Canada taps strategic maple syrup reserve

Metal buckets collect sap from maple trees in the early spring.

Shortages of everything from toilet paper to gasoline have roiled markets and panicked consumers since the start of the pandemic. While much-feared turkey shortages did not materialize to disrupt Thanksgiving, high gas prices — partly the result of an OPEC-led supply squeeze — recently prompted the Biden administration to release 50 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

The latest shortage threatens to spoil breakfasts and brunches around the world: due to sub-optimal weather conditions in the spring which limited this year’s harvest, we face a maple syrup shortfall. NPR reports:

While high gas prices have pushed President Biden to tap into the US’s strategic oil reserves, America’s neighbor to the north is also dealing with a shortage of another so-called “liquid gold”.

The Canadian group Quebec Maple Syrup Producers recently announced it was releasing about 50 million pounds of its strategic maple syrup reserves — about half of the total stockpile. […]

This is a seasonal process though, as maple sap can only be harvested in specific weather conditions. So, this year’s short and warm Spring resulted in an uncharacteristically low yield for producers.

“That’s why the reserve is made, to never miss maple syrup. And we won’t miss maple syrup!” said Helene Normandin, the Quebec Maple Syrup Producers’ communications director.

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The tragedy and farce of Cleveland’s Balloonfest of ’86

Cleveland, Ohio is used to being the butt of jokes. Its famous burning river and the perennial underperformance of its football team have earned it widespread mockery and the enduring moniker “the mistake on the lake.” Once one of the nation’s five largest metros, Cleveland’s industry has bled offshore and its people have fled for suburbs and Southern climes, leaving behind a well-worn rustbelt emblem with an outsized set of legacy cultural institutions.

In 1986, movers and shakers at the United Way tried to shift this narrative with a single bold stroke. Their plan: break a Guinness world record by releasing more than one million balloons into the air as a fundraising gimmick, and show the world that Cleveland could be something more than a cheap punchline.

To do so, they contracted an LA-based balloon company that spent six months preparing for the event. A structure the size of a city block, covered with a mesh net, was set up to hold the balloons, which were filled in a single day by 2,500 volunteers. Altogether, more than 1.4 million balloons were inflated and launched into the air on September 27, 1986 — and truly, it was a sight to see.

Alas, Balloonfest ’86 was not the positive turning point Cleveland had hoped for. A simple principle had evaded the organizers: what goes up must come down. A cold front trapped the balloons close to the ground and forced many of them into the lake just offshore. The rest caused problems elsewhere: shutting down airports, clogging highways and waterways, littering the region with plastic and string. Horses in surrounding exurbs suffered “permanent injuries” when they were spooked by balloons landing in their pastures, prompting lawsuits and a payout from the event organizers. Most tragically, a Coast Guard search for two missing fishermen had to be called off due to the balloons; both men drowned. (This also prompted a lawsuit and subsequent settlement.)

Asked for comment on the event years later, the United Way said simply “we would not do a balloon launch ever again.”

You can watch a short documentary (7 minutes) about the Balloonfest incident below:

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74 interesting facts from 2020

2020 was by no means a good year, but it was certainly an eventful one. The flood of daily developments made it easy to lose track of any given story, and there’s a lot that slipped by us totally unnoticed.

The New York Times, however, has compiled a list of 74 “interesting, striking, or delightful” facts that appeared in its reporting over the course of the year. There’s some fascinating stuff on it, e.g.:

January

1. Japan’s legal system has a 99 percent conviction rate.
Carlos Ghosn, at Home but Waiting for the Next Move



2. Fishing remains the United States’ second most dangerous profession, after logging.
Overtaken by Frigid Seas, Hours From Help, There Was Little Chance of Survival



22. Years after Wyatt Earp’s famous turn at the O.K. Corral, in Tombstone, Ariz., he rambled around Los Angeles as an unpaid consultant for silent cowboy movies.
Richard Prince: This Ain’t No Retrospective, It’s a Rodeo



23. In Finland, a tradition of getting drunk at home in your underwear is so commonplace that there’s a word for it, “kalsarikännit.” The rough translation is “pantsdrunk.”
Getting Tipsy at Home in Your Underwear

55. The beaches of Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago, are covered with “blubberstones” — gravel mingled with rendered fat, vestiges of the mass killings of seals and whales.
Grief and Geology Both Take Time in ‘The Book of Unconformities’



56. Martha Stewart, who has a line of CBD products, including pâte de fruit, was introduced to the palliative effects of cannabis by Snoop Dogg, a friend, at Comedy Central’s 2015 “Roast of Justin Bieber.”
Martha Stewart, Blissed Out on CBD, Rides Out the Pandemic

You can check out the complete list here.

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How Cleveland Lost the World’s Largest Book

The Golden Book of Cleveland
The Golden Book of Cleveland was 7 feet by 5 feet and 3 feet thick, with 6,000 pages. It was about the size of a queen-size bed and weighed 2 1/2 tons.

The Golden Book of Cleveland was as big as a queen sized bed, contained more than half a million signatures, and weighed more than two tons. If it still exists, it is the largest book in the world. But its whereabouts have been unknown since 1937.

Cleveland, Ohio played host to the Great Lakes Exposition of 1936-37, its own effort at a World’s Fair that attracted more than 7 million visitors over its two-year run. The expo was “conceived as a way to energize a city hit hard by the Great Depression” and featured rides, sideshows, botanical gardens, cafes, art galleries, and other attractions. Notable among these was the Golden Book of Cleveland, billed as the largest book in the world. From Cleveland Magazine:

The Golden Book of Cleveland, official registration book of the Great Lakes Exposition, stood inside the main entrance on St. Clair Avenue during the expo’s first season. It was 7 feet by 5 feet and 3 feet thick, with 6,000 pages — about the size of a queen-size bed. It weighed 2 1/2 tons. The Golden Book had spaces for 4 million signatures. By Aug. 17, 1936, halfway through the expo’s season, 587,400 people had signed it.

According to Cleveland Magazine, the expo’s organizers intended to donate the book to a local historical society. (“The idea was that fairgoers or their descendants could visit Cleveland again years later, look on the page number recorded in their booklet and find their signature.”) The book disappeared from expo coverage in Cleveland newspapers after August 1936, however, and after the expo ended it vanished from the public record entirely. Cleveland Magazine checked three libraries’ archives, a dozen books of newspaper clippings from the expo, more than a dozen Cleveland historians, the Western Reserve Historical Society, and the Ohio Historical Society, and none could account for the book’s ultimate fate.

So where might Cleveland’s lost bed-sized book have ended up? Some speculate that it was simply destroyed following the expo. However, after Cleveland Magazine published an article about the book in 2006, a man named Al Budnick claimed that his father had sold the book to a Tucson doctor in the early 1950s. While no physical trace of the book (nor the identity of its alleged purchaser) has since turned up, you can read more in a 2007 article in the Arizona Daily Star.

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Alligator spotted in Chicago lagoon

Spotted in a pond in Chicago’s Humboldt Park: a four-to-five foot long crocodilian. The latest Chicago-area gator-sighting since a four-footer was found swimming in Lake Michigan last October, residents observed the reptile earlier this afternoon and Chicago Police and Animal Care and Control — though skeptical at first — later confirmed the report.

Humboldt Park alligator
An alligator was spotted in Chicago’s Humboldt Park, July 2019. (Photo credit Block Club Chicago.)

From the Chicago Tribune:

Chicago officials confirmed an alligator was living in Humboldt Park Lagoon after several people reported seeing the animal there Tuesday morning and others shared possible photos of it.

Chicago police were called to the 1400 block of North Humboldt Drive about 12:15 p.m. after someone called 911 “saying they saw a Facebook post saying there is an alligator in the lagoon area,” said Chicago police spokeswoman Karie James.

Police had “independently confirmed the alligator is in the lagoon and state reptile specialists” said it was 4 to 5 feet long, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in a tweet. The animal was expected to be trapped Tuesday night “and relocated to a zoo for veterinary evaluation.”

Sounds like the makings of a summertime blockbuster! Hopefully the alligator will be captured and relocated without too much fuss.

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Massive chocolate spill closes German road

From the BBC:

“A ton of chocolate” has brought a local road to a standstill in Germany, according to local authorities.

The road was closed in the western town of Westönnen late on Monday after a tank of chocolate in a factory spilled and poured into the street.

The chocolate quickly solidified. About 10 sq m (108 sq ft) was cleared by 25 firefighters using shovels, hot water and blowtorches.

Left unanswered are many crucial questions, such as: does the five-second rule apply to spills of this magnitude?

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Man paddles world’s largest pumpkin boat down Yorkish river

Happy Halloween! The BBC brings good tidings from York:

A man has paddled down the River Ouse in a giant pumpkin boat.

Tom Pearcy, who works at York Maze, claims it is a world record for the largest pumpkin boat, weighing 619kg (1364lbs).

As there is currently no recognised world record for the largest pumpkin boat, York Maze have applied to Guinness World Records to have this achievement recognised.

You can see video footage of this magnificent vessel here, or watch below:

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Norway considers giving mountain to Finland as 100th birthday present

In a lovely gesture that would surely make every Finn’s day, the Norwegian government is considering slightly redrawing its border to give Finland a mountain peak, which would become its highest point. The occasion? The 100th anniversary of Finland’s independence from Russia.

From The Guardian:

The originator of the idea is a retired geophysicist and government surveyor, Bjørn Geirr Harsson, 76, who learned last year that Finland would celebrate the 100th anniversary of its independence from Russia on 6 December 2017 and recalled being puzzled by the location of the border when he flew over Halti in the 1970s.

Harsson wrote to the ministry of foreign affairs in July 2015, pointing out that the gesture would cost Norway a “barely noticeable” 0.015 sq km of its national territory and make Finland very happy.

Public reaction has been overwhelmingly positive in both Norway and Finland, with the only objection so far coming from the indigenous Sami community, whose reindeer roam freely across the border and who argue that the land should belong to neither country.

If only all nations could learn such magnanimity.

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The strangest town in Alaska: Whittier, the one-building city

There’s an unusual town in Alaska, along Prince William Sound, where everyone lives under a single, 14-story roof. Built in 1957 by the military, the building — now called Begich Towers — contains 150 studio, two-, and three-bedroom apartments, a hospital, a post office, a grocery store, and city government offices. It even connects, via underground tunnel, to a school. So residents never even have to leave the building, if they don’t want to — convenient given that they can expect an average of 22 feet of snow each year.

Check out CNN’s video-essay about Whittier, Alaska (and read the corresponding article here):

Only about 220 people live in Whittier year-round, working in commercial fishing, recreation and tourism or for the state ferry and railroad. Most of them have homes in the tower, as though they were occupying separate bedrooms in one huge house. About their isolation together, they say: “We’re all family here.”

You can also check out some photos of Whittier below:

View post on imgur.com

Fascinating!

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Minnesota dog drives truck, crashes it

Here’s an offbeat article that I’ll let speak for itself:

One dog apparently has learned a new trick: how to drive a semi-truck. Customers at a Minnesota gas station saw a golden Labrador retriever appear to drive the semi across a road Friday.dog driving semi truck

Mankato police say the idling truck apparently was put into gear, then went through a parking lot, across the street and over a curb. The Free Press of Mankato reports a passer-by discovered the dog sitting in the driver’s seat when he jumped into the truck to stop it. […]  The driver had left the unoccupied truck running in a nearby parking lot.

(From the Chicago Tribune!)

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The Seattle windshield pitting epidemic: a textbook case of mass hysteria

Mass hysteria, per Wikipedia’s definition, is “a phenomenon that transmits collective delusions of threats, whether real or imaginary, through a population in society as a result of rumors and fear.” You may be familiar with famous incidents of mass hysteria such as the Dancing Plague of 1518 or the Salem witch trials, but you likely haven’t heard of a much more mundane yet relatably close-to-home instance: the Seattle windshield pitting epidemic of 1954. Considered by experts to be a “textbook” case of collective delusion, residents of Bellingham, Seattle, and other communities of Washington reached a state of panic when they began noticing “holes, pits, and dings” in their windshields.

[O]riginally thought to be the work of vandals[,] the rate of pitting was so great that residents began to attribute it to everything from sand flea eggs to nuclear bomb testing.
Originating in Bellingham in March, police initially believed the work to be vandals using BB guns. However the pitting was soon observed in the nearby towns of Sedro Woolley and Mount Vernon and by mid-April, appeared to have spread to the town of Anacortes on Fidalgo Island.
Within a week, the news and the so-called “pitting epidemic” had reached metropolitan Seattle. As the newspapers began to feature the story, more and more reports of pitting were called in. Motorists began stopping police cars to report damage and car lots and parking garages reported particularly severe attacks. […] By April 15, close to 3,000 windshields had been reported as affected.
Finally, Sergeant Max Allison of the Seattle police crime laboratory stated that the pitting reports consisted of “5 per cent hoodlum-ism, and 95 per cent public hysteria.” By April 17, the pitting suddenly stopped.

While troubled motorists propounded a number of theories to explain the pitting, ranging from “cosmic rays” to a shift in the earth’s magnetic field, the likeliest explanation is that “natural windshield pitting had been going on for some time, but it was only when the media called public attention to it that people actually looked at their windshields and saw damage they had never noticed before.”

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The underground homes of Coober Pedy, Australia

It’s a strange enough name for a town, but what really sets the place apart is the fact that the majority of its dwelling and businesses are… underground.

Coober Pedy is fairly remote: it’s about 500 miles north of Adelaide, in south Australia, and has a population of just 1,695. And because daytime temperatures can reach 120 degrees during the summertime, its residents tend to seek shelter beneath the earth. Take a fascinating video tour below:

They’re really taking “down under” to a whole new (subterranean) level. (Via Great Big Story.)

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