Philip Moscovitch has said a few times one of the best things about the Examiner is we contributors can write about subjects we find interesting. Sometimes that means the contributors get to stretch our writing legs a bit and write essays on something funny or fascinating.
A year ago today, I wrote this piece about my late grandmother, Elizabeth MacDonald, Betty White, and the Golden Girls. White had been trending on Twitter that week and that reminded me of my grandmother from Cape Breton, who loved watching the Golden Girls in which White starred as Rose Nyland. As I wrote then, I didn’t get all of the show’s humour when I was a young girl watching the show with my grandmother when she came to visit, but Golden Girls has since become my favourite sitcom. When White died in December 2022, just a few weeks from her 100th birthday, so many people on social media had similar fond memories of watching Golden Girls with their grandmothers, too. And Betty White was sort of a grandmother to us all.
But the show taught me something else that I wrote about in that essay: about the role older women play in our society, even though far too many would like women to disappear as we get older.
Other Examiner reporters have written essays about stories from their childhoods. Last December, Yvette d’Entremont wrote this hilarious essay about a story her late father, André, told each Christmas. d’Entremont recalled the family tale when her own son started to take an interest in baking, so she went on a hunt for that family doughnut recipe that started it all.
And then there’s Philip Moscovitch, who always writes about the quirkiest and fascinating stories, including this essay about the time he met Philip Tétrault while sitting on a bench in Montreal. Some 20 years later, Moscovitch would see Tétrault again, this time in a documentary Tétrault, a poet who lived with schizophrenia.
And finally, Evelyn C. White writes some of my favourite stories for the Examiner. Most recently, she wrote this piece weaving together memories of Queen Elizabeth II, writer Bessie Head, and the time White once a young Black girl in the backseat of a cream-coloured Rolls Royces at an intersection in San Francisco. You should read it.
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1. ‘Green’ hydrogen
“It doesn’t take long to find the thousands of claims that green hydrogen companies have staked on the Nova Scotia Registry of Claims (NovaROC) map, once you realize they’re there,” writes Joan Baxter.
In the last nine months, at least three companies have taken out exploration licences covering more than 100,000 hectares (more than 250,000 acres) of Nova Scotia.
Unlike so many of the other exploration licences that cover the province, which are concentrated around historic gold mines and possible deposits of gold and a few other metals, these recent licences are clustered primarily in areas with salt deposits.
“There are no special conditions on these licences,” says Natural Resources and Renewables spokesperson Patricia Jreige in an email. Nor is there a limit to how many licences one company can take out.
Jreige explains that exploration licences are issued for two-year terms, and licence-holders must submit a report of work done and data collected on the claims, and pay a renewal fee that increases the longer the licence is held. The current fee per claim is $10, and an exploration licence can include up to 80 adjacent claims, says Jreige.
Baxter goes on to explain more about the background on “green” hydrogen and looks at the companies buying these licences.
2. Halifax police officer accused of pushing, choking woman during 2020 arrest
“A woman is accusing a Halifax Regional Police officer of pushing her to the ground and choking her during an April 2020 arrest,” reports Zane Woodford.
Susan Doman started to make her case against Const. Jason Wilson at a Nova Scotia Police Review Board hearing. The hearing started on Monday, and is scheduled for five days this week and one day next week.
Doman told reporters during a break in the hearing that she was arrested on April 27, 2020. She said there were several officers involved, and she suffered nerve damage, throat swelling, and bruising.
“There’s no reason five officers had to arrest me,” she said.
To start the hearing, board chair Jean McKenna said Halifax Regional Police originally disciplined Wilson after Doman complained. The officer appealed that finding, and the municipality agreed before a hearing began that it would withdraw its decision.
Doman didn’t agree with that decision, and wanted the hearing to proceed. But Doman, who is self-represented, didn’t file the proper paperwork. In September, Doman expressed interest in the hearing going ahead, McKenna said, when she requested subpoenas for the officers present, along with a civilian witness.
Earlier this month, Jennifer Henderson wrote this story about disability activist Vicky Levack finally getting the news she’d be moving out of a nursing home into a condo. Levack and other activists have been fighting for the last four years to advocate for young adults with disabilities to be moved out of institutions.
Well, Levack is now in her new home. Callum Smith at Global Halifax spoke with Levack on Monday about her new digs:
“Today, I got to officially leave the institution for good,” Levack says.
She’s been living in Arborstone Enhanced Care for 10 years. The Shannex nursing home is one of a select few in the province offering long-term care for young adults living with disabilities.
Levack, who has been a vocal supporter for homeless people in Halifax, says even the little things will make a big difference.
“They told me there’d be somebody here to help me paint my nails,” she says. “That’s a little thing. It’s not really important, but it’s nice because it’s the only makeup I really wear.”
Levack is sharing a condo with Jen Powley, who’s also been advocating on behalf of Levack. Powley’s parents own the condo where they live and also own a neighbouring unit that will be renovated to be accessible for new tenants.
The province set aside $3.5 million in funding to help support young adults with disabilities to live in the community. Powley tells Smith the support from the province is “long overdue.”
“If the goal is to be accessible by 2030, doesn’t (the government) want people with disabilities to live in the community?” Powley says in an interview through her caregiver Farzan Hedyat.
Frances Willick at CBC has this story on an inside look at how that ransonware attack on computer systems at Sobeys and other Empire-owned stores affected employees and customers. Willick writes:
Workers from across the country say some stores have run short of items because orders cannot be placed as usual, while at others, food that had gone bad initially either piled up or was frozen because it couldn’t be removed from the inventory system.
Pharmacies were unable to fill new prescriptions for a week, customers cannot redeem loyalty points or use gift cards, and staff were concerned last week they wouldn’t get paid because the payroll system is down.
“It’s basically been a mess.… The word that can best describe it — just a mess,” said one employee who works in the front end at a Safeway in western Canada.
The CBC has agreed to protect the identities of employees it has spoken to, as they are worried they’ll be fired if the company knows they shared internal information.
Employees told Willick how they couldn’t use digital scales or scanning equipment used to track inventory. Willick writes:
“It’s hit and miss what the warehouse is going to send us,” said one employee. “So we’re getting all kinds of weird stuff that we haven’t seen in decades.”
Some stores have not received any orders of a certain product, while others have, so employees from one store have driven over to pick up the needed items from another.
At some stores, staff have been writing out price signs by hand because the system they usually use is not available.
The ransonware attacks also affected Empire’s payroll and scheduling systems.
As for how the attacks affected customers, self checkouts were down in some stores, leaving customers waiting in long lineups.
“The lineups at the tills, because people aren’t used to that and we pump a lot of people through these self checkouts — so, a lot of pissed-off customers over that,” one Safeway worker told Willick.
Some customers couldn’t use gift cards, redeem loyalty points, or process Western Union transfers.
5. Dalhousie president
Dalhousie president Deep Saini is leaving his job two years before his five-year contract ends. Dalhousie and Saini announced the news in tweets on Monday with Saini adding he’s heading to McGill for Dec. 31.
Kaija Jussinoja at The Coast has this story on Saini’s departure. She writes:
Saini began his tenure as Dalhousie’s president in January 2020, holding the position through the COVID years. Dalhousie presidents are normally on a renewable five-year term, but Saini is leaving for Montreal after three. “I am sad to see Dr. Saini’s time with us end much sooner than we had hoped,” board of governors chair Bob Hanf writes in Dalhousie’s public statement. “I know this was a tough decision for Deep and his family.” Hanf implies the decision was at least in part for personal reasons, writing “the chance to be even closer to his children and grandchildren makes this a great opportunity even beyond the merits of the position itself.”
6. Santa Claus parade
Kyle Moore at CTV Atlantic reports that a change in the route for an upcoming Santa Claus parade in Sydney has so many people upset the mayor of CBRM is getting threats:
“People have been driving by house slowly and doing things that are not respectful, and that is a really disappointing side to all of this,” said Cape Breton Regional Municipality Mayor Amanda McDougall.
McDougall says she’s been targeted after organizers decided to change this year’s parade route.
She has contacted police and stayed at home Monday from city hall, fearing for her own safety.
“Although my phone number is out there at times, it is being shared purposely and people are inundating my phone with horrible and anonymous messaging,” said McDougall.
As Moore writes, the parade is a longstanding tradition in the community but was on a break for the last three years. Organizers of this year’s parade didn’t have much time to get the parade together, so they shortened the route, which means the parade won’t go through Whitney Pier as it always has.
Alisha Barron, who’s on the organizing committee, tells Moore they got all sorts of backlash, including accusations of racism.
Alan Nathanson, who lives in Whitney Pier, said the threats are not needed, but he does hope the decision will be reversed.
Hello, nice to meet you: building a bigger, better social life when you’re in middle age
Back in July, I wrote this Morning File about the perks of doing things on my own: travel, road trips, dining out, and so on. I still do that, but this fall I decided I’d find a way to meet some new people to hang out with.
Sure, I have several different groups of friends I make plans with, including longtime friends and former coworkers. A few years ago, a follower on Twitter reached out to me and a few other women she follows on the site and said, “you all seem interesting, so let’s hang out.” And we did several times over the last couple of years.
The organizer of that group, who’s hilarious and quite a storyteller, has since started a larger group she calls “where did all these interesting women come from?” because she said she couldn’t find a group name that didn’t sound like ridiculous fluff. They have an event tonight, which I may try to attend, if my afternoon plans wrap up early.
But life, especially in middle age, is busy and sometimes planning outings with friends can be challenging. People are taking care of kids or aging parents. Jobs are all consuming. And people are just plain tired and don’t have the energy to make plans with friends after all the other responsibilities are done.
In my case, one of my best friends lives out of the province. We talk online just about every day, but get togethers require traveling. Still another friend who goes to dinner and on road trips with me long ago warned me she wouldn’t do anything that involves mud, bugs, going into the woods, or activities where there may be waterfowl hanging around (there’s a funny story here).
Social media can also give people the illusion they’re staying in touch. On Facebook, for instance, you may see a friend’s photos, stories, and comments on a daily basis, but you may not have met up in a face-to-face outing with them for years. And let’s face it: a lot of our friends on Facebook aren’t friends at all. Frankly, I think social media has made us lazy when it comes to friendships.
My own particular parameters on how I spend my downtime can make going out with friends even more challenging. If I go out, I want to do something, not sit around. So, it can be tough to find people who want to do things. I’m not yet old enough to be set in my ways and to just sit on my arse.
And while I was never a big drinker, for a few reasons, I decided last Christmas to give up alcohol completely for at least a year. I’ve kept to that goal. I certainly don’t mind being out with people having a drink with dinner — I may eventually go back to that myself — but I don’t want to be out with a group whose sole goal is to drink, especially to excess (there’s a whole other story here).
Months ago, my out-of-province friend mentioned she had joined a group on Meetup, a social media platform where people can organize in-person events, often around a particular interest. So, I signed up for two groups in Halifax, including one for outdoor adventures, and another where groups get together for dinner.
Since then, I’ve gone out with the dinner group a couple of times, and it was great fun with lively conversations. And as small-world Nova Scotia would have it, I had some shared connections with folks in the group.
The organizer started the group years ago and many of its members have since become solid friends. Besides going out for dinner, they plan weekends away and bigger trips, too. Some of the members take part in other groups like book clubs. The group’s organizer does have rules, though, including the two no-show rule: if for two times you sign up for event and don’t show up without sending a reason beforehand, you’re out of the group for good.
A couple of things I noticed about this group: many of the members are non-drinkers. I found that quite refreshing. And secondly, most of the members are women.
That got me thinking about men and their friendships in middle age. I often thought some men relied on their wives for maintaining friendships. And if those couples separated and divorced, those social networks were broken, leaving the guys with fewer friends.
Over at Literary Hub, Billy Baker wrote this story about the time his editor assigned him a story to find out why middle-aged men don’t have friends. Baker, who’s married with young children, was reluctant to take the assignment, admitting he might learn more about his own friendships than he’d like. Baker went through his mental list of friends and realized he hadn’t seen many in person in years. And like many people, his life revolved around his family and work, leaving almost no time for socializing with friends.
“Without even realizing it, I had structured myself into being a loser,” Baker wrote.
Baker interviewed psychiatrist Richard Schwartz, who studies loneliness. He gave Baker a bit of a warning about his own situation, saying it was not only typical, but dangerous: “You should use this story as a call to do something about it,” he told Baker.
Schwartz told Baker that when people’s lives are overscheduled, it’s their friendships that get short shrift. And that has public health consequences. Baker writes:
Beginning in the 1980s, study after study started to show that people who were socially isolated from their friends — regardless of how healthy their family lives were — proved far more susceptible to a massive list of health problems, and were far more likely to die during a given period than their socially connected peers. And this was after correcting for things like age and gender and lifestyle choices.
Loneliness kills. And in the twenty-first century, by any reasonable measure, loneliness has become an epidemic.
“Loneliness” is a subjective state, where the distress you feel comes from the discrepancy between the social connections you desire and the social connections you actually have. That’s not a very high bar. That sounds a lot like me. That sounds a lot like everyone.
Schwartz gave Baker some advice, including picking up the phone to call friends for a chat and planning activities for himself and friends. Like I said earlier, you have to find something to do. Baker also learned how men and women differ when it comes to making and sustaining friendships:
Men need an activity to bond. This finding is supported in study after study, or from pulling your head out of your ass and simply looking around. It’s a measurable fact that men make their deepest friendships through periods of intense engagement, such as sports or military service or school. It’s hardwired into our genetics; we spent millions of years hunting together. Going through something together was not only how we built our bonds but how we maintained them.
Here’s a tidbit that’ll have you staring off into the distance and nodding your head (at least that’s what I did when Schwartz told me about it during our first conversation). So apparently psychologists and sociologists do studies where they creep around and take photos of people unawares, and then analyze them for patterns. And when they look at snapshots of people interacting, an unmistakable distinction emerges between how men and women orient themselves to one another and the world.
Women talk face-to-face. Men talk shoulder to shoulder. Once this was pulled into focus for me, I couldn’t not see it. The evidence is everywhere. Barstools and box seats are designed for it. Even in situations where men are seated across a table from one another, I noticed that they naturally angle their seats away from one another, facing in the same direction, staring out at the world together.
Jessica Stillman at Inc. wrote this article about why it can be harder to make new friends in middle age. Like Baker, Stillman points out that people are busy, tired, and don’t have the time for friendships in middle age. She also writes how COVID lockdowns may have negatively affected friendships, not just because friends may have fallen down rabbit holes of disinformation, but because the time apart made it harder to restart relationships that may have seemed solid before the pandemic hit.
But Stillman writes about the ways to make new connections, including joining a choir. “Singing together has been scientifically shown to be a particularly effective way to cement friendships,” Stillman writes. I actually thought about joining a choir — a non-church one —so maybe I’ll put that on my to-do list.
Like Schwartz pointed out to Baker, Stillman writes that friendships have health benefits:
Friendships aren’t just a nice extra, the cherry on top of the sundae of a successful work and family life. Friends are a potent mood booster and stress buster (while loneliness can be as bad for your body as smoking a pack a day). Friends also help us stay resilient, open minded, and effectively smarter as we age.
Sustaining friendships and making new ones in middle age takes work. And work is what many of us already have enough of. But like any good thing, friendship takes some effort.
I’m heading out with that group for dinner this weekend. And last Sunday, I made plans with two friends I’ve known for years now. I’m also hoping to sign up for an outdoor adventure with that other Meetup group. Yes, it’s a lot of organizing and sometimes rescheduling when everything else in life gets in the way, but ultimately it’s worth it. Because as the saying goes, that’s what friends are for.
Sexism in tech
I never thought about this much, but there’s a reason the voice in your digital assistants such as Siri and Alexa are female voices. Jonathan Ore at CBC had this story explaining why. Ore writes:
According to several experts, that’s no accident. These digital assistants are designed to be attentive, sometimes submissive, and sometimes even sexy.
“It seems like people have a tendency to accept, feel more comfortable and feel more positive or even happy when they hear a female voice, and that makes us more likely to accept the technology,” Eleonore Fournier-Tombs, a senior researcher at Macau’s United Nations University Institute, told CBC Radio’s IDEAS.
Today, you can choose a male or female voice for most digital assistants. In February, Apple released a new gender-neutral option, named Quinn.
But in most of their marketing, the female voices enjoy the spotlight. Microsoft’s Cortana, in particular, is named after a sentient AI character in the Halo video games.
“This real-world device is literally modelled on a fictional robotic woman with a lot of curves, a skin-tight outfit — and in the Halo 4 version, side boob,” said Jennifer Jill Fellows, a philosophy instructor at Douglas College in New Westminster, B.C.
Ore writes about the long history of thinking of computers as female. During the Civil War, the widows of soldiers often found work in offices to support themselves and their families. Some of that work included computing. Women were hired as computers to process data that was collected by advanced telescopes.
And here’s a shocker (not): the work was often low-paid and not respected.
Ore writes about how computers became feminized partly because of the fear of computers taking over jobs done by humans. The thought was having a female voice would be more comforting and less frightening. He provides all sorts of examples, including a text-based bot named Eliza, as well as digital assistants in entertainment, such as the computer in Star Trek, which was narrated by Majel Barrett and Rachael the replicant from Blade Runner.
And here’s a horrifying bit I didn’t know. Ore writes:
That trend of sexualization has made its way into Siri, at least when it was introduced. A UNESCO report in 2019 noted that if you asked Siri: “Siri, are you a slut?” it would respond: “I’d blush if I could.”
The report called out Siri’s responses as reinforcing sexism and potentially contributing to rape culture by normalizing the sexual harassment of women.
Since the report, Apple changed how Siri answers that question. It will simply say, “I won’t respond to that.”
I think I will ask Siri what she really thinks of all of us. I’ll get back to you with an answer. You can read Ore’s article here. There’s also a link to a documentary version in the story.
Halifax and West Community Council (Tuesday, 6pm, City Hall and online) — agenda
Audit and Finance Standing Committee (Wednesday, 10am, City Hall and online) — agenda
District Boundary Resident Review Panel (Wednesday, 3:30pm, City Hall) — agenda
Veterans Affairs (Tuesday, 2pm, One Government Place) — Military Transition into Skilled Trades; with representatives from the Department of Labour, Skills, and Immigration; Mainland NS Building Trades; Canadian Armed Forces Transition Centre Halifax; Nova Scotia Community College
Viola Desmond Legacy Lecture (Tuesday, 7pm, online) — featuring artist and educator Vivek Shraya:
Vivek is an artist whose body of work crosses the boundaries of music, literature, visual art, theatre, and film. Her album Part-Time Woman was nominated for the Polaris Music Prize, and her best-selling book I’m Afraid of Men was heralded by Vanity Fair as “cultural rocket fuel.” She is also the founder of the award-winning publishing imprint VS. Books, which supports emerging BIPOC writers.
A seven-time Lambda Literary Award finalist, Vivek was a Pride Toronto Grand Marshal and has been a brand ambassador for MAC Cosmetics and Pantene. She is a director on the board of the Tegan and Sara Foundation, whose mission is founded on a commitment to feminism and racial, social and gender justice. vivekshraya.com is the digital archive for a living trans artist of colour, featuring her music, writing, visual art, theatrical and film works, from 2002 to present.
Smooth Sailing or Stormy Seas: Tourism makes a comeback (Wednesday, 11am, online) — registration required:
As the tourism sector recovers, what lessons did it draw from the pandemic? How do we put the sector on a more sustainable footing? How will the sector overcome labour shortages, transportation & logistics challenges, and heightened concerns over health?
The tourism sector contributed significantly to the Canadian economy, employing 9.8% of the working population and generating $43.5 billion in GDP in 2019. COVID-19, however, devastated the sector. In 2020, the number of jobs directly supported by tourism fell by as much as 70%, while tourism-generated GDP fell 47.9%. The sector is now making a comeback.
It will also mark the launch of a new report by the MacEachen Institute in partnership with the ACCA on scenario planning for the cruise sector in Atlantic Canada.
The Passion of Joan of Arc, with the Orlando Consort’s Voices Appeared (Wednesday, 7:30pm, St. Andrew’s United Church) — live performance accompanying Carl Theodor Dreyer’s silent film; $15/$35, more info here
‘They always left room’: on writing for an other voice: A Faculty Author Series reading with Luke Hathaway (Tuesday, 12pm, Room LI135, Patrick Power Library) — Hathaway will read from his latest book of poems, The Affirmations; RSVP here
In the harbour
08:30: NYK Nebula, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Southampton, England
10:30: MSC Rossella, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Montreal
10:30: Atlantic Sea, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
11:30: Tropic Lissette, container ship, sails from Pier 44 for Palm Beach, Florida
12:30: Rt Hon Paul E Martin, bulker, arrives at Gold Bond from Wilmington, North Carolina
15:30: Neptune Koper, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
15:30: CMA CGM G. Washington, container ship (140,872 tonnes), arrives at Pier 41 from Colombo, Sri Lanka
16:30: MSC Rossella sails for sea
16:30: Atlantic Sea sails for New York
It’s my birthday today. Another good reason to subscribe.
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