1. Election intervention
“Americans are right to be outraged at the outrageous Russian interference in their 2016 presidential elections,” writes Stephen Kimber:
They are correct to be appalled not only that their Putin-puttana-ed president continues to pretend that what happened didn’t happen, but also that their commander-in-chief and his principle-free, me-too Republican Congressional congregation refuse to act to prevent more and worse in 2018 and 2020.
And yet the US mainstream news media does their readers and viewers — not to mention the rest of a connected world swamped in the swamp of US cable news hegemony — a disservice by pretending the United States is somehow the wounded innocent in a new worldwide war for democracy.
The United States has been — and continues to be — the main global player in using whatever means necessary to disrupt, displace and (even if not necessary) replace foreign governments it doesn’t like.
Consider 1948 Italy. Or 1953 Iran… 1954 Guatemala… 1964 Brazil… 1969 Thailand… 1973 Chile… 1980s Nicaragua… 1983 Grenada… 1989 Panama… 2002 Venezuela… 2009 Afghanistan…
Well, you get the unpretty picture. It continues.
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2. The smoking ban
This morning, El Jones writes about “Tyrell,” a Black man who found a bit of opportunity and hope by working in a cannabis dispensary, but who has lost his job as legalization of cannabis (and provincial control of sales) has forced the closure of his dispensary.
Jones points out that Black people have in the past been overly targetted by criminalization of cannabis:
While marijuana use is similar across racial groups (with some studies even suggesting use is slightly higher among white Canadians), Black people and communities are overwhelmingly stopped, charged, and incarcerated for weed offences. In Halifax, according to Vice News:
Black people comprise 3.6 per cent of Halifax’s population, yet they represented 15 per cent of cannabis possession arrests in 2015, which had a total of 110 such arrests. In 2016, black people represented 24 per cent of the cannabis possession arrests, even though the number of cannabis possession arrests dropped to 42. One person whose race was unidentified in 2015 was subtracted from the total.
There were 17 possession arrests made in Halifax from January to mid-July of 2017, 22 per cent of which involved black men and women.
And now that legalization is approaching, Jones continues, the opportunities provided by legalization are going to some of the very people who profitted from criminalization, while Black people will continue to suffer:
While Ontario police chiefs who formerly invested in criminalizing Black people for drug crime now open dispensaries and are appointed to cabinet positions, the Black people they targeted are held back from employment and even housing because they carry criminal records for marijuana offences. The same surveillance and policing apparatus put in place in Black communities to “fight the drug war” continues to subject Black people to profiling and harassment, even as Justin Trudeau can admit to smoking weed and suffer no consequences. And while the government claims that cannabis is being legalized, Black lawyers and advocates point out that the new laws increase the number of offences, will overtly criminalize young Black men selling to underage classmates, and widen opportunities for police racial profiling through traffic stops.
Which brings me back to Halifax council’s decision to amend city bylaws to, among other restrictions, ban smoking on city sidewalks.
The arguments around this are getting caught up in the moral panic caused by the coming legalization of cannabis. I mean, council could have years ago banned the smoking of tobacco on sidewalks. The health and safety issues related to tobacco have not changed. You are no more likely to breath in second-hand smoke while walking down the sidewalk in 2018 than you were in 2015. The only thing that has changed is the coming arrival of cannabis.
So it’s impossible to discuss the bylaw changes without a tangled-up conversation about both tobacco and cannabis.
Smoking was ingrained in our culture for a century or more. Some of the biggest advances in marketing came from the tobacco industry, from the supplying of free cigarettes to soldiers in wartime to product placement in movies to, as I remember while shopping with my mom on Granby Street in Norfolk, the distribution of free “samples” in shopping districts. There was a madman-like genius to that marketing: tobacco was a multibillion, multinational industry that succeeded by positing itself as counter-culture.
And it worked. People became addicted. Lots of people became addicted. These people were, and are, victims.
I don’t know why I never picked up smoking; it was all around me, and growing up in Virginia, a tobacco state, cigarettes were everywhere — you could buy them from vending machines at the hot dog place where we played pool. There were maybe five or six times when I’d be with a group of boys smoking out in the woods, but I never liked it and by the time I was 12 years old I was into running, so smoking just never took.
Soon enough, I was supportive of restrictions on tobacco use. My dad would smoke his damn pipes in the house, and it annoyed me to no end. When I was a young man, people smoked everywhere: in business offices, in restaurants, even on airplanes. It was plainly rude.
I’ve always hung out in bars, and that meant hanging out in smoky bars, including my regular in California. Then, the bartender became pregnant, and the owners banned smoking in the bar. This was the right thing to do, and it came about a year before the state-wide indoor smoking ban came into effect. A lot of patrons complained, but the bar became a more pleasant experience, the bartender had a healthy baby boy, and the smokers found that heading out to the sidewalk to light up wasn’t all that much of an imposition.
The smoking bans also began the slow change in behaviour. It took decades, however, as the addictions, both physical and societal, were hard to kick.
When I was a new reporter, the California county I lived in was the recipient of millions of dollars from a government class action lawsuit against the tobacco companies. The politicians mostly blew the money on stupid things like more cops, but a sliver of the money went to a smoking cessation program for people on Medicaid, which is the health program for people on social assistance in the US. A remarkable thing happened with that program: it paid for itself in the very first fiscal year, as even just getting one or two pregnant women to quit smoking saved more money in that year’s Medicaid costs related to premature and sickly infants.
Which is to say, anything we can put into helping people quit smoking is worth it financially.
And lots of people have stopped smoking. Better still, starting to smoke is no longer the adolescent passage it once was.
Smoking is no longer seen as an emblem of the counter-culture. It’s not cool to smoke. And there’s definitely a class element to it: by and large, the wealthier you are, the less likely it is you smoke.
Yet, still, people smoke. I know lots of these people. I’ve watched them try dozens of times to quit, trying patches, vaping, hypnotists… none of which succeeded for long. It’s hard not to view these last hangers-on as victims. Victims of a multi-billion dollar marketing campaign. Victims of their own easily addicted bodies. Victims of the lack of financial and medical resources necessary to quit. And so, while we rightly banned smoking indoors and outdoors where people congregate (near doorways, on restaurant patios), we made allowance for smokers to get their fixes out on the sidewalk. I find most smokers — not all, certainly, but most — are cognizant of imposing on others’ spaces, and try to be respectful in terms of where they smoke.
On Facebook, I asked for input on the new smoking ban:
Honest question for those in favour of the ban on smoking on sidewalks: How does this affect you?
I understand, say, someone smoking at the doorway of a building, especially one that I need to enter. That annoys me as well, although honestly I’m more annoyed about the butts than I am the smoke. And it’s just downright discourteous to smoke in bus shelters. So I get that.
But what I don’t understand is the opposition to people walking down the sidewalk smoking a cigarette or a joint, or the smokers congregating in their little huddles outside bars. The displeasure I experience as I walk past such people seems so fleeting as to be meaningless to me. It’s like passing a smoke-belching diesel truck, or a homeless person who hasn’t bathed in months. Sure, not exactly nice, but it’s part of the fabric of public life, it seems to me.
I’m not trying to argue with anyone. I just don’t get the urge to criminalize something that seems so miniscule. Enlighten me.
As goes with social media, some of the comments on both sides of the issue were thoughtful, and a lot were screeds.
Some people claimed that they are so allergic to smoke that even passing a smoker on the sidewalk causes them to break out in hives. I don’t know what to do with that, honestly. (I’m not disbelieving them or discounting it; I just don’t know how to respond to it. Do we ban every smell that someone in the world is allergic to? Maybe, but I don’t know where this ends; tell me how that works in practical terms.)
My biggest concern is that implied by El Jones: the smoking ban is going to used as yet another tool to racially profile, and to target and harass those who are otherwise already marginalized in our society.
This was the concern raised in 2012, when the town council in Antigonish declined to ban smoking on Main Street, reported Philip Girvan for the Media Co-op:
Although the measure passed a first reading at council in October, subsequent letters to the community newspaper, The Casket, expressed concern that the proposed smoking ban would marginalize some of the town’s poorest, most vulnerable citizens, many of whom enjoy a cigarette while gathering on the public benches lining Main Street.
As I said, cannabis smoking is entwined into this debate, but I don’t see how it’s going to be immune to being used as a tool to attack the marginalized.
3. Dumb meters
This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.
New Brunswick has said “No” to smart meters, the same devices approved for installation on Nova Scotia homes and businesses a month ago. The decision by the New Brunswick Energy and Utilities Board last Friday may have an impact here because Nova Scotia Power presented evidence indicating the bulk purchase of the smart meters by NB Power and Emera-owned utilities Nova Scotia Power, Emera Maine, and the Tampa Electric Company would save consumers in this province $18-million over 20 years. New Brunswick’s decision eliminates 355,000 smart meters from the bulk buy; Nova Scotia Power plans to buy 495,000 and begin installing them next January.
The Advanced Metering Infrastructure, AMI for short, replaces human meter readers with a wireless two-way communication system between the electricity consumer and the power company. Seventy per cent of Canadians already have them. The meters’ benefits include reduced labour costs, automatic reporting of power outages, and real-time information about electricity consumption that will allow consumers to make money-saving decisions in their homes and give power system operators better information to reduce fuel costs.
In Nova Scotia, despite concerns expressed by the Consumer Advocate that the power company appeared to have “over-estimated the benefits and under-estimated the costs” of AMI meters, the Utilities and Review Board approved the $133.2 capital expenditure on the basis that the technological improvement would result in a net benefit to consumers of $38.1 million over the 20-year life of the meters. Nova Scotia Power estimated it will save millions when it no longer needs 72 people to go out and read the meters each month.
One witness for the Consumer Advocate, Paul Chernick, presented evidence from other areas suggesting the meters were unlikely to last 20 years and that costs should be recovered over a shorter period of time.
In New Brunswick, NB Power proposed a 15-year period to recover the cost of a $90-million capital expenditure to install the very same smart meters. The utility projected a net benefit of $8.7 million for ratepayers. However, the regulator in New Brunswick disallowed $23.2 million NB Power had claimed the new AMI meters would save by eliminating the mail-out of monthly Home Energy Reports. The New Brunswick Energy and Utilities Board said the power company could find other ways to deliver that information, such as online or included with the power bill. That disallowance turned AMI meters into a money-losing proposition — the Board ruled it would cost at least $1.3 million more to install and operate the new meters than if New Brunswick stuck with the old. And even though the Board acknowledged there were some “non-quantifiable benefits” associated with AMI, the regulator rejected smart meters in its written decision.
The fundamental reason behind this conclusion is the Board’s finding that no positive business case was established in the evidence. The demonstrated benefits to ratepayers must outweigh the expected costs that ratepayers will bear.
Regulators in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick did not receive any evidence with respect to concerns raised in The Halifax Examiner by energy consultant Peter Ritchie, who said both provinces were missing out on an opportunity to install more advanced, radio-equipped smart meters that could provide consumers with even better information to make informed decisions about their use of electricity.
4. Containerized farm
Reporting for the CBC, Emma Smith profiles Phil Hatcher’s Very Local Farms, a containerized farming operation in Dartmouth:
Farming inside shipping containers is the latest trend in urban agriculture, a way to get fresh, local produce even in the dead of winter. Containers are proving to be fertile locations because they provide moveability, sustainability and availability.
“We can grow from – 50 C to plus 50 C,” said Hatcher. “It doesn’t really matter, and that’s definitely the goal, is to kind of ramp up for the fall and go right through the winter.”
Futurists dream of urban farms taking over skyscrapers and the like, and who knows? But it looks like Hatcher’s operation will depend on producing relatively pricey herbs and such for year-round restaurants, and not on staple foods for the average consumer.
I’m curious about the inputs and outputs. Hatcher says he spent $150,000 on the container, which can produce as much as a two-acre farm. The very best farmland in the Annapolis Valley is going for about $10,000/acre, but of course you can’t grow year-round on that land.
Hatcher doesn’t say what his ongoing maintenance costs are. But according to Freight Farms, the company Hatcher bought his container from, the containers typically require 15-20 hours of work per week, and pay for themselves in three years. That’s the company’s sales pitch, anyway.
Freight Farms says the container consumes 125 kilowatt hours of electricity a day. In Nova Scotia, that amounts to just over 30 tonnes of green house gas emissions; I don’t know what the embedded carbon content of a similar amount of conventionally grown food is.
Accessibility Committee (Monday, 4pm, City Hall) — there are no action items on the agenda.
No public meetings.
No public meetings this week.
Thesis Defence, Physics and Atmospheric Science (Monday, 12:30pm, room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Robert MacDonald will defend his thesis, “Development and Implementation of Trajectory Optimization Technologies for Cranial Stereotactic Radiation Therapy.”
Recursive Designs (Tuesday, 11:30am, Room 127, Goldberg Computer Science Building) — Andrew Szilard from Western University will speak. His abstract:
More than a hundred years ago, starting with G. Peano and followed by D. Hilbert, H. von Koch, W. Sierpiński, mathematicians were forced to realise that curves of potentially infinite length can be constructed by iterating simple geometric transformation rules, that these curves can be approximated by fractured lines and that some of these curves were space-filling as they could go arbitrarily close to any point in a closed region of the plane, as if they were two-dimensional. These curves, while only mathematical curiosities at first, were termed as monster curves for their peculiar properties such as being nowhere differentiable.
The study of these curves gave rise to some useful applications. Lindenmayer systems (aka L-systems) of parallel rewriting and recursive turtle graphics made possible a concise definition, analysis and simple implementations of these curves using only a few lines of program code. Recursive tiling of planar regions are intimately related to these curves. A number of illustrated programming examples are given through graphical interpretation of L-systems.
Pride Week: Pinkwashing 101 (Tuesday, 6pm, South House, 1443 Seymour Street) — from the event listing:
Last year, Queer Arabs of Halifax put forward a resolution at the Halifax Pride AGM after raising concerns of content that pinkwashed their current realities and trauma: “Pinkwashing is the use of claims to 2SLGBTQ+ friendliness by governments, corporations or organizations to divert attention from their violations of human rights or policies. The resolution specifically targeted the pinkwashing of violations of international humanitarian law by foreign governments; violations many members have experienced directly, having been racially profiled and denied basic human rights” (Queer Arabs Halifax, 2016). This resolution was not addressed by Halifax Pride which lead to a multi-organizational boycott of Halifax Pride 2018. This workshop will discuss the systemic, widespread, and state sanctioned violence of pinkwashing abroad as well as the local and current repercussions, harm, and struggle. This conversation aims to use larger concepts such as state control, neo-liberalism, supremacy, and access as a lens to examine questions such as:
• What does queer justice and liberation look like under capitalism and queer centric exploitation?
• What are the intersections between pinkwashing, occupation, and neo-colonisation and where do our responsibilities lie in disruption of this reality?
• Who is systemically erased and excluded from Pride? Who has ready access to “freedom”? What does a anti-racist restructuring or reimagining of corporate pride look like/ feel like?
In the harbour
5am: Atlantic Sail, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
5:30am: Toscana, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southampton, England
6am: Asian Sun, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Philipsburg, Sint Maarten
7am: Selfoss, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Davao, Philippines
8am: Veendam, cruise ship with up to 1,350 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Bar Harbor
11:45am: Selfoss, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for sea
3:30pm: Toscana, car carrier, moves from Autoport to Pier 31
3:30pm: Atlantic Sail, ro-ro container, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
4:30pm: Asian Sun, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for sea
5:45pm: Veendam, cruise ship, sails from Pier 22 from Bar Harbor for Sydney
8:30pm: Toscana, car carrier, sails from Pier 31 for sea
I’m planning a vacation.