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1. Catch up your Joan Baxter stories
The Examiner has taken three of Joan Baxter’s stories out from behind the paywall. These stories are now free to read for everyone.
The stories are:
- The Curious Case of ‘Red Roof Events’: A Nova Scotian environmental lawyer is approached by a “global leading speakers’ agency.” But the “agency” seems weirdly fixated on Northern Pulp, has no website, and the company’s principal speaks over Skype with a sheet hanging on the wall behind him. Oh, and he doesn’t seem to be using his real name either. Fishy, anyone?
- Critics ‘extremely concerned’ as St Barbara changes gold mine proposal at Fifteen Mile Stream from one open pit to four: St Barbara Ltd. hosts a short-notice meeting in Sheet Harbour to announce changes to its plans. The change? More open pit mines. What are a couple of extra mines among friends? Also, open pit gold mine located in a game sanctuary is the most Nova Scotian thing ever, right?
- ‘Green’ hydrogen industry takes aim at Nova Scotia’s underground salt deposits: “Green hydrogen” companies have taken out exploration licences covering 250,000 acres in Nova Scotia, mostly in areas with salt deposits. A number of these licences are in the area of the now-defunct Alton Gas project.
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2. Unravel Halifax unravels
I am told that Unravel Halifax is no more. Unravel is the magazine that replaced the old Halifax Magazine, which ceased publication early in the pandemic, when businesses were shuttered and local advertising dollars presumably dried up. (I was a contributor to both Halifax Magazine and Unravel, and continue to write for other publications owned by the magazine’s publisher, Metro Guide.)
There has been no public announcement and — as of early this morning when I’m writing this — the magazine’s website and Twitter account are still active, albeit quiet. But I’m told the magazine has ceased publication. Senior editor Trevor J. Adams will stay on with the company.
In its inaugural tweet thread, back in September 2021, Unravel said:
Building on the foundations of our forerunner (Halifax Magazine) Unravel is for the people who believe in Halifax and its future. Award-winning journalists will confront our city’s challenges, attack its injustices, & amplify the voices of changemakers.
Find new perspectives on the people and personalities shaping Halifax — a new lens for a renewed city.
The magazine ran stories on renovictions, immigrants facing challenges and disillusionment, and systemic racism. Not your usual urban magazine fare. My pieces included one quite critical of the cruise industry, and a story on how a tight labour market was tipping the balance of power towards workers, and how that wasn’t a bad thing. When Adams assigned me that piece, he told me to think about how a business magazine would cover the issue, and then do the opposite.
I have no inside information — I’m just a freelancer who filed my stories and collected my pay. But my sense is that Unravel was Adams’ baby. The end of Unravel made me think of the end of Sheldon MacLeod’s show on what was then called News 95.7 (now City News). At the time, under the headline “With decency and care, Sheldon MacLeod has helped build our community,” Tim Bousquet wrote:
Sheldon has played an important role in our community. In those afternoon hours, thousands of people have tuned in while working, while running errands in their car, while sitting at home, and with a kindly Sheldon MacLeod guiding them through, they’ve learned a bit more about the city and province they live in. We’re better off for it.
This is essentially how I feel about Adams’ work with Unravel. He cares enough about the city to want to make it better, and he’s endlessly fascinated by its people and the issues they face. We are worse off when we lose local voices like this.
3. A sailor blown two kilometres through the air by the Halifax Explosion features in a new short animated film from the NFB
A jaded-looking sailor strides along the Halifax waterfront, when something catches his eye, bringing him to a full stop. In the harbour, two ships have just collided. The sailor pauses, lights a cigarette, and watches. As the ships catch fire, he notices his match still burning on the wooden boardwalk. He extinguishes it, and then… boom!
The Flying Sailor is the latest animated short by legendary Canadian animation duo Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis, produced by the NFB. (I do freelance work for the NFB, mostly as a translator, but was unaware of this film until it was released.) The inspiration for the film is the story of Charlie Mayers, said to have survived being blown some two kilometres through the air by the explosion.
In the film, we watch as the sailor swims through the skies, losing all his clothes, but hanging onto his cigarette. The film uses a couple of distinct animation styles to evoke the sailor’s flight and his memories, as his life flashes past and he comes tantalizingly close to the bright white light — before crashing down to earth.
Tilby and Forbis learned of Mayers while visiting the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. In a press kit Q&A, they say:
Among the displays was a short blurb about a British sailor who was blown skyward from the pier and flew a mile before landing uphill, naked and unharmed. We were intrigued. What did he see? What did he hear? What was he thinking? It’s a story that brims with animation potential.
Khiara Ortiz interviewed Forbis and Tilby for The New Yorker, and quotes Forbis as saying the sailor in the film is the “kind of guy that doesn’t expect to be surprised by anything,”
There are a lot of great little details in the film: the word “safety” visible on the matchbox, moments before the explosion; the old-timey cartoon feel of the stacked cases of TNT preceding the explosion; the sailor seeing himself in his mind’s eye as a toddler, but still in the sailor suit. I was quite impressed with the music and sound design as well. If you can, listen with headphones or on good speakers.
Here’s the trailer. You can watch the whole film free at the NFB’s website, if you are in Canada. (Not sure about other countries.)
I went to bed weirdly optimistic last night. Sure, I’d done much of the usual windstorm prep, which time of year included bringing wreaths in off the doors, but I fully expected to wake up with power.
Nova Scotia Power says the lights (and electric heat) should be back on by this afternoon or evening. I’ve seen crews out on the roads already.
Please, please, please, Nova Scotia Power, put some of that sweet rate increase money into improving your horrible
outrage outage map.
5. Employers love their sick notes
A few weeks ago, Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Robert Strang, implored employers to stop asking for sick notes, because they put unnecessary stress on the system. (At the time, Tim Bousquet noted that someone who works for Nova Scotia Health told him their employer requires sick notes for certain absences.)
Despite Strang’s appeal, Carolyn Ray reports for CBC, doctors say the number of sick note requests they are getting is actually increasing.
“I’m definitely seeing more requests and hearing it from more of my colleagues as well,” Dr. Leisha Hawker, president of Doctors Nova Scotia, tells Ray. “Employers need to look at other ways to manage their employees and think of other ways to assess their employees’ ability to work.”
Hawker makes the point that sick people who do not require medical attention should be at home, not going to work because they worry they won’t be able to get a sick note, or sitting in waiting rooms full of vulnerable people. She also raises the issue of which workers tend to need sick notes. Hint: it’s not the ones in fancy offices. Ray writes:
Hawker is a family physician who also works in a newcomer clinic and the addictions clinic. She said most requests come from her most vulnerable patients at the two specialized clinics.
“I think that speaks to the marginalized populations where they’re working jobs where they don’t have that same level of trust from their employers.”
Done with Twitter: the platforms will not love you back
I can tell you the exact moment I was done* with Elon Musk’s Twitter. Musk had re-instated Donald Trump’s account, but Trump had declined to actually return and post. Classic Trump.
Musk, who seems to spend all day every day tweeting, shared a pulp-style image (I am not going to post it here) of a woman in a short skirt, on her hands and knees, her bare buttocks in the air and her bare legs visible. A standard-looking representation of Jesus stood behind her, hands clasped, as though resisting temptation. The Jesus figure was labelled “Donald Trump.” Over the woman’s buttocks was the Twitter logo.
This was just vile on so many levels, and I’m surprised I haven’t heard more about it — although that should perhaps not be surprising, given the firehose of shit that Musk has been spewing us with for weeks now. Twitter no longer has a policy protecting trans people from hate speech, it is declining to enforce its COVID-19 disinformation policy, and it is banning accounts that have been critical of the company, while welcoming back those previously banned.
Look, I should have quite Twitter long ago. It was bad for my mental well-being, and a huge time suck. It was also a place where some great local characters hang out, where breaking news broke, and where there were a lot of fellow writers who could offer various types of help and support. When I was in a particularly bad place, one writer — who I don’t even know in person— somehow recognized this and reached out to me. It was really helpful, and I am eternally grateful.
Because all this newsie stuff happened on Twitter, it was easy to pretend that being there was working. I would regularly bookmark stuff I wanted to cover in Morning File, find interesting story ideas, learn about publications looking for pitches, and share my work and (hopefully) help it find a bigger audience. It made it easy to connect with people who had similar interests. Plus, it was sometimes fun.
But also so exhausting.
A few weeks ago, after Musk had fired a huge chunk of the staff, it looked like Twitter might disappear altogether, creating something of an existential threat to writers like me. “Writers wrestle with Twitter: Do I stay or go (and where)?” was the headline of one story, and typical of many others.
All this made me realize how reliant I had become, or thought I had become, on Twitter. And, for freelance writers, reliance on any one thing is bad news. I get nervous if more than 30% of my income comes from one source. If that source dries up, I’m in trouble. Similarly, I’ve never felt comfortable relying on Google Docs or Gmail. I want to own my own stuff, and I want more control over it. Sometimes I feel like a dinosaur for not relying as much on cloud services, but I’m also not as much at the mercy of whatever changes tech companies make. My documents are saved locally, backed up to a local drive, and backed up online. Could all this crash and burn? Of course. But there’s a bit more resilience built in.
A couple of months ago, I sat in on a webinar on author websites, because mine is horrible and has not been updated in years. Writer Ann Douglas, who was presenting, had surveyed many writers on their approaches, and some were eschewing personal websites altogether, saying they had built following on social media (generally Twitter) and were just using that. This is akin to building your business on Instagram, and then scrambling when the algorithms change. Or building your business on Facebook in the early days, and then realizing you were going to have to pay, and keep paying, to make sure people see your posts. Marketing expert Jane Friedman, who provides advice to writers, has been going on about this for years: own your own domain; build your own website; use social media and other tools, but don’t become overly reliant on them.
I think we are at a moment analogous to the end of network television. The big networks still exist, but there’s a whole lot more choice out there. Instead of a big three or four or five social networks (depending on how you define them), people will migrate to an array of services to fill whatever needs were being met by, say, Twitter and Facebook: Discord servers, de-centralized services like Mastodon and PixelFed (an alternative to Instagram), other platforms that will come and go, email newsletters. I’m still on a listserv for writers for God’s sake, and it’s become considerably more active over the last couple of weeks.
There’s an appeal to the idea of reaching a larger audience through a more centralized service like Twitter, but, let’s face it, that appeal is to something that is largely illusory. It’s like the early days of the web, when we heard that you could put up a website and reach hundreds of millions of people! Well, sure, in theory. In practice? Not so much. (The first website I built was in the late 90s, with a couple of baby pics on it, so I could send the link to family.)
Yes, on Twitter, I have some 3,000 followers and theoretically, anything I write can reach millions of people. But a certain number of those followers are bots or dead accounts, and in practice I was really only interacting with a relatively small circle of people. Whenever one of my tweets did start to become marginally popular, all kinds of unpleasant stuff would come with that. (Hello, TERFs from the UK.)
On Mastodon, I have 158 followers, I see. Several of them were formerly on Twitter (or are in both places). But it doesn’t feel isolated. I still interact with a relatively small circle of people, but with a window into the much large world. I’ve gotten story ideas — the item in “Noticed,” below, comes from something I saw on Mastodon. As Clive Thompson has written, Mastodon is deliberately designed to discourage virality. And that’s OK.
*I am “done” with Twitter in the sense that I am only checking it occasionally. I still have an account, and I’ll probably use it to share things like a link to this Morning File, but I don’t see it as a place to actively engage with anymore. That’s essentially how I feel about Facebook. I go in and look at what updates the algorithm shows me from the same four friends over and over and over again, and very rarely post a link to something, but that’s about it.
Don’t fuck with Canada geese because the geese will win
Researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences have published a study on the futility of harassing Canada Geese in an effort to get them to just go the fuck away.
A story on the college’s website outlines the problem:
Canada geese collide with aircraft, intimidate unassuming joggers, and leave lawns and sidewalks spattered with prodigious piles of poop. They’re widely considered nuisance birds, and municipalities invest considerable time and money harassing geese to relocate the feisty flocks. But new University of Illinois research shows standard goose harassment efforts aren’t effective, especially in winter when birds should be most susceptible to scare tactics.
The researchers kitted out geese with FitBit-like trackers, which allowed them to see not only where the geese went, but also whether they were on alert, at rest, walking, or flying. Part of the research involved clacking boards loudly at geese in a park near Chicago’s Midway Airport. (“Explain your research to me again, honey?” “Oh, I bang pieces of wood loudly to try and scare off geese in a park.”)
The interesting thing is this: geese who were being harassed left, but they came back faster than geese who were just left on their own to forage and do their thing on their own. The harassed geese usually returned within the hour.
Essentially, doctoral student Ryan Askren explains, the geese are there because they want something. On their own, they get whatever it is and then move on. If you force them to leave, they still want the thing, so they’ll come back for it. And even if they go away, they’re still hanging about the neighbourhood.
He also said if you harass the geese when the weather is truly awful, that might be more effective — but nobody wants to actually go out and do that.
Mike Ward, a professor at the University’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, says:
“People don’t realize how smart geese are. They’ve learned what the real risks are over the course of their lives or from each other. Maybe we’ll figure out a good harassment technique, but it’s likely they’re going to continue to increase in urban areas because they found a good place. They’re nesting on top of buildings. I mean, who would have ever thought a goose would nest on top of a building? They should be nesting in wetlands. But they’re very adaptable.”
Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm, online) — agenda
Women’s Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4pm, online) — agenda
Point Pleasant Park Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm, online) — agenda
Harbour East – Marine Drive Community Council (Thursday, 6pm, Alderney Landing) — agenda
Overcoming Colonialism to Recover Africa in Modern Medicine (Thursday, 5pm, online) — OmiSoore Dryden, Oluwatoyin Oduntan, and Jonathan Roberts will discuss
perspectives on the histories, practices, and futures of medicine and health equity in Africa and its diasporas.
This is part of the James R. Johnston Chair’s broader Black Analysis Lecture Series, which focuses on Health Disparities and the impact on Black Life. #BlackAnalysis Lecture Series explores issues experienced by Black people, and related to Black Studies, and health, medical education, and patient experiences.
7 Stories (Thursday, 7:30pm, Dunn Theatre) — a Fountain School of Performing Arts production, until Dec. 3; $15/$10, more info here
Refracting Rhetoric Inside Jean-François Niceron’s ‘Perspective Telescope’ (Friday, 3:30pm, Room 1170, McCain Building and online) — Justina Spencer will talk
7 Stories (Friday, 7:30pm, Dunn Theatre) — a Fountain School of Performing Arts production; two performances Dec. 3; $15/$10, more info here
In the harbour
10:30: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Bedford Basin anchorage to Pier 41
11:00: Advantage Point, oil tanker, moves from Bedford Basin anchorage to Imperial Oil
12:00: NYK Romulus, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for sea
17:00: Oceanex Sanderling moves to Autoport
21:30: Oceanex Sanderling moves to Pier 36
No arrivals or departures.
- If you want to find me on Mastodon, head over to @PhilMoscovitch@mastodon.social. I like it there.
- I don’t know what’s possessed me, but I’m listening to every Black Sabbath album in order. I saw Black Sabbath live with three different singers. At one of the shows, the audience was not impressed with singer Tony Martin, and someone threw beer on him. I had not realized until yesterday that the Spinal Tap Stonehenge scene was directly drawn from a Black Sabbath fiasco.
- RIP Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac.
- Wind and rain, eh? Today’s Morning File is brought to you in part by the Halifax Public Library’s wi-fi. Written in part from my car in the parking lot.