1. Seven more Nova Scotians have died of COVID-19
Yesterday, Nova Scotia reported seven COVID-19 deaths over three days. More than a third of Nova Scotia’s COVID deaths have occurred since December 3.
Welcome to the next phase of our re-opening plan.
The 68 people now hospitalized because of COVID have the following vaccination status:
• 18 (26.5%) have had 3 doses
• 23 (33.8%) have had 2 doses but not 3
• 1 (1.5%) has had 1 dose
• 26 (38.2%) are unvaccinated.
Note that less than 9% of the population is unvaccinated.
There is pop-up testing in several communities across the province today and tomorrow, as follows:
Halifax Central Library, noon-7pm
Alderney Gate, 4-6pm
West Pubnico Fire Department, 11am-3pm
Debert Legion, 11am-3pm
Les Trois Pignons (Cheticamp, drive-thru site), 10am-2pm, or until kits run out
Great Hall (Cape Breton University), 1-3pm, or until kits run out
Halifax Central Library, noon-7pm
Alderney Gate, 10am-2pm
Windsor Legion, 11am-3pm
Enfield Fire Hall, 11am-3pm
Bay St. Lawrence Community Centre (drive-thru site), 4-6pm, or until kits run out
Great Lady of Assumption Church (Arichat, drive-thru site), 5-7pm, or until kits run out
2. Making health care more accessible
The Examiner has published part 2 of Suzanne Rent’s series about Milena Khazanavicius, a Halifax woman who is blind and advocates to make the city and province more accessible to people who are blind and partially sighted.
Today’s installment looks at Khazanavicius’s work to make health care more accessible.
Khazanavicius is an organ transplant recipient, so she has to take multiple medications a day. But knowing which medications are in which bottles can be a challenge:
Since that transplant, Khazanavicius has had to take immunosuppressants so her body doesn’t reject the organs. Those are just two of several prescriptions Khazanavicius takes each day. But Khazanavicius can’t read the prescription bottles and for years has been advocating to make prescriptions more accessible for herself and others who are blind and partially sighted.
“You’re blind. How are you supposed to remember all of this? Which pill is what?” Khazanavicius said told the Examiner in an interview. “You can mark up the bottles, the pills are different shapes, but to try to remember when you’re supposed to be taking what? This stuff is essential…”
There is a solution for this, and it’s free for users, but hospital pharmacies don’t use it, she says. Medications Khazanavicius gets from a private pharmacy have a code on the bottle she can scan with a device called ScripTalk. Rent writes:
ScripTalk is a free service available at all pharmacies across Canada and the US. It’s also simple to use. The user scans the code on the prescription through the ScripTalk Station or app and using text-to-talk technology, it reads out the details of the prescription, including the drug name, dosage, instructions, warnings, pharmacy information, doctor name, prescription number, and date.
It’s a simple and safe way to keep track of what medications she’s taking, but Khazanavicius can’t use ScripTalk on those prescriptions for immunosuppressants she gets at the hospital pharmacy because that pharmacy doesn’t provide the code the machine needs to scan.
“I feel that no matter what aspect in the province that is supposed to be fully accessible by 2030, to me, the blind and the partially sighted are still being left behind. The technology is there. The means are there. Provide me with ScripTalk.”
The story gets into other ways in which the health-care system is unfriendly to people who are blind or partially sighted — including appointment reminders that come in the mail.
3. Disability advocates to premier: stop the appeal
This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.
Dozens of groups and prominent individuals have signed an open letter to Premier Tim Houston in support of a request from the Disability Rights Coalition.
The names go on for eight pages, but the request is straightforward: the signatories are demanding that the premier act immediately on a Nova Scotia Court of Appeal decision last October that said the province could no longer deny people with intellectual and physical disabilities equal access to income assistance and housing/care outside of large institutions.
Houston initially said he wouldn’t fight that decision and would “do the right thing.” But that position changed late last year when the province chose to file a request to appeal with the Supreme Court of Canada.
In December, Community Services Minister Karla MacFarlane said the Nova Scotia Appeal Court ruling raises “many significant questions” (including some big financial ones) that require guidance from the country’s top court.
The open letter to the premier is a plea to see if Houston is willing to re-consider and find a way forward:
When your Minister of Community Services, Ms. Karla MacFarlane, announced a total reversal of your position and an appeal of the ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada, we can’t say we were at all surprised. Delay, resistance, and empty talk of change have been the Department of Community Services’ response toward the rights of Nova Scotians with disabilities for decades. For two short months, we had reason to hope that you would break the pattern.
The letter calls upon the premier to implement the Court of Appeal October 6 ruling, drop the application to the Supreme Court of Canada, negotiate a systemic human rights remedy to the problem of discrimination against people with disabilities in accessing social assistance, and end the funding cap that singles out the disabled and creates barriers to their inclusion in our communities.
“The province’s application to the Supreme Court of Canada is cowardly and we want to know why the government keeps running in the opposite direction instead of sitting down with us and working out solutions to end this needless tragedy,” notes Vicky Levack, spokesperson for the Disability Rights Coalition.
Levack, 31, has been living at a nursing home for 10 years while she continues to wait for an alternative housing arrangement. You can read the full open letter to the premier here.
4. Two new members join Emera board
This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.
Nova Scotians worried about how much more they may have to pay for electricity in the future got another jolt yesterday when Nova Scotia Power’s parent company, Emera, reported record profits for last year; $723 million, to be exact. Nova Scotia Power was a solid contributor earning $20 million more in 2021 than in 2020.
The power company in Nova Scotia is asking the regulator to approve a 10% rate hike for residential consumers, as well as higher profits for shareholders on all capital projects, from new subdivisions to wind farms. Storm costs above a five-year average could also be passed on to ratepayers as an additional charge. Nova Scotia Power also proposes increases fees for most electrical inspections.
The Utility and Review Board will hold a public hearing this September, letters and submissions are welcome at this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Emera’s board of directors provides leadership to an energy conglomerate with more than $34 billion in assets and operations in several American states and two Caribbean countries.
Yesterday the company announced the appointment of two new corporate directors: Ian Robertson from Algonquin Power Corporation and Paula Gold-Williams from CPS Energy in San Antonio, Texas.
Algonquin started in Ontario more than 30 years ago and like Emera, has expanded through North America buying up various gas and electrical utilities in the United States and the Caribbean.
The short bio provided in Emera’s announcement says Paula Gold-Williams spent most of her working career with CPS Energy, the largest municipally-owned energy company in the US:
She was President and Chief Executive Officer until her retirement earlier this year, previously serving as Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer. Throughout her tenure, Ms. Gold-Williams demonstrated exceptional stakeholder management skills and a commitment to a people-first corporate philosophy focused on customers and employees. Her leadership is credited with successfully improving corporate safety culture and guiding the company to achieving one of the highest credit ratings in the industry.
What Emera’s bio didn’t mention was that CPS Energy’s credit rating took a major hit last month when Moody’s Investor Services downgraded it a notch. Even more interesting is a report in this San Antonio newspaper from January 25, 2022 that says the reasons for the downgrade were due to $1 billion of debt racked up mostly due a vicious winter storm in 2021 and the fact the utility “still hasn’t made meaningful improvements to the grid.”
The chief financial officer for the Texas company noted Moody’s had improved its outlook on CPS Energy from negative to stable as a result of a $73 million rate increase passed on to consumers, the first in eight years. Sound familiar? Afraid so.
5. More on those record profits for Emera
Emera, the company that owns Nova Scotia Power, had a good year. A very good year. A record year, in terms of profits. (A friend once told me that instead of griping about power rates I should just buy shares).
Jennifer Henderson unpacks the company’s earnings, and reports on CEO Scott Balfour’s “unprecedented” apology for its proposed system-access fee for solar customers:
“Solar is absolutely part of helping Nova Scotia reach its 2030 climate goals,” said Balfour, before adding solar cannot be relied upon to replace coal-fired generation that is still required during cold winter nights. Balfour then did something unprecedented: he apologized for how the power company handled proposed changes in the rate application around the net-metering program.
“The reaction from the solar industry, customers, and government was strong,” Balfour told those participating on the conference call. “We listened. We understand the concerns we heard and we have since withdrawn the proposal….we are seeing the debate over net-metering play out in many locations. It’s a complicated issue… Our initial proposal tried to solve an issue of imbalance in the current rate design between customers. We were trying to do the right thing for our customers. It was certainly not our intention to hurt businesses in Nova Scotia with this proposal. We are sorry for not working harder to address the impact this change would have had on those businesses.”
Oh, and those earnings?
Earnings per share were up 11% from $2.68 in 2020 to $2.81 in 2021. Emera earned $723 million in profit; Nova Scotia Power made $241 million profit, an increase of $20 million from 2020.
Higher natural gas prices and stormy weather last year in many parts of the United States helped Emera Energy, the division that makes energy trades, increase its profits by 37%.
6. Black in the Maritimes
Matthew Byard brings us the story of Black in the Maritimes, and its creator, Fidel Franco.
Franco grew up on Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic, where, he tells Byard:
“If you go through Latin America to the Caribbean, to the West Indies, or Africa, nobody looks at ourselves as Black. They look at us as Dominican,” Franco said in an interview with the Examiner. “That’s how they look at themselves. Never as Black. It’s only when you come to North America, somebody tells you that you’re Black.”
Today, Franco’s Black in the Maritime is a media portal and podcast that has attracted high-profile guests:
Franco said “every day is a learning curve” and one of his main goals remain the same: sharing Black voices and the Black experience.
“It doesn’t matter where you are — in Alberta, Peterborough [Ontario], or Vancouver — most likely, if you are a Black person, doesn’t matter what country you’re from, [if you live in] a majority white community, most of the experience will happen the same. That’s how I see it,” he said.
Still, Franco said the Black experience isn’t monolithic and doesn’t limit itself to issues surrounding racism and race.
“I want to see a Black person talk about health, I want to see a Black person talk about finance, I want to see a Black person talk about immigration, I want to see a Black person talk about electricity,” he said. “We have all those capabilities here.”
He said he’s proud of what the platform has been able to accomplish in the five years since its inception.
“People hear it, CBC sometimes contacts us, we had like a team at one point — four people, five people — like, I didn’t expect any of this.”
“The good thing that I can say is that it’s progressing. I mean that’s the main thing. There’s more Black voices, there more people out there, more people putting their stuff out there, and that’s beautiful.”
The persistence of bullshit (and the stickiness of misinformation)
Walk 10,000 steps a day. Drink at least eight glasses of water. Wipe down chairs before you sit on them to prevent the transmission of COVID-19.
What do these beliefs or practices have in common? Well, they are, to put it delicately, bullshit. And yet they persist. Sometimes for decades at a time.
I sometimes think those of us in the media, or those who take an essentially rationalist view of the world, think misinformation and information work like this: If someone shares information you know is incorrect, you correct it, and then everyone carries on from there, the incorrect information now harmlessly neutralized. But, of course, this is bullshit also.
Earlier in the pandemic, when we were all so young and naive, my mother and I were talking about people who didn’t believe COVID was real contracting it and dying, and she said those cases should be publicized, so people would understand how serious it was. Oh, if it were only so easy.
I’m interested in the persistence of bullshit beliefs that somehow ingrain themselves in our consciousness and just stay there. I’m not talking here about deliberate, malicious lying, but about often-repeated maxims that turn out to be based on nothing.
Let’s take the notion that we should all, ideally, be walking 10,000 steps a day. It’s a nice, round number. Look at all those zeroes! And it’s easy to remember too. So, what’s it based on? Well, this piece from Harvard Health Education, looks at a study that says it originates in a 1960s Japanese marketing campaign for pedometers.
Dr. I-Min Lee is an associate epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and a researcher on physical activity. She and her colleagues wanted to look at the basis for 10,000 steps and its validity. Their new study in JAMA Internal Medicine answers two questions about mortality: How many steps a day are associated with lowering the mortality rate? Does stepping intensity level make a difference in mortality when people take the same number of steps?
Dr. Lee discovered that the origins of the number go back to 1965, when a Japanese company made a device named Manpo-kei, which translates to “10,000 steps meter.” “The name was a marketing tool,” she says. But since the figure has become so ingrained in our health consciousness (it’s often the default setting in fitness trackers), she wanted to see if it had any scientific basis for health.
The device was an early pedometer, based on the work of Dr. Yoshiro Hatano, a young academic at Kyushu University of Health and Welfare.
Dr. Hatano was worried that the Japanese were busy importing a slothful American lifestyle, as well as a love of watching baseball, and wanted to help them get more active.
He reckoned that if he could persuade his fellow Japanese to increase their daily steps from 4,000 to around 10,000 then they would burn off approximately 500 extra calories a day…
That, apparently, was how the “10,000 steps a day” regime was born.
Does this matter? Sure, because if you think you need to take 10,000 steps a day and you can’t do it, you may just give up. What’s the point of walking 6,000 steps if you need 10,000 to see benefits? A couple of years ago, I wrote a story on fitness for Dal Magazine, and a couple of quotes from health promotion professor Sara Kirk stood out to me: “Any activity is better than no activity,” and “Do what fits in with your daily life and with your capabilities.”
And besides, Dr. Hatano is a cartoon villain in my books for blaming baseball.
Now, how about those eight glasses of water a day? Marketing, again.
In this 2011 paper from the British Medical Journal, GP Margaret McCartney looks into the history of the claim that we all need to be drinking more water — specifically, eight glasses a day.
One of the organizations pushing this line is Hydration for Health? Who are they, you may wonder. Here’s McCartney with the, uh, shocker:
Hydration for Health has a vested interest: it is sponsored and was created by French food giant Danone. This company produces Volvic, Evian, and Badoit bottled waters. The initiative’s website is bold and strident. Under a section entitled “We don’t drink enough water,” it states, “many people, including children, are not drinking enough . . . Children can be at greater risk than adults of feeling the effects of not drinking enough because of their smaller size . . . Elderly people often have a decreased sensation of thirst, which can lead to a higher risk of dehydration [and] evidence is increasing that even mild dehydration plays a role in the development of various diseases.”
McCartney’s story is brief, but exhaustive, and worth a read as she takes us back to previous debunkings, and cites health authorities repeating the claim that children in particular are not drinking enough water:
This is not only nonsense, but is thoroughly debunked nonsense. In 2002, Heinz Valtin published a critique of the evidence in the American Journal of Physiology. He concluded that “Not only is there no scientific evidence that we need to drink that much, but the recommendation could be harmful, both in precipitating potentially dangerous hyponatremia and exposure to pollutants and also in making many people feel guilty for not drinking enough.” In 2008, an editorial in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology reached much the same conclusion, stating that “There is no clear evidence of benefit from drinking increased amounts of water. Although we wish we could demolish all of the urban myths found on the internet regarding the benefits of supplemental water ingestion, we concede there is also no clear evidence of lack of benefit. In fact, there is simply a lack of evidence in general.”
Does this mean nobody should drink eight glasses of water a day? Of course not. Some people, including me — wait while I grab a drink — have medical conditions for which increased water consumption is recommended. Some people like drinking a lot of water. Of course, as with anything, you can overdo it, send your electrolytes all out of whack, and possibly even die from too much water.
“It’s a complicated story” [nephrologist Stanley Goldfarb] says. “One definitely benefits from it if there are recurring kidney stones. Will it reduce kidney stones in people who have never had them? It’s really just speculation. The other disease where increased fluids can be recommended is in polycystic kidney disease. This suppresses anti-diuretic hormone, which decreases the risk of development of cysts in people with a genetic risk. The downside of that with drinking all day, you are likely to have to get up in the middle of the night; so you have to factor in sleep deprivation.”
So, we’ve known for at least 20 years that for most people drinking increased amounts of water doesn’t have any benefit, but I’m sure 20 years from now we’ll still be reading things about how good it is for us. Also, if you want a laugh, go look up “hydration” on a stock photo website. Suzanne Rent and I were puzzling over this image last night, in which the model is failing to pour water into her mouth.
Mary Campbell in the Cape Breton Spectator recently had a great piece on the bullshit claim that only 7% of all communication is verbal. The idea is that what you say is less important than other factors, including your tone of voice and body language. This is known as Albert Mehrabian’s Communication Theory.
This “rule” is based on a study conducted in the 1960s and, of course, it’s bullshit. But here’s the best part. Albert Mehrabian himself, the researcher who conducted the study, has said this interpretation is bullshit. But never mind. The notion that only 7% of communication is verbal carries on. Campbell looks into it when she sees the Nova Scotia Career Development Association is offering a course that teaches Mehrabian’s rule. She writes:
Mehrabian (and colleagues) produced what is apparently the “best-known set of numbers within the discipline,” namely, the idea that the total meaning in a message is “7 percent verbal, 38 percent vocal, and 55 percent facial.”
My “research” took me immediately to a 2007 paper by David Lapakko, a professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Augsburg College in Minnesota, titled: “Communication is 93% Nonverbal: An Urban Legend Proliferates.”
Lapakko marvels at how widespread Mehrabian’s numbers have become — found “in our textbooks in public speaking, interpersonal communication, small group communication, persuasion, organizational communication, and intercultural communication” — despite being based on “two 1967 studies with serious methodological limitations.”
Lapakko goes into some detail about these “methodological limitations,” but what really interested me was that he had communicated with Mehrabian who “himself believes his research has often been misinterpreted and mispresented.”
“As he stated, ‘My findings are often misquoted . .. Clearly, it is absurd to imply or suggest that the verbal portion of all communication constitutes only 7% of the message. Suppose I want to tell you that the eraser you are looking for is in the second right-hand drawer of my desk in my third floor office. How could anyone contend that the verbal part of this message is only 7% of the message?’”
Lapakko first quoted Mehrabian in 1997, in a paper debunking the 93% claim, but even Mehrabian’s own reservations about it did nothing to stop the theory’s dissemination, leaving Lapakko to write, rather mournfully, in 2007:
“Unfortunately, knowing that the Mehrabian research has serious deficiencies and limitations has not stopped the rest of the world from picking up these wonderfully precise numbers.”
In yesterday’s edition of his Galaxy Brain newsletter, writer Charlie Warzel looks at the science behind why some misinformation is so hard to dislodge. Essentially, when you hear information for the first time, your brain makes a bunch of connections. So un-knowing something becomes complicated. He writes:
I called up Maddy Jalbert, a postdoctoral scholar… at the University of Washington, to ask her about this. Jalbert studies how context and our daily experiences can shape our memory and also our decision-making abilities. “When you give humans a piece of information, we are very good at connecting it to things we already know,” she told me. “But if you retract that piece of information and people have already made these connections, you can’t go back and magically take that information out of a person’s head because then that whole understanding of the information they’ve connected it to is different. So people will then rely on their original understanding of things they’ve incorporated.”
What Jalbert is saying is that once we’ve yoked a new piece of information to something we already know and still believe to be true, the new piece of information becomes structurally important to our understanding of the world around us. It is load-bearing and thus not easily removed.
It’s not only first-heard information that is sticky. Details or facts that make you feel safe or in control might be naturally sticky. Information that is repeated frequently is more likely to be internalized as true, even if, deep down, you know it isn’t, Jalbert said. And one’s own personal experiences and environment will also shape how persistent a morsel of new knowledge might be. Especially when a subject is polarized or politicized (like masking), an important determiner of sticky information is social norms. “When people hear new information and think, What should I do? most look around and copy people similar to them or those in their social circle. And when everyone around you is doing something one way, you develop a false sense of consensus around an idea.”
Warzel spends much of the newsletter tying this into our approaches to COVID. You can still go to places that are sanitizing everything in sight, despite overwhelming evidence that COVID-19 is transmitted through the air, and not through touching surfaces. Early in the pandemic this may have made sense. We didn’t know how long the virus persisted, how it infects us. Now, we know better. But the sanitizing continues, leading to absurdities like the one described in this tweet from August 10, 2021 by Matthew Halliday:
Just now, signing a document at a library branch in rural New Brunswick: as per the province’s living-with-COVID strategy, all staff were maskless-ly breathing the same recirculated air, but they did carefully sanitize a ballpoint pen before handing it to me.
I’ll give the final word to Warzel:
If you think of misinformation this way, it’s easy to see how many debunking tactics employed by institutions and media organizations can fall flat. A simple “FACT CHECK: THING WRONG” is ultimately a shallow, almost half-assed attempt at a solution to a difficult problem. “It’s not good enough just to replace the information — you need to also account for the way that that piece of information serves as a shared connection in a given community,” Jalbert said. “To expect people to change their beliefs without an idea of how to replace it or foster other connections is missing the key component.”
Go drink some water. Take some steps. Communicate using body language and facial expressions.
Aikins is originally from Halifax, and has been doing remarkable work covering Afghanistan for years.
In this piece, he meets Jawad and Shukria, newlyweds from Kabul who have paid a smuggler to get them out of Afghanistan. He tells their story — which includes several attempts to get into Iran by scaling a heavily guarded 15-foot-high fence — before finally trying an extremely dangerous desert route. Aikins also delves into the history of refugees, and some of the absurdities in the distinction between “refugees” and “migrants.”
How Jawad and Shukria would be treated when they arrived in a foreign country hinged on whether they would be recognized as refugees or rejected as illegal migrants — the same question facing millions each year who make desperate journeys across hostile borders, and petition for safe haven. From the deserts of America’s southern border to the forests of Belarus, from the English Channel to the shores of Bangladesh, mass migration has become one of the most important crises of our time, roiling politics with its central question: Who deserves to be given refuge?…
The modern legal definition of the refugee came into existence at a United Nations-sponsored conference in Geneva in 1951, under the shadow of the new Cold War. With World War II fresh on everyone’s mind, some delegates argued for a definition that would include anyone escaping violence, but the United States was keen to narrow it for anti-communist uses.
America got its way. According to the Geneva Convention, the foundation of international refugee law, a refugee is defined as someone with “a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion” — criteria tailored to the Cold War dissident — and not someone simply fleeing war or disaster.
This is one of the best pieces I’ve read in a long time, and Aikins masterfully tells a gripping high-stakes contemporary story where people’s lives are on the line while weaving in essential context that many of us have likely not had the occasion to consider.
Budget Committee (Wednesday, 9:30am) — virtual meeting
Veterans Affairs (Tuesday, 2pm) — video conference: Services Provided by the Foundation, with Peter Stoffer and Sandra Goodwin from Veterans Legal Assistance Foundation
Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am) — more info here; EHS, Department of Health and Wellness, and IUOE 727
Identity Captured in the Archives (Wednesday, 10am) — an open virtual classroom with Elder Harry Bone, Elder Florence Paynter and Raymond Frogner, Head of Archives at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation
Remember Africville Film Screening and Discussion (Tuesday, 5pm) — online event
The Neurobiology of Trauma & Supporting Survivors (Wednesday, 5pm) — online workshop
Mount Saint Vincent
Indigenous Futurisms and Horror: Articulations of Resistance, Survivance, and the Soul Wound (Wednesday, 5pm) — virtual conversation to consider Indigenous Futurism and speculative fictions as Indigenous agency, sovereignty, and survivance, healing the soul wound. We will begin with a panel discussion with our esteemed guests Grace Dillion, Stephen Graham Jones and Waubgeshig Rice, followed by an audience Question and Answer period. Register here.
In the harbour
12:00: Acadian, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
14:00: Star Pyxis, bulker, moves from Bedford Basin anchorage for sea trials
15:30: Atlantic Sun, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
18:30: Tropic Hope, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for Palm Beach, Florida
08:30: Loire, sails from Point Tupper for sea
Going to go do the Wordle now.