Canada’s ruling Conservatives have a wee problem

A Toronto businessman who ran for parliament with Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper’s party is out of the race, after being caught on video urinating into a coffee cup.

The news about Jerry Bance, who was filmed while working as an appliance repairman, capped a bad week for Harper, who faces re-election as Canada has entered a recession.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation used hidden cameras in 2012 to record Bance peeing into the cup and pouring it down the sink while on a service call. The homeowner was in the next room.

Bance runs an appliance repair company; the CBC was reporting on home repair companies.

Bance had been running in a Toronto district in the 19 October election, but a Conservative party spokesman said on Monday: “Mr Bance is no longer a candidate.”…

The opposition New Democrat leader, Tom Mulcair, did not miss a chance to mock Bance and the Conservatives.

“He must be someone who is adept at Stephen Harper’s trickle-down theory of economics,” Mulcair said.

When I mentioned this to my wife, she responded – “What’s happening to the Canadians? That’s certainly not a very Canadian thing to do. What do your relatives in the Maritimes think?”

I explained – it’s not that Canadians are adopting the crass ethos of their southern neighbor – which is living through the transition from Imperial Overlord to Mediocrity not really in charge. It’s just that Canadian Conservatives have decided to emulate American conservatives. So, racism, nativism, male supremacy, ignoranus economics are the rule of the day. That leads inevitably to the extension of boorish behavior to every aspect of life.

No doubt some True Believer will stand for office calling for the expulsion of First Nation folks from some chunk of terra firma capable of squeezing out something profitable.


That great story about Rock Hyrax urine you’ve been waiting for

Those aren’t fangs – they’re tusks!

The Rock Hyrax is a remarkable animal. Native to dry, rocky environments throughout Africa, you would be forgiven for assuming that it is a large rodent, with its short legs, short neck, rounded ears and overall resemblance to a particularly large guinea pig or a coypu minus a tail.

And yet, in defiance of expectations, the creature’s nearest living relatives are elephants and manatees. This in itself should be enough to make any research involving Rock Hyraxes worth reading.

But these furry fellows have a distinctive behaviour which, by good fortune, enables climatologists to study the environmental history of rocky areas where traditional techniques – such as taking a core – are not viable. Rock Hyraxes, it seems, are very particular about where they urinate and defecate. They like specific locations underneath rocky overhangs and generation after generation of Hyraxes will use that same spot – called a midden – over and over again. For literally thousands of years.

Some of these middens can date back 30,000 years or more. That’s the Stone Age. That’s actually the Upper Palaeolithic period!

The urine crystallises and what you end up with is a block of solid, stratified material which provides the sort of historical record that is otherwise impossible to find in these dry, rocky parts of the world. Within the midden is a record of Hyrax metabolytes as well as particles which have passed undigested through their systems (and the occasional bit of organic material that just happened to get blown there). These can be accurately dated, giving an indication of how the vegetation – and hence the climate – has changed over the millenia. And that’s what some researchers in our Department of Geography are looking into…

Paleaoenvironmental knowledge of southern Africa, which encompasses countries such as Botswana and Namibia, has always been very fragmentary and largely reliant on ocean core records. The data from the Hyrax middens open up a whole new realm of research into how some of these dynamic environments have changed over 30,000 years or so. The next step is to compare this data with established models of climate change.

We’re anxiously awaiting the next regular news bulletin from the research team.