1. Apocalypse deferred
The “blizzard of the year” turned out to be a typical snowstorm, about eight inches at my house in Dartmouth. Overnight, however, came the freezing rain. The morning commute will be a mess.
“The government is blaming rogue Canadian Space Agency employees for doctoring a picture of the International Space Station to include a Canada logo,” reports The Chronicle Herald’s Paul MacLeod. The badly photoshopped photo made its way onto “a government website targeting new immigrants, a website on the government’s financial stimulus plan and the Canadian Space Agency’s Tumblr account” before The Economist noted it and the entire world started pointing and laughing at Canada, at which time the phony photo was taken off government websites.
The real surprise here is they didn’t photoshop a Conservative Party logo onto the space station.
3. Boldly demanding a tax cut for themselves
The Chamber of Commerce wants the Liberals’ next budget to implement all of Laurel Broten’s tax proposals, which would slash taxes on the wealthiest Nova Scotians while ending the sales tax breaks on diapers and tampons, reports Ruth Davenport.
1. Better bus service
Halifax Transit will soon release its proposed revamped scheduling and routing. Sean Gillis gives an overview.
2. Wong watch
Jan Wong says Dalhousie should reinstate Ryan Millet and expel the 12 other members of the Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen Facebook page. The “Dirty Dozen” can “reapply to the class of 2016, with a 1,000-word essay about what each has learned. Then take them back, or not.”
3. Duck, duck, cat
Our Own Backyard posted the above photo on its Facebook page a couple of weeks ago, and recently noted that “We have since learned the cat’s name is Pekoe and lives near Sullivan’s Pond. He’s a regular visitor to the pond and is well known in the community.”
4. Cranky letter of the day
I am trying to prevent the closure of St. Barra Church in Christmas Island.
I recently became aware that the group trying to save the closed church in Low Point was made aware that documents they forwarded to the papal nuncio in Ottawa had not been forwarded to the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome.
After a group registers a protest in Rome, documents with any pertinent information are supposed to be forwarded to the Vatican through the papal nuncio in Ottawa. According to canon law, when a protest goes through the Congregation for the Clergy, the party involved receives an official protest number assigned to the file.
In frustration, I wrote a letter directly to the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome inquiring about the delay. I received a personal reply from Beniamino Stella, head of the Congregation for the Clergy. He was very apologetic regarding the long delay. And he stated that the Vatican did not receive the documents I had sent to Ottawa. I was asked to send them directly to the Vatican.
I was shocked. The papal nuncio’s lack of action is inexcusable. It appeared to be a deliberate attempt to prevent my information from being reviewed.
I have said from Day 1 that this whole process is about money. Our church and related property — many acres with water frontage on the Bras d’Or Lake — would be a cash cow for the Diocese of Antigonish.
The diocese should recognize St. Barra Parish’s strong 200-year presence and consider its parishioners.
William R. (Bill) Higgins, Christmas Island
Joint meeting of the North West Community Council and the Halifax and West Community Council (9:30am, City Hall)—the councils are meeting together to give final approval to a specific development plan change in Bedford West and Bedford South. The councils changed planning rules for the development area in November. The changes don’t increase the number of residential units but moves them about in the development area, which straddles the jurisdiction of each council.
City Council (10am, City Hall)—council’s budget deliberations continue. Today it will look at the proposed police budget, which is something of a joke because while council has the power to set the overall police budget, it is prohibited from changing any of the budget line items. The specifics within the police budget are the sole jurisdiction of the police commission, which in practice makes no changes to the proposed budget as presented by the chief of police.
City council (City Hall)—After budget deliberations, council will hold the meeting that was scheduled for yesterday. The most important issue is the review of fire department operations, which I wrote about here. This article is behind the Examiner’s pay wall and so available only to paid subscribers. To purchase a subscription, click here.
Heritage Advisory Committee (3pm, City Hall)—the committee is considering proposed facade changes to the Tim Hortons in Village Centre Plaza, at 930 and 932 Bedford Highway. Village Centre Plaza is immediately adjacent to the historic Moirs Ltd. Power House. Back in 1989, the company that owns the Tim’s franchise was given development approval for the site, dependant upon various design criteria. Tim Hortons is changing the branding of its stores nationwide, and in order for the changes to be made in Bedford, the HAC must first approve them.
The heritage value of the building is explained here:
Moirs Limited was founded as a bakery in 1816 by Benjamin Moir. In 1903, still under the ownership of the Moir family and incorporated as Moirs Ltd., the bakery expanded to include the production of chocolate. A refining plant and wooden box mill were built at Bedford, NS. The power plant was built in 1931 to drive the refinery and box mill. It was fed by nearby Paper Mill Lake. The plant is a small, single storey building, constructed of reinforced concrete and located directly on Moirs Mill Brook, a small feeder stream running between Paper Mill Lake and the Bedford Basin. Interior evidence of the building’s industrial history remains. It is the last surviving structure associated with the Moir’s manufacturing enterprise in Bedford.
The place is also valued for its preservation and adaptive resuse as a local tourist bureau. Open in the summers, the space is used to disseminate tourism information and to educate visitors about the history of the site and area. A mezzanine and other modern conviences were added to create additional space for administation and interpretation, while retaining elements related to the building’s industrial history. Outside a space for visitors to sit near the brook have been established, as well as a small walking path along the brook.
Public Accounts (9am, in camera briefing for legislators; 10am, public session Province House; 12:30pm press conference)—Auditor General Michael Pickup will release his review of the Bluenose II Restoration Project, so expect fireworks later today.
Metabolism (Wednesday, 4pm, Theatre A, Sir Charles Tupper Medical Building Link)—Morgan Fullerton, from the University of Ottawa, will talk about “AMP-Activated Protein Kinase (AMPK): Metabolism, Macrophages and More.”
Assisted Dying (Wednesday, 7pm, Room 105, Weldon Law Building)—Jocelyn Downie will lead a “Conversation About Dying: What the law has to say.” In explanation:
The Supreme Court of Canada is considering whether to strike down the Criminal Code prohibitions on assisted dying. The Quebec legislature has passed “An Act respecting end-of-life care” to permit medical aid in dying. Draft legislation has been introduced in both the House of Commons and the Senate. Professor Downie will talk about these major developments in the law on assisted dying, and invite us to think about some of the open questions still to e answered.
The Maltese Falcon (Wednesday, 8pm, Dalhousie Art Gallery)—one of the best films ever will be screened.
Deferred Acceptance (Thursday, 11:30am, Life Sciences Centre, O3655)—Norovsambuu Tumennasan, from Aarhus University in Denmark, will talk about “Dynamic matching markets and the deferred acceptance mechanism.”
Anthropogenic stressors (Thursday, 11:30am, 5th floor Biology Lounge, LSC)—Devin Lyons will talk about “Impacts of anthropogenic stressors on the structure and functioning of the marine benthos.” In English, that translates as “How we’re fucking up the oceans.”
Glenn Davidson (Thursday, 12:15pm, Lord Dalhousie Room, Henry Hicks Building)—”Glenn Davidson is a senior naval officer in the Canadian Forces. From 2008 to 2011, Davidson served as Canada’s Ambassador to Syria. In August 2011, he was appointed as Canada’s Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. In this seminar talk he will briefly look at 6 topics facing an ambassador: the requirement for representation abroad; the Ambassador’s role; foreign policy priorities; advancing Canada’s interests; reporting from the field; and risk management.”
Complex networks (Thursday, 3pm, Slonim Conference Room, Goldberg Computer Science building)—Osvaldo N. Oliveira Jr., from the São Carlos Institute of Physics, University of São Paulo, Brazil, will talk about “Using Complex Networks in Natural Language Processing Tasks.” The abstract:
Concepts from complex networks and other methods in statistical physics have been used in a variety of language-related applications, including in natural language processing (NLP). In this lecture, an overview will be provided of NLP tasks in which text is represented as a network with concepts being taken as nodes and edges established based on co-occurrence. The topology and dynamics of the network are investigated with several metrics, including degree, strength, minimum paths, inbetweenness, whose values are taken as features for classification purposes. Machine learning methods are used in classification for various NLP tasks, such as authorship recognition, summarization, evaluation of machine translation, study of consistency in the use of words and categorization of books according to literary movements.
Back pain (Thursday, 5:30pm, The Prince George Hotel, Halifax)—an “interactive” panel (whatever that means) consisting of Jeffrey S. Mogil, Jill Hayden, Katherine Harman, Todd Berry, and Mary Lynch will discuss “Why can’t you fix my back pain?” More info here.
Food waste (Thursday, 7pm, Ondaatje Auditorium, McCain building)—Tristram Stuart, author of Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal, will talk.
Nietzsche and Grosse Politik (Thursday, 7pm, Room 1184, Department of Classics, Marion McCain Arts and Social Sciences Building)—Professor Emeritus Rainer Friederich will talk about “Nietzche: on the Genealogy of Grosse Politik.”
Brian Bartlett (Wednesday, 3pm, Room LI135, Patrick Power Library)—Bartlett will talk about his new book, Ringing Here and There: A Nature Calendar.
The Washington Post’s Emily Badger interviews historian Peter Norton about what Norton calls “the myth of America’s love affair with cars“:
This “love affair” was coined, in fact, during a 1961 episode of a weekly hour-long television program called the DuPont Show of the Week (sponsored, incidentally, by DuPont, which owned a 23 percent stake in General Motors at the time). The program, titled “Merrily We Roll Along,”was promoted by DuPont as “the story of America’s love affair with the automobile.”
In it, Groucho Marx recounted that history to millions of Americans with a curious metaphor — the driver as the man, the car as the new girl in town (“Lizzie” was her name). Their “burning love affair” led to marriage, an extended honeymoon, and, inevitably, a few challenges.
“We don’t always know how to get along with her, but you certainly can’t get along without her,” Marx concluded. “And if that isn’t marriage, I don’t know what is.”
The show aired at a time when cars were facing steep criticism, as plans for the new interstate system threatened to destroy or disrupt neighborhoods in many U.S. cities. Highways were on their way to remaking Detroit, Cincinnati and St. Louis. Interstate 95 would ultimately raze entire black neighborhoods in Miami. In Washington, a grassroots group called the Emergency Committee on the Transportation Crisis was protesting “white men’s roads thru black men’s homes.”
Since then, city planning and transportation networks have been primarily oriented around the car.
“When that’s criticized, the reply typically is ‘well look, it’s a free country, people voted with their pocketbooks to buy cars, they like the suburbs,” Norton says. “I think that’s a reasonable position to take. I’m troubled at how seldom people have stopped to question it, though. It is a story with a history.”
The version of this story Groucho Marx spun evolved into a set of assumptions — Americans prefer cars to other forms of transportation, we’d rather have plentiful parking than bustling sidewalks, our roads should be reserved primarily for cars and not pedestrians — that we’ve now inherited as we begin to envision a future where driverless cars might make us dependent on automobiles in new ways. Those assumptions have become so deeply embedded, Norton says, that we’ve forgotten to question them.
“That makes stories,” he adds, “the most powerful social tool in the world.”
Badger is not a car-hating fanatic. “This isn’t to say that there aren’t people who love their cars,” she writes. “The phenomenon of sports cars, weekend cars and collector cars is real. So, too, is the allure for many people of road trips, scenic highways or weekend drives through the country.”
“When I actually looked into the history record, documents from the time, I found just the opposite,” Norton says. “What Americans in cities wanted in the ‘20s was to get the cars out.”
I’ve covered the invention of jaywalking several times in Morning File, so won’t rehash that here, but the point is that we should understand our auto-centric culture is, well, cultural:
Now, about 86 percent of Americans get to work every day in a private car – a statistic that’s often interpreted to mean that the vast majority of us chose to travel that way.
This conclusion conflates preferences with constrained options. “I actually drive most of the way to work,” Norton admits. “I do it because the choices stink.” To extract from today’s ubiquitous parking garages, drive-through restaurants and busy roads a preference for cars ignores all the ways that public policy, industry influence and economic incentives have shaped our travel behavior.
“If you locked me in a 7-Eleven for a week, and then after the end of the week unlocked the door and you studied my diet over the previous seven days, then concluded that I prefer highly processed, packaged foods to fresh fruits and vegetables, I would say your study is flawed,” Norton says.
We make the same mistake, he says, with the history we tell of the car. And this popular story of that past makes it hard for us to envision alternative futures before us.
In the harbour
I’m busy. I have three large projects in the works: I’m waiting for some documents to write a detailed piece on the Washmill underpass fiasco. I still have some things to say about the Wellington Street development. And, I’m diving into the Glenn Assoun court trial transcripts; it turns out to be a very complicated story that I hope to start telling in a few weeks. Today, there’s city council coverage, and somehow I have to find a couple of hours to sit in the courthouse. Then I’ll be on the Sheldon MacLeod Show on News 95.7 at 4pm.