John, Taylor-Hood, a friend of mine, recently posted some place names in Atlantic Canada comparing interesting pronunciations versus spellings of local placenames, and asked about other strange or interesting cases. I had a few minutes of fun doing this (Newfoundland has an amazing variety of names that are interesting for many reasons) and threw in a few bad plays on words in the process.

Then I noticed that he had a number of First Nations place names (mostly Mi’kmaq from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick) in his list, and I tried to come up with a number of Aboriginal place names in Newfoundland that might have weird and wonderful sounds. Off the top of my head I could come up with none. For Labrador there were a number of names that came to mind, mostly because they have weather stations that I use. They are mostly Innuit with possibly a few Montagnais or Naskapi names. These include Makkovik, Cape Kiglapait, Cape Kakkiviak, and Sheshatshui (pronounced shesh-a-sidhe, I think). For the Innuit names pronounce every vowel, and if you say the words fast it usually comes out fairly well, and at worst people don’t have a lot of time to catch the errors.

The fact that I knew of no Beothuk names, lest alone Mi’kmaq names, on the Island disturbed me. The history of the Beothuk’s interactions with the European settlers, and the consequent destruction of their people by a combination of distrust, displacement from their coastal hunting and fishing areas, violence, and European disease has haunted me since I was a child. Because of the minimal interaction between the settlers and the Beothuks, I would have expected that only a few names would survive, but I remember absolutely none. Regarding the Mi’kmaq, they came to Newfoundland as scouts and hunters for the settlers, and they are basically the only Aboriginal people in significant numbers remaining on the Island. On that basis I should have been aware of at least a few names, but again I came up empty.

I went of Geonames Canada (just google it), and tried Beothuk with no luck. Then I tried Micmac and got half a dozen places in Newfoundland and Labrador; a Hill (actually a mountain when you walk down it), a brook, a river, a lake, and and island. Then I tried Eskimo and Inuit and found a few points in Labrador. Finally I did a bit more searching on the web.

Here are a few that I know or suspect refer to the Beothuks:

  • Red Indian Lake (the Beothuks were the Red Ochre People, and the not so politically correct term Red Indian refers to the tone of their ochre-adorned skin)
  • Western and Eastern Indian islands (Fogo)
  • Indian Cove Island (Bay of Exploits)
  • Ochre Pit Hill (Terra Nova National Park)
  • Oche Pit Cove (Conception Bay)
  • Indian Lookout (Trinity Bay)
  • Indian Harbour (near La Poile)
  • Indian Bay Pond, and sadly
  • Indian Burying Place (Baie Verte Peninsula)

As to actual Aboriginal place names in Newfoundland and Labrador, here’s what I came up with after a cursory search:

  • Beothuk
    • Aguathuna (possibly derived from aguathoonet meaning grindstone). On the Port au Port Peninsula, it was named in 1911 by Archbishop Howley, who though it was Beothuk for white stone. Still, this is not a place name given by the Beothuks
    • Shannoc Brook (Beothuk name for Mi’kmaq) Joseph Jukes, Geological Surveyor for Newfoundland from 1839-1840, believed the brook was named this way
  • Innuktitut
    • Kaipokok Bay (“frothy water”)
    • Makkovik (“two places”?)
    • Nunatsiavut (“our beautiful place”)
    • Sheshatshui (“narrow place in the river”)
    • Torngat Mountains (from “turngait” or “spirit”)
  • Mi’kmaq
    • Meepaeg Resevoir
    • Ebegunbaeg Hill
    • Kepenkeck Lake
    • Kikupegh Pond
    • Awachanjeesh Pond
    • Kaegudeck Lake
  • Other Aboriginal Languages
    • Wabush (Innu for “rabbit ground”) western Labrador
    • Wabana (Abanaki for “east land”), named by Thomas Cantley of the Nova Scotia Steel Company in 1895 on Bell Island in Conception Bay

The names labelled Mi’kmaq were done so based on the fact that they are inland from Hermitage Bay in the Bay D’espoir region and personal supposition. Many of the Mi’kmaq still in Newfoundland settled in this region, and I’m guessing that European settlers didn’t explore into these regions much until the latter half of the 20th century. By this time it was more usual to allow native place names to be accepted by white Newfoundlanders and Canadians, so these inland features in the Bay du Nord region kept their Aboriginal names. However, all I have at this point is names on a map that resemble Mi’kmaq names from Nova Scotia. Some of them may be Beothuk.

In summary there is a scattering of First Nations based place names in Newfoundland and Labrador, with more in Labrador due to lesser and later European intrusions. The Moravian missionaries were also more accepting of the native cultures in Labrador. For the Island, if the names near Bay D’espoir are Mi’kmaq, then my supposition that their names would be more common than the Beothuks seems to be born out.

The saddest aspect is that I could only find two placenames with a good possibility of Beothuk origin. One of them may be the Beothuk word for Mi’kmaq, and the second may be the Beothuk word for grind stone. Only one of them may have been given by the Beothuks. Without Demasduit and Shawnadithit, we would have known almost nothing of this people, their language and their culture. But as long as we do remember, something of their culture will survive. For those who aren’t aware of this, if you take our provincial flag and rotate it 90 degrees clockwise, it is the design of a Beothuk pendant that used to be on display in the old Newfoundland Museun and is probably in The Rooms. It is the main reason I like the flag, and reminds us to avoid our ancestors mistakes, and to do what we can to remember the people who lived on and loved this land before we came.

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I recently rented the first few seasons of the X-files when I was sick. It was one of the more interesting series on TV, and had a fairly fanatical following. Personally I enjoyed some of the episodes while others left me cold. But usually the plotting and the writing were solid, without too many bloopers, and Mulder and Scully were interesting characters..

Here are a couple of incongruities or synchronicities that I found kind of cool:

  • The last two people in an Arctic outpost commit a simultaneous suicide with pistols. You see the building from the outside with the wind and the snow howling through the night, then you hear the two pistol shots go off. Five to ten seconds later you see the light in the window go out. While dramatically compelling, who turned out the light?
  • An executive goes into his state of the art washroom off his sumptuous office. Some of the facilities malfunction and he tries to leave after the lights go out. He swipes the card reader for the lock on the inside of his private washroom which only has an entrance to his office. When he swiped his card he electrocuted himself, which was the plot hook to the rest of the episode. But why does the bathroom in his private office have a lock, and why is it on the inside of the bathroom door, and why do you need a special ID card to operate it?
  • Mulder’s apartment number is 42! I guess his apartment is the answer to….
  • There is an amazing number of faulty light switches in the series. I know it’s an accepted deux ex machina, but it would be nice to have something horrible happen in glowing incandescence or at least fluorescence. Daylight might be even better (but I think they saved it for the movie).
  • They always have flashlights, the flashlights always work, and they are always weak lights. I would have liked for a case where a flashlight died in a time of possible peril, and then Scully would say, “Just a second, here’s some spare AA’s”.
  • There was a suspect in a small town who had some brain damage. Scully ordered a PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scan to check on the actual damage. Usually this is done only at major universities or hospitals, because you need a cyclotron in the vicinity to make the short-lived radio-isotopes (about a two hour half-life) required to perform the scan. I guess there was a convenient particle accelerator in the neighborhood?
  • One of my favourite episodes was the three part sequence Anasazi, The Blessing Way, and Paper Clip. However, one unique element was the longest sequence of telephone tag as a plot element that I have ever seen. It lasted through most of The Blessing Way and part of Paper Clip. They kept missing each others calls, and never had time to check their answering machines.
  • There was a really cool episode that made light of itself. It was called War of the Coprophages, and basically made fun of the main characters, the classic plot of insects invading and destroying a small town, and a few other aspects that I will leave for your enjoyment. One classic element that brought a smile to my face was the panicked populace raiding the drug store. During this there was a quick clip showing a U.S. Navy sailor grabbing chocolate bars and packages of nylon pantyhose; it brought back a nostalgic World War II feel for those who noticed, and it also indicated the motivations of the sailor in a nice way.
  • In the episode Jose Chung’s From Outer Space they made fun of abduction stories. One sequence that was surreal involved the two Men In Black, played by a disturbingly articulate and insightful Jesse Ventura and a strangely silent Alex Trebeck.
  • In Quagmire they were investigating the possibility of a Nessie called Big Blue in a lake, after the deaths of several people on the lake shore. In one sequence they were searching in a boat at night and were hit by a large object that they observed moving towards them on the fish-finder. The boat sank and they were stranded on a rock at night in thick fog. While they were sitting there waiting for the light (for some reason they didn’t want to go into the water) Mulder started this conversation:

    Mulder: Hey Scully, do you think you could ever cannibalize someone? I mean if you really had to.
    Scully: Well, as much as the very idea is abhorrent to me, I suppose under certain conditions a living entity is practically conditioned to perform whatever extreme measures are necessary to ensure its survival. I suppose I’m no different.
    Mulder: You’ve lost some weight recently, haven’t you?
    Scully: Yes, yes I have. Thanks for n– (Scully glares at Mulder and he laughs)

    In the next sequence, they heard something moving towards them in the fog. They draw weapons and tensely wait for attack. They see a dark object barely poking above the fog. Then they hear it. “Quack, quack, quack…” and they relax, wondering if it will get close enough for supper. A few moments later they hear a massive movement of the water:

    Scully: What was that?
    Mulder: It ain’t no duck…

    Then through the mist they see one of the citizens approaching them through the water. He tells them he’ll guide them to shore. They ask where he put his boat. He tells the intrepid FBI agents that they are 20 yards from shore (the fog was thick…)

My only other comment is that I’m starting to enjoy the series again, partially for the humourous episodes I’d never seen before, the often surprisingly subtle dialogue, and the compelling yet very understated acting. Also, it’s kind of neat to see the clothing styles, cell phone styles (they’re really in love with them), and hair styles evolve surprisingly swiftly from season to season. Of course there are the unchanging constants of Mulder’s messiness, Scully’s neatness and 80’s professional power look, the generally wet scenery, and the low lighting costs in every episode. Finally, I would argue that Mulder does smile and have an expressive face. I usually see him smiling at least once per episode, and Scully once per every second episode.

End quote from the opening credits:

The truth is out there

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Apologies in advance.

New Word: Callipygous

If you don’t get it from the cartoon, here’s the definition.

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As discussed yesterday, major results from the new report on climate change have been released. This section concerns the scientific basis and conclusions of the assesment; social and political impacts and implications will be addressed later. The conclusions and predictions in the report are clearer and more compelling than ever before, and today’s press release has stirred a lot of controversy. World leaders are also struggling to address it appropriately, and having a bit of trouble.

The Policymaker’s Summary of the Physical Science Basis is a very interesting read. I’d like to highlight some of the report. Before we start, here are a few definitions:

  • Very Likely: less than a 10% chance of being wrong
  • Likely: less than a 33% chance of being incorrect
  • Very High Confidence: at least a 90% chance of being correct
  • High Confidence: at least an 80% chance of being correct

Here are the main statements in the summary:

Global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750 and now far exceed pre-industrial values determined from ice cores spanning many thousands of years . The global increases in carbon dioxide concentration are due primarily to fossil fuel use and land-use change, while those of methane and nitrous oxide are primarily due to agriculture.

The understanding of anthropogenic warming and cooling influences on climate has improved since the Third Assessment Report (TAR), leading to very high confidence that the globally averaged net effect of human activities since 1750 has been one of warming, …

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global mean sea level.

At continental, regional, and ocean basin scales, numerous long-term changes in climate have been observed. These include changes in Arctic temperatures and ice, widespread changes in precipitation amounts, ocean salinity, wind patterns and aspects of extreme weather including droughts, heavy
precipitation, heat waves and the intensity of tropical cyclones (including hurricanes and typhoons).

Paleoclimate information supports the interpretation that the warmth of the last half century is unusual in at least the previous 1300 years. The last time the polar regions were significantly warmer than present for an extended period (about 125,000 years ago), reductions in polar ice volume led to
4 to 6 metres of sea level rise.

Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations. This is an advance since the TAR’s conclusion that “most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations”. Discernible human influences now extend to other aspects of climate, including ocean warming, continental-average temperatures, temperature extremes and wind patterns.

Analysis of climate models together with constraints from observations enables an assessed likely range to be given for climate sensitivity for the first time and provides increased confidence in the understanding of the climate system response to radiative forcing.

For the next two decades a warming of about 0.2°C per decade is projected for a range of SRES emission scenarios. Even if the concentrations of all greenhouse gases and aerosols had been kept constant at year 2000 levels, a further warming of about 0.1°C per decade would be expected.

Continued greenhouse gas emissions at or above current rates would cause further warming and induce many changes in the global climate system during the 21st century that would very likely be larger than those observed during the 20th century.

There is now higher confidence in projected patterns of warming and other regional-scale features, including changes in wind patterns, precipitation, and some aspects of extremes and of ice. Some of these projections include:

  • Snow cover and permafrost are projected to be reduced
  • Sea ice is projected to shrink in both the Arctic and Antarctic under all SRES scenarios. In some projections, Arctic late-summer sea ice disappears almost entirely by the latter part of the 21st century.
  • It is very likely that hot extremes, heat waves, and heavy precipitation events will continue to become more frequent.
  • Based on a range of models, it is likely that future tropical cyclones (typhoons and hurricanes) will become more intense, with larger peak wind speeds and more heavy precipitation associated with ongoing increases of tropical SSTs (there is less confidence that there will be more storms) .
  • Extra-tropical storm tracks are projected to move poleward, with consequent changes in wind, precipitation, and temperature patterns, continuing the broad pattern of observed trends over the last half-century ( for Atlantic Canada this means more rain and less snow).
  • Since the TAR there is an improving understanding of projected patterns of precipitation. Increases in the amount of precipitation are very likely in high-latitudes, while decreases are likely in most subtropical land regions , continuing observed patterns in recent trends.

Anthropogenic warming and sea level rise would continue for centuries due to the timescales associated with climate processes and feedbacks, even if greenhouse gas concentrations were to be stabilized.

One of the most interesting aspects of the summary are the figures and graphs at the end, especially the error bars. These indicate unequivocal warming, sea level rise, etc.

For me, the most compelling aspect of the report is that the climate is going to continue to warm up, even if we cap world emissions at the levels of 7 years ago. This means that my nieces and nephews may never see an iceberg pass by St. John’s harbour when they grow up. The ecology will change, fisheries will change regardless of changes in fishing practices, and copying across the pack may only be possible in northern Newfoundland. Much of Newfoundland culture is strongly linked to the sea, the land, and the weather, including things like the family going to the beach for the capelin run, families going out and picking blueberries and bakeapples in season,tobogganning and pond skating in the winter, and freezing your buns off ice-fishing for mud trout.

But the message is clearer and harder to refute than ever before, and with enough pressure the powers that be stubborn may be forced into a positive response.

For some interesting discussion of the news release, check out RealClimate.

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This is a diatribe in three chapters. It was inspired by a report this evening on CBC’s As It Happens, and is a prelude to the IPCC press conference tomorrow on the Fourth Assessment Report on the current and future state of the climate. The IPCC is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is sponsored by the UN and the WMO (World Meteorological Organisation), and is the main body that determines the world consensus on the scientific, social, and economic impacts and implications on climate change.

Consensus 

The word consensus is very important here. People have often been disappointed by the weakness of previous statements, especially regarding the scientific consensus on what the climate is doing. Because it is a consensus everyone has to agree on the exact wording, so even if 95% of the scientists in the  working group (Working Group 1) supports a definite stand, the 5% or less that dissent can add the words “may”, “probably” , etc. This allows government and industrial leaders to cast doubt on the overwhelming preponderance of evidence supporting global climate change due to anthropomorphic carbon dioxide emissions, and annoys and distresses most climate researchers to no end.  It also sends most organisations concerned with climate change up the wall, for some reason.

As It Happens interviewed a member of the IPCC who discussed a related report published in Science today (Science is one of the main journals on cutting edge research in the sciences, along with Nature).  It looks at the predictions from the last IPCC assessment report in 2001, and finds that sea level rise may be greater than the previous model predictions indicated.This led me to check out the publications of the lead author, Stefan Rahmstorf, a prominent and respected oceanographer and climate change researcher.

Facts versus Fiction 

On his web page were some interesting articles.

  • The first is a very nice fact sheet summarising the main findings of climate change research, which summarises the scientific predictions, the social, economic, and ecological impacts, and addresses an approach to reducing and coping with the problem.
  • Second is RealClimate, a well-respected  blog written by climate change scientists.
  • The Climate Skeptics looks at the arguments and approaches taken by climate changes skeptics, and gives advice on how to come to your own conclusion,
  • and finally, there is a review of a “popular” movie on climate change.

Facts within Fiction

In the last few years I’ve seen two movies that relate to climate change. Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth is possibly the best discussion of the science and implications that I’ve seen, and the science is very close to being impeccable, with the problems being extremely minor. As I’ve said before, it is a must-see.

The seconds movie is one that I despised so much that I went to see it again, so as to find all the errors and pitfalls. As a person who has been around climate change science, and who did a Master’s Degree in climate change modelling, it was particularly annoying that people with little real knowledge besides what they see in the news (almost zip) and popular science magazines (often not much better) enjoyed it as an action adventure, and totally missed much of the fantasy in this near-future SF&F movie.

However, Rahmstorf made some very relevant comments regarding some positive elements of the movie that I missed in the avalanche of small to major bloopers. Here are a few of the more insightful and cogent remarks from his comments.

  • Early in the movie the protagonist gives a talk on the shut-down of the North-Atlantic Current (the Gulf Stream and the North Atlantic Drift). He argues that the shut-downs could occur in a few hundred years, a few thousand, or not at all. Rahnstorf gave the same talk with the same diagram in real life.
  • The politics and skepticism portrayed in the movie also rang true.
  • Some of the dialog and the research work areas also rang true.
  • Relevant and important questions were raised.

Rahmstorf believes that most of the audience would understand the main fantastic elements of the movie, and would understand and be intrigued by the implications of rapid climate change (but less rapid than what would fit into a feature-length movie). If you grit your teeth and ignore the sciencific errors, it isn’t that bad, and its heart is in the right place.

Addendum and Example: At the beginning of the movie is a sequence where an Antarctic Ice shelf splits  from the mainland, and an actor has a leg on either side of the split. Also, the split occurs in about 5 minutes. Now if you check out the story of the Larsen B Ice Shelf, you’ll see the truth behind the fantasy. There are several other cases in the movie (Jack Frost chasing people around to show the cold air isn’t one of them, however.)

Conclusion

The press conference tomorrow will hopefully have the strongest statment about climate change to date, and might be very useful to hear. Make up your own minds, but looks at the preponderence of evidence first.

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