1. Forest protector Nina Newington
Suzanne Rent continues her superb series of profiles of women “over 50 who, in their own often quiet ways, make significant contributions to our society outside of the corporate world.” In this latest installment, Rent profiles writer and activist Nina Newington.
Newington and her wife, Alexa Jaffurs, moved to Canada from Massachusetts, and after two years in Alberta, started thinking about a move to Nova Scotia:
After years in Massachusetts, they figured they were more East Coast types than the West Coast types.
Newington talked with other folks asking them where a “couple of lesbian artists who are interested in sustainable agriculture might live.”
And, Newington recalled, every single person told them they should live on the North Mountain, not the South Mountain, somewhere between Annapolis Royal and Wolfville.
“I think they were right,” Newington said. “It’s an area that’s had influxes over the years of the draft dodgers and the back-to-the-landers. And it still kind of has an intact rural community. And that actually makes a really beautiful mix. Plus, the land is pretty good in places.”
They bought a house on North Mountain and drove across Canada with their three dogs, three cats, and several musical instruments in tow. They eventually moved to another spot on North Mountain with 125 acres of land, two streams running through it, and a view of the Bay of Fundy. They live in ramshackle farmhouse that’s in a constant state of renovation. She and Jaffurs grow their own food and raise sheep for milk. Newington writes her books and Jaffurs works as a blacksmith. The two got permanent residence status in 11 months.
“I’m really, really happy we moved to Nova Scotia. I love living here,” she said. “I don’t love what’s happening to the forests.”
Rent’s story nicely draws out Newington’s personality, along with her activism on behalf of forests. Click here to read “Nina Newington: Taking direct action to protect Nova Scotia’s forests.”
2. Nurse offers critique, solutions in new book
Lately I’ve been thinking about how many of our big news stories fall into the category of, “We told you for years this was going to happen, you did nothing, and now it’s happening.” Think climate change, labour markets, pandemic, and, of course, health care.
After watching a Nova Scotia Government Employees Union (NSGEU) video with nurses expressing concerns about the health care system, their faces blurred and voices disguised to protect their identities, MacNeil vowed when she had freedom to speak openly, she’d write a book for funders (taxpayers). She wanted people to know what was happening in the system and what must be done to fix it.
“The work was for the people who go to work every day, who don’t see tax dollars because it goes to fund the system, and then when they really need the system, it’s not there,” MacNeil said.
Although the fall of emergency services across the country should have raised alarm bells and led to system support, reform, and funding, MacNeil said governments chose instead to hold the line on spending and cling to the same ways of doing things.
“With health care managers at the mercy of politicians, the ability to carry out transformative change remains impossible,” she wrote.
“Since improving care isn’t the true priority of the system, the plight of emergency services remains unchanged. Canadian emergency departments continue to be unfairly forced to carry the weight of a collapsing health care system upon their shoulders.”
It’s a wide-ranging interview, and MacNeil has a lot of interesting perspectives.
“The province has confirmed it must repay $1.277 million it received in health transfers from Ottawa for the year 2020-21,” Jennifer Henderson reports.
That’s because it allowed a for-profit diagnostic imaging company called Health View Medical Imaging to continue offering faster access to MRIs, arthroscopes, and ultrasounds for patients who can pay with a credit card…
In 2018, the federal government issued a directive to all provinces giving them two years to close all private-pay clinics providing diagnostic imaging or face a clawback of some transfer money from Ottawa.
Last week Ottawa made good on that threat and sent statements to provinces asking them to return more than $76 million for diagnostic services provided by private clinics in 2020-21.
There are currently two private health care clinics operating in the Halifax area.
Tim Bousquet reports on the Houston government’s $1.6 billion capital budget, in which there is still no money to build the new Art Gallery of Nova Scotia building — but we do get a cool half billion spent exactly where you would want to spend money in the midst of a climate crisis: highways.
The single largest expenditure is nearly half a billion dollars for highway projects — $498.5 million.
The biggest highway projects are:
• Highway 101: twinning from Three Mile Plains to Falmouth, including an aboiteaux
• Highway 102, the Aerotech Connector, which in the past I’ve jokingly referred to as the highway from Barry Dalrymple’s house in Wellington to the airport
• Highway 103: twinning from Ingramport to Hubbards, and the Bridgewater interchange and connector
• Highway 107: Burnside connector
• Highway 014: twinning from Sutherlands River to Antigonish
They may be better than ever, but umpires still get no love
With spring training and the World Baseball Classic in full, er, swing, I’ve been thinking about baseball umpires.
Umpires, particularly those who work the plate, are unique among sports officials in that they are right there, in your field of vision or on your screen, for every single pitch. Ball, strike, foul… Did the ball bang off the knob of the bat, or did it brush the batter’s jersey? Was that a swing or not? The umpire is intimately involved in the game, and so, open to constant scrutiny.
Mostly what this seems to mean is people complaining that the umpires suck. But, paradoxically, umpires — at least when it comes to calling balls and strikes — are better than they have ever been. And they are improving.
I won’t get into all the complicated stats, but Andrews notes the takeaway is this:
The short version is pretty simple: Since the beginning of the pitch tracking era in 2008, umpires have improved their accuracy in calling balls and strikes every single year. Accuracy has gone from 81.3% to 92.4%. If an improvement of 11.1% in 15 years doesn’t sound particularly big, consider it this way: incorrect calls have been cut by nearly 60%.
Younger umpires are far more accurate than older ones — and Major League Baseball has 10 new umpires this year. So, that means accuracy is likely to increase even more. But, Andrews says, it seems inevitable that balls and strikes are soon going to be called by automated systems, meaning we’ll never find out just how good umpires could get:
The robots are most assuredly coming. The automated ball-strike system debuted in the Atlantic League in 2019. Four years later, it’s in every Triple-A ballpark. Teams will be splitting their 2023 seasons between a challenge system and full ABS, and it seems safe to assume that some form of automation will be coming to the big leagues soon. I’m not necessarily opposed to the change, but I will be sad about this particular unintended consequence. We’ll never get to find out what the upper bound of umpire performance truly looks like…
If the league were to implement a robo-zone tomorrow without changing the strike zone at all, the offensive environment would instantly get even tougher. I’m not trying to scare anybody away from our techno-future, but maybe we should all watch Terminator one last time before we flip the switch.
I would not presume to know what it’s like to be a Major League umpire, but I do know what it’s like to be a local baseball umpire, and it certainly gives you a different perspective on the game, and on umpire performance. Sure, I blew calls when I was umping. I was particularly prone to error when I was working a game my kid was in, and I didn’t want to be seen to be showing favouritism. I still cringe thinking about a play on which I called him out at first when he was clearly safe, because I’d made up my mind too soon, as the ball was headed for the first baseman’s glove.
But I also absolutely know I got calls right that looked blown to spectators and sometimes players: The pitch that’s in the dirt but caught part of the zone on its way there. The seemingly foul ball that was just barely touching the foul line when the infielder picked it up. (I actually broke protocol with that one and turned around to tell the angry grampa behind me that it came back into fair territory. “Oh, did it,” he said sarcastically.)
When you’ve had even moderate training as an umpire, it becomes painfully apparent how few broadcasters, fans — and sometimes even players — know the rules. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a broadcaster excoriating an umpire, or wondering what the logic was behind a call, when the ump is doing exactly what he is supposed to do.
There is also no doubt that the culture of umpiring needed to change, and it has changed. Umpires are more fit than they used to be, and one year in our training sessions with Baseball Nova Scotia Umpires Division we were encouraged to consult with our partners in case of doubt on a play. “Being right is more important than your ego,” the instructor said. “And that’s a big change in the culture of umpiring.”
Last year, I saw one particular video shared over and over again as an example of what awful weirdos umpires are. If you’ve watched baseball, you’ll likely remember this incident. Pitcher Madison Bumgarner is on the mound for the Arizona Diamondbacks, and as he walks off the field, umpire Dan Bellino checks his hand for an illegal sticky substance. Bellino stares Bumgarner in the face, while circling his finger on the pitcher’s palm. As Bumgarner walks away, he appears to say, “Fuck you” to Bellino, who then throws him out of the game. (As my kid, mentioned above, said when he was an umpire: “‘Fuck’ is OK. ‘Fuck you’ is an ejection.”)
When Jomboy Media shared this video, the commentator said it made him uncomfortable and sick to his stomach. Bellino does look creepy, as he slowly seems to massage Bumgarner’s hand while staring him in the face. But the thing is, the videos shared endlessly are mostly in extreme slow motion. Watch the thing at regular speed, and Bellino’s circling his finger for a couple of seconds, and that’s it. But why pass up an opportunity to make the umps look like jerks?
Moneyball author Michael Lewis devoted the first episode of the first season of his Against the Rules podcast to the question of why people are more vehement about the state of reffing in the NBA, when the refereeing is now clearly far better than it has ever been.
The world is now too good at seeing their mistakes. there’s no way any basketball referee is going to be perfect, but there’s also no way these refs are anything but more accurate than they’ve ever been… And yet these refs are treated as though they’re trying to rig the game… Here are people who are mostly trying to do these extremely difficult jobs as well as they can.
One ref tells Lewis that there’s mandatory security from the arena to the parking lot, but when the death threats get particularly bad, there may also be security to and from the airport and hotel.
Lewis argues that most of the players who are mad at the refs (and I would argue the same is true of baseball umpires) are the stars who no longer get the breaks to which they may feel entitled, now that the game is being called more fairly. Think of the famous and possibly apocryphal story with respect to Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams. Writing in 2012, baseball stats guru Bill James relates it like this:
[The story] is usually told in something like the following form. A young pitcher is struggling to find the strike zone, and he throws a couple of close pitches to Ted Williams, who takes them both and is ahead in the count 3-1.
“Where was that?” yells the injured pitcher.
“Young man,” replies the umpire, “Mr. Williams will let you know when you have thrown a strike.”
It would high praise for this story to suggest that is apocryphal; an “apocryphal” story, after all, could be true… You hear this story a lot. . .I would guess that I still hear this story three times a year, and Williams retired more than a half a century ago.
“The NBA set out to ref the games more fairly,” Lewis says. “This outraged the stars… the stars can’t get the calls anymore just because they’re stars.”
Of course, this attitude eventually trickles down. Over the weekend, I was listening to the Giants broadcast, and one of the guys in the booth (I think it was John Miller) said he’d been chatting with umpire Bill Miller a few days earlier. Umpire Miller said he was working his first spring training game of the season, and called the first pitch a strike.
The young batter turned around and asked if he was going to call that pitch a strike all day long — implying that it should have been a ball. Miller (the broadcaster) reported that Miller (the umpire) said, and I am repeating from memory, “I haven’t called a ball or strike of any kind for six months. Could you give me a couple of days before you step down my throat?”
Doner vs donair: a wrap on notable sandwiches
A couple of months ago, I wrote about Talia Lavin’s newsletter, Notable Sandwiches. I am returning to the newsletter today, because in the latest issue, Lavin tackles the Doner Kebab, which, of course, is a relative of our own donair.
Last year, I was speaking with some visitors from Ontario who told me they had heard about Halifax donairs and were keen to try them. I asked them what they knew about the donair, and they said they had really enjoyed doner kebabs when they were in Germany, so they wanted to see what the Halifax version was like.
I described the Halifax version, at which point they decided they no longer were keen to try it. I have had variations of this conversation many times, with people who are expecting a German-style doner kebab. The outcome of the conversation is not always the same, mind you. I enjoyed a donair from Tony’s with a visitor from BC, while sitting on the Common, as he repeatedly exclaimed, “This is fantastic.”
In Notable Sandwiches, Lavin starts off by noting the word “kebab” dates to at least the 10th century, “But like many ancient words and dishes, kebab has acquired a legion of adaptations, cognates, variants, offshoots and reinventions, shifting and adapting for millennia, along with the peoples that have made it.”
Here is Lavin’s description of the particular German variation of this age-old food:
Usually served in sturdy, seed-studded Turkish bread, the meat is carved from revolving inverted cones of lamb, beef, pork, or chicken, sliced expertly, adorned with an array of toppings — vegetables, condiments, possibly even fries — and served throughout Germany, where it’s become an official food of barflies, club kids, and soccer fans. It’s delicious, in the way that hot, fatty protein encased in stout starch and adorned with spice and garlic always is.
The story of the doner kebab is, like so many foods, the story of immigration and cultural ferment. Millions of people of Turkish origin now live in Germany, as a result of a boom in guest workers from the country coming to the country in the 1960s to fill labour shortages.
Since the 1970s, according to the Migration Policy Institute, Turkish immigration to Germany has changed in character several times. Refugees driven out by a military coup in the ‘80s encountered hostility, xenophobia, and official obstacles to assimilation; in the late 1980s, German repatriation incentives inspired some quarter-million immigrants to return to Turkey; the 1990s saw the Turkish-Kurdish conflict and another wave of refugees. In the 21st century, German-Turkish migration patterns have been “circular,” with immigrants coming and going according to season, employment opportunities, educational attainment, and other factors.
While the face of Turkish immigration may have changed, the dominance of the doner kebab has only increased:
And the sandwich has marched on, relentlessly, spawning some 16,000 doner shops across Germany. According to at least one poll, it’s now more popular than currywurst.
It’s been a decade or so since I was last in Germany, but I have to say I very much enjoyed my doner kebab in Frankfurt.
Western Common Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 6:30pm, online) — agenda
Crafts___Ship: Open Studio workshops (Wednesday, 3pm, SMU Art Gallery) — artists Carley Mullally, Gillian Maradyn-Jowsey and Inbal Newman host an artist talk and workshops in making bait bags, rug hooking, and pom pom making; all materials supplied, more info here
A History of Violence: Legacies of Struggle and Resistance in the Fight against Environmental Racism in Canada (Tuesday, 7pm, via Zoom) — Ingrid Waldron will talk; info and registration here
In the harbour
09:00: NACC Argonaut, cement carrier, arrives at Pier 25 from Setubal, Portugal
11:30: MSC Brianna, container ship, moves from anchorage to Berth TBD
16:00: Tropic Lissette, cargo ship, moves from Pier 42 to anchorage
- Nova Scotia’s new slogan should be Wintry Mix.
- No Oscar for The Flying Sailor. Boo. Directors Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis have seven nominations and no wins between them. Someone cut them a break! The NFB did share some fun pics of them at the Oscars, though.