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Today Johanna and I took a psychogeographic walk, in which you are meant to constantly make spontaneous choices to seek out whatever seems most interesting. We did well despite icy conditions and found the weird and unexpected grounds of Ontario Place, not open for business but not yet sealed off or demolished.

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I’m pretty much focused now on spinning up preparations to go to Power Shift next week. That means preparing for my Wednesday morning tutorials on Quebec and Language Politics, and my Wednesday contentious politics seminar on framing and identity. I also have office hours with students who want to discuss essay drafts on Monday.

This time I will be taking the train, unlike all my previous Ottawa–Toronto journeys. I can’t remember how many years it has been since I took an intercity train (maybe to a climate conference in Montreal, from Ottawa, sometime around 2009?), but friends tell me it’s a whole lot nicer than the Greyhound, and in this case it was basically the same cost.

I went to a drop-in clinic about my enduring cold today and was told it’s not strep and that I should discontinue any medication other than ibuprofen and acetaminophen and try to get as much rest as possible. I’ll be staying in a large shared dorm with no privacy, so it would be quite a pain to be acutely ill while in Ottawa.

This will also be a good trial of my replacement for my nearly shredded Barbour Beaufort jacket. I’ve been testing it in various conditions in Toronto, including what passes for extreme cold here, but anticipating a fair bit of time outside and night-time walks in Ottawa I’m planning to bring a second pair of merino wool long underwear for layering.

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Louis Sobol recently wrote a piece in the National Observer about university divestment organizing in New Brunswick: Lessons from campaigning for divestment at Mount Allison University.

It covers some themes of the movement: the sense of ecological threat motivating people to take action, the dominant perspectives within the movement about intersectionality and progressive allyship, an explanation of the objective of stripping fossil fuel companies of social license, a description of a range of tactics used by campaign organizers, and frustration with the university’s response.

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Of course, the Columbia and Challenger accidents have reminded us we need to be ever vigilant. Despite more than two years of careful work to prevent foam shedding from the shuttle’s main tank, my STS-114 mission lost a large piece of foam on ascent, in a circumstance very similar to what happened to Columbia on STS-107. Preventing foam loss was a top objective for the return-to-flight effort, and while this turned out to be an embarrassment, I believe it sent a clear message—future boosters and spacecraft should be designed to protect the ship’s reentry system (the heatshield) because rockets will always shed “stuff” like insulation and ice during the tumultuous minutes of ascent to orbit. This is why we will see future spacecraft designed with the reentry ship on the top of the rocket, rather than beside it, as was the case with the space shuttle. The STS-114 incident was a very sobering reminder that a complex system like the shuttle can never be made completely safe, despite everyone’s best efforts. Our future space travelers will be safer due to the lessons learned from the shuttle missions.

Leinbach, Michael and Jonathan Ward. Bringing Columbia Home: The Untold Story of a Lost Space Shuttle and Her Crew. Arcade Publishing; New York. 2018. p. 294

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Our main point, however, is not simply that efforts to build organizations are futile. The more important point is that by endeavoring to do what they cannot do, organizers fail to do what they can do. During those brief periods in which people are roused to indignation, when they are prepared to defy the authorities to whom they ordinarily defer, during those brief moments when lower-class groups exert some force against the state, those who call themselves leaders do not usually escalate the momentum of the people’s protests. They do not because they are preoccupied with trying to build and sustain embryonic formal organizations in the sure conviction that these organizations will enlarge and become powerful. Thus the studies that follow show that, all too often, when workers erupted in strikes, organizers collected dues cards; when tenants refused to pay rent and stood off marshals, organizers formed building committees; when people were burning and looting, organizers used that ‘moment of madness’ to draft constitutions.

Piven, Frances Fox and Richard A. Cloward. Poor People’s Movements: Why they Succeed, How they Fail. Random House, 1979. p. xxi-xxii

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