1. ‘Deforestation Inc.’: the Halifax Examiner goes international
Several months ago, Joan Baxter approached me about a project she was working on, and I agreed that the Examiner would take it on.
Since then, I’ve been sworn to secrecy, but this morning I can tell you that Baxter is one of 140 journalists from 39 media outlets across 27 countries working collaboratively on ‘Deforestation Inc.’ a project of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
For this project, Baxter is working with journalists in France (Le Monde, Radio France), Canada (CBC / Radio-Canada, Glacier Media), and the United States (Inside Climate News), among many others.
For ‘Deforestation Inc.,’ the Examiner will publish at least five articles written by Baxter. The first will go live at 1pm today.
I’m excited about this project, and proud of the work Baxter has put into it. I’m certain that readers will find this work valuable, and I expect that it will affect government policies, both provincially, nationally, and internationally.
It’s important, impactful journalism.
It’s also the Halifax Examiner punching above our weight.
I’ve always said I’d be honest with readers about the finances of the Examiner, and here we are: As the pandemic restrictions have abated and the world has opened up, people have been letting their Examiner subscriptions lapse. Add to that the additional costs of hiring Baxter full-time to work on the Deforestation Inc. project, and we’re facing an unprecedented financial crunch.
We need your help. Please consider subscribing to the Examiner to support work like that produced by Baxter and the other Examiner reporters. Or, if you’re unable to subscribe, please consider making a one-time donation to help us out.
2. The Green Fund and Nova Scotia’s decarbonization efforts
Yesterday, Nova Scotia Auditor General Kim Adair released her Performance Audit of the province’s Green Fund.
“Problem is,” I wrote later in the day, “she looked at the wrong thing.”:
Adair looked at the minutiae of spending controls related to decarbonization programs (spoiler: there’s nothing much to worry about, at least not yet), but neither she nor anyone else is assessing if the programs are the best path to getting off carbon.
I’d like to see an honest cost-benefit assessment of the various programs, to see if, say, in terms of getting to net zero GHG emissions, spending $15 million on the Sustainable Communities Challenge Fund is a better or worse use of public money than spending the same amount on retrofitting homes.
I don’t know the answer to that. Does anyone?
I’ve got a big problem with how Nova Scotia is supposedly addressing climate change. The provincial government is throwing money around at various untested and unassessed initiatives that kind of feel good, but no one really knows if they’ve achieve their goals, at least quickly enough.
At the same time, the very same provincial government has extended the life of the Donkin coal mine; burning the coal from the mine will likely release more carbon into the atmosphere than the reduction in GHG emissions achieved by all the provincial climate change programs combined.
Suzanne Rent continues her series of profiles of women over 50 who, in their own often quiet ways, make significant contributions to ours society outside of the corporate world. Today, Rent speaks with Gina Jones-Wilson, a stalwart of the Upper Hammonds Plains community.
Jones-Wilson has volunteered in the community since she was a child, worked for 14 years as a volunteer firefighter, and continues to support community endeavours like the Chebucto Pockwock Community Wind Project and the conversion of the old firehall into a youth centre.
I’m glad Rent has taken this project on. Older women get short shrift in our society, but they typically have done far more work than anyone else. They’re the glue that holds the rest of us together, and it’s good to hear their stories directly. Besides, Rent enjoys interviewing the women, and I’m always happy when reporters enjoy their work.
4. Kinsella reverses himself
“Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella has cancelled an application for judicial review of a Nova Scotia Police Review Board decision just one day after filing for it,” reports Zane Woodford:
The board decided in December that Const. Nicole Green did nothing wrong when she arrested Clinton Fraser after a traffic dispute in 2019. Green and another officer used a Taser on Fraser to subdue him, and he complained to police.
Last Thursday, Feb. 23, HRM lawyer Edward Murphy filed notice of judicial review in the case on behalf of Kinsella…
Kinsella wanted a judge to either set aside and/or quash the decision, “restoring the discipline imposed on Cst. Green,” or to remit the matter to a new hearing of a different panel.
There was to be a hearing on March 29, but the next day, Murphy filed notice of discontinuance, ending the case.
Police would not comment on the reason for the withdrawn application.
Last night, the provincial government announced that TikTok is banned on government-issued mobile devices. The Canadian federal government announced a similar ban on Monday, following bans announced by the US government and the European Parliament.
The TikTok bans were initiated in December by hawkish US Republican lawmakers amping up anti-Chinese sentiment. TikTok is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, which has a close relationship with the Chinese government, which has a seat on the company’s board of directors.
The Nova Scotia press release explained the reason for the ban as follows:
On a mobile device, the TikTok application’s data collection methods provide substantial access to the contents of the phone, making those who have downloaded the application more vulnerable to surveillance. There are also concerns about the legal regime that governs the information collected. There is no evidence at this time that foreign actors have compromised government information.
For what it’s worth, TikTok declares that it does not collect such data, at least in the US.
I’m no data security expert, but I don’t see how this particular aspect of TikTok is any different than for any other app. I won’t install the Facebook app on my phone for exactly this reason. So far, it seems to me, in terms of real societal danger and election interference, Facebook has done far more harm than has TikTok.
I’m less concerned about TikTok’s potential for data collection than I am about addictive algorithm, although I suppose the two go hand-in-hand. TikTok is very, very good at learning what users like and providing more of the same. I understand that it’s better than YouTube or SnapChat or any other social media app in this regard, and people can waste hours upon hours chasing the soma-like trance the algorithm provides.
There’s no indication that the Chinese government has used the app for propaganda purposes, but it could easily promote socially divisive videos with the aim of simply sowing discord.
We’re remarkably dumb about this stuff.
For example, last week, the Twitter account @Frontlinestory, which describes itself plainly as “China state-affiliated media,” tweeted out the nonsensical assertion that US President Joe Biden had “a visible bruise on his forehead” while visiting Poland. It was obvious to pretty much everyone that Biden, a devout Catholic, had merely received the Ash Wednesday smudge. @Frontlinestory left the tweet up for a few hours, then deleted it.
But the damage was done. Not to Joe Biden, but rather to the US public broadcaster, PBS, which a popular news program called Frontline. Anyone who took just two seconds to click through to the @Frontlinestory account would see that it was Chinese state media, but lots and lots of people did not take those two seconds, and instead amplified screenshots of the supposedly offending tweet and demanded of Frontline, “why did you delete this?” For some users, the tweet reflected badly on the PBS show, and so the Chinese, at least to a tiny degree, sowed distrust of PBS. A tiny propaganda victory.
That’s a crude, blunt, and kind of stupid example. But we already know that social media pushes users into harm.
“Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” reported the Wall Street Journal, after it obtained internal corporate communications from Facebook, which owns Instagram.
Wrote Lindsay Crouse in the New York Times:
What exactly are we talking about here? Say you’re a 13-year-old girl who is beginning to feel anxious about your appearance, who has followed some diet influencers online. Instagram’s algorithm might suggest more extreme dieting accounts with names such as “Eternally starved,” “I have to be thin” and “I want to be perfect.”
In an interview with “60 Minutes,” [Facebook whistleblower Frances] Haugen called this “tragic.” “As these young women begin to consume this eating disorder content, they get more and more depressed,” she said. “It actually makes them use the app more. And so they end up in this feedback cycle where they hate their bodies more and more.”
It wouldn’t take much to devise a subtle state-sponsored propaganda campaign to simply highlight and promote obscure nonsense about minority groups or election fraud or… oh, wait, that’s already happened.
I’m not really opposed to banning TikTok on government-issued devices, but a better solution is to educate the public about how we’re all being manipulated every day, by an entire range of interests, including but not limited to state actors.
This item is written by Yvette d’Entremont.
Maritimers are being reminded that with seal season in full swing, it’s important to understand what to do — and not do — and when to report animals that may be in distress.
On Tuesday, the Marine Animal Response Society (MARS) posted on social media that its hotline has been receiving an increasing number of seal reports.
“We would like to remind everyone that most of these animals are healthy and behaving normally, including individuals coming ashore to rest or give birth,” the non-profit marine animal conservation organization noted on its Facebook page.
“As air breathers, they can stay out of the water for extended periods from days to a week, especially newborn pups. This is perfectly normal.”
The organization reminds people to not approach, touch, or relocate seals — especially pups — as their mothers may only be gone away to feed temporarily and will return.
“Pups should NOT be put back in the water as they are poor swimmers and may not survive,” it noted.
If you find a seal that appears to be dead, injured, ill, or in an unusual location in any of the Canadian Maritime provinces, call MARS at 1-866-567-6277. Members will investigate.
People are reminded to give seals “lots of space” and to keep kids and pets at a safe distance. It is illegal to harm or disturb a marine mammal in Canada.
MARS also shared a short information video that can be found here.
7. Prostate cancer and mental health
“Although survival rates for newly diagnosed prostate cancer patients are very high, most of them will likely suffer significant treatment-related side effects, depression, or anxiety, affecting their quality of life.”
That’s the background information provided in a recently published study in the journal European Urology. It found that a program developed by researchers at Dalhousie University reduces psychological distress in men being treated for prostate cancer.
8. Lisa Banfield and a reporter’s reaction to the mass murders
CBC reporter Angela MacIvor spoke with Lisa Banfield’s lawyers and legal experts about Banfield’s experiences with the RCMP after the mass murders of April 2020. It’s an interesting and wide-ranging report.
The final report of the Mass Casualty Commission will be issued later this month. I don’t expect any bombshell revelations or particularly controversial recommendations (although simply “give cops more money” should be controversial), and neither do I think the report will bring closure to the victims’ families or to the rest of us.
In the end, the mass murders were a terrible, horrific event perpetuated by one monstrous person. There are lots of related issues — plenty of blame to go around, too many instances of looking the other way regarding a wealthy white man, much carelessness and lessons-not-learned, possibly even some criminality — but I fear the public generally wants more than can be delivered.
I’ve been affected by reporting on the mass murders, but not in the way you might think. I’ve had a career full of reporting on terrible events, including murders. I’ve seen my share of crime scene and autopsy photos, grappled with the trauma suffered by others, including children. I’m probably lying to myself, but I don’t consider myself particularly damaged by that reporting.
In the case of the mass murders of 2020, what has affected me most is not the details of the murders, as horrific as they are, but rather the public reaction and response to the murders. I don’t know how to say this delicately: People wanted a coherent narrative where there was none, and they wanted a scapegoat besides the actual killer. And in pursuing those desires, they vilified Banfield, they spread innuendo, rumour, and lies about all sorts of people, including police (who are not blameless, but still) and completely innocent victims, and they hated on reporters, including but not just myself, who were doing our jobs as best we could. That experience, more than the murders themselves, has left me bitter, depressed, and distrustful of the society I’m a part of.
I’ll be glad to finish reporting on the murders later this month and to move on to something else.
Budget Committee (Wednesday, 9:30am, City Hall and online) — agenda
Point Pleasant Park Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm, online) — agenda
Women’s Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm, online) — agenda
Harbour East – Marine Drive Community Council (Thursday, 6pm, Alderney Gate, and online) — agenda
Arthritis: What Does it Mean? What Can I do? (Wednesday, 7pm, online) — Dalhousie Mini Medical School
Contested Knowledges: Canadian Agronomists and the Southern Peasant (Wednesday, 11am, Room 2116, McCain Building, and online) — Roy Loewen will talk
Transcriptional drivers of pancreatic cancer malignancy (Thursday, 11am, online) — Charles David from Tsinghua University will talk
‘Hear everything breathing this way’ (Thursday, 7pm, SMU Art Gallery) — an Evening of Poetry with Matt Robinson and Margo Wheaton; attendees will also get to experience the Gallery’s current exhibition, Crafts_Ship, featuring the work of Gillian Maradyn-Jowsey, Carley Mullally and Inbal Newman.
In the harbour
05:45: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Autoport from St. John’s
06:00: MSC Nuria, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Montreal
06:00: Vistula Maersk, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Montreal
07:30: AlgoScotia, oil tanker, sails from Imperial Oil for sea
11:30: MSC Nuria sails for sea
11:30: Oceanex Sanderling moves to Pier 42
16:30: Acadian, oil tanker, arrives at Irving Oil from Charlottetown
16:30: Vistula Maersk sails for sea
22:00: Puka, cargo ship, sails from Pier 27 for Balboa, Spain
13:00: SFL Trinity, oil tanker, sails from EverWind for sea
14:00: NSU Sirius, bulker, sails from Anchorage C (Chedabucto Bay) for sea
14:00: CSL Kajika, bulker alongside NSU Sirius, sails from Anchorage C (Chedabucto Bay) for sea
More coffee might work, I think.