News

1. Bumbling response to Portapique

Retired RCMP Staff Sergeant Al Carroll.

Yesterday, retired RCMP Staff Sergeant Al Carroll testified via Zoom at the Mass Casualty Commission (MCC), the public inquiry into the mass murders of April 18/19, 2020.

Through his questioning of Carroll, MCC lawyer Roger Burrill aptly laid out how a series of cascading policing errors built upon each other such that the killer was able to escape Portapique long before midnight, and that possibility wasn’t fully appreciated until Lillian Campbell was killed in Wentworth at 9:30 the next morning.

Recall that around 10:30pm on April 18, Andrew and Kate MacDonald met officers responding to Portapique at the top of Portapique Beach Road. Andrew MacDonald had been shot by the killer; he was quickly given a medical assessment and then taken to hospital via ambulance, but Kate MacDonald stayed at the scene and related what she knew to Cst. Vicki Colford, who maintained a road block as other officers went into Portapique on foot.

Importantly, Kate MacDonald told Colford about the blueberry field road, a farm road that connected Cobequid Court at the southern end of Portapique to Brown Loop in the north, east of the roadblock.

At 10:48:41pm, Colford radioed that information:

Millbrook, if you guys want to have a look at the map, we’re being told there’s a road, kind of a road that someone could come out, before here. Ah, if they know the roads well.

The problem was, Carroll, who was one of the commanding officers that night, never heard that radio transmission. “I could’ve been on the phone,” Carroll told Burrill.

According to the MCC’s reconstruction of events at Portapique, by the time of Colford’s radio transmission, the killer had already left Portapique via that very same blueberry field road. But for the rest of the night, the RCMP focus was almost entirely on finding the killer in Portapique (albeit, the Cobequid toll plaza and COVID inspectors on the New Brunswick border were told to be on the lookout for several vehicles the killer owned, and later in the night an officer was placed at the toll plaza).

In the early few hours, there was confusion as to who was in charge of the RCMP response. At 11:45pm, Cst. Bill Neil even radioed: “I don’t know who’s got the command,” to which Carroll responded, “Staff Rehill has command folks — Staff Rehill has command,” referring to Staff Sergeant Brian Rehill, who was the risk manager at the OCC centre in Truro (I wrote about Rehill’s testimony at the MCC here). Burrill asked Carroll why Rehill himself didn’t make that announcement, but Carroll didn’t really have an explanation.

During that command confusion, at 11:00pm, Carroll pulled some officers away from Portapique and directed them to a road block at Five Houses, to the west of Portapique, established by Cst. Jordan Carroll — Al Carroll’s son. Jordan Carroll was the first RCMP officer responding from Amherst, and was alone at the roadblock; Al Carroll wanted to give him backup. Al Carroll made this command without actually being the commanding officer.

“Did I overstep my role? Yes, I did,” Carroll admitted. But Carroll insisted that he would’ve made the same decision no matter who was at Five Houses, and it had nothing to do with his son.

The command confusion seems to have fed the slow and ultimately ineffective creation of containment points around Portapique, but again, the killer had already left the community.

It was in the early hours of April 19 when Carroll and Staff Sergeant Addie MacCallum were at the Bible Hill detachment trying to look at maps. I say “trying” because they didn’t have reliable maps — at one point MacCallum pulled out a road atlas. Carroll explained that MacCallum pulled up various maps — he thought it was Google Maps or Google Earth — on the computer, and he was looking over MacCallum’s shoulder. Carroll explained that he wasn’t very good at computers.

The Pictometry mapping program clearly shows the blueberry field road. From an MCC document.

The commanding officers did have access to a mapping program called Pictometry, and a report prepared by MCC staff shows that that program clearly showed the blueberry field road. Problem was, Carroll didn’t know how to use Pictometry — Carroll told Burrill that it was a new program, and as he was scheduled to retire in May 2020, he didn’t think he should learn how to use it.

Overall, Carroll struck me as remarkably incurious. It’s been more than two years since the terrible events he was instrumental in, and yet he hadn’t read any of the MCC documents, nor had he read any of the radio transcripts from transmissions during the events, or any other of the underlying documents that he had access to and that have now become public.

Frankly, he seemed to have been in a position of authority far too long, and should have been put to pasture long before April 2020. He was evidently not agile or responsive enough for such an extreme situation, relied on personal connections rather than established protocols, and didn’t bother to learn to use technology that could have brought clarity to the RCMP response.

After the failed mapping attempts at Bible Hill, Carroll and MacCullum moved to the command post at Great Village, where they continued to look over hand-drawn maps not up to the task.

Burrill didn’t explore it, but according to Critical Incident Commander Jeff West’s handwritten notes, at around 4am on April 19, a crisis negotiator declared that the killer was “closure motivated” and it was likely he was dead in the woods in Portapique.

In West’s notes he specifically names Al Carroll as the crisis negotiator. Carroll was in fact the coordinator of the 10-person team of crisis negotiators in Nova Scotia, but he said yesterday that on April 18, he handed that duty over to Staff Sergeant Royce MacRae. Whoever made the “closure motivated” declaration, they had never met the killer before, had never talked to him, and so were not truly able to make any psychological assessment of him, but the declaration appears to have slowed down the overall response. Now, RCMP were just looking for a body in the woods in Portapique.

All the while, for about six hours, the killer was very much alive and hiding behind a welding shop in Debert.

We can’t say that it would’ve stopped the killer, but certainly if RCMP mistakes had not piled atop each other, the response to the killer may have looked very differently. Had Colford’s radio transmission been heard and taken seriously; had a clear command structure been in place from the start; had commanding officers been able to capably use the technology available to them and comprehend the chance that the killer had fled Portapique; had there not been an impossible-to-make assessment that the killer was dead in the woods — then perhaps the police response would have been more broadly focused. Perhaps more roadblocks and checkpoints could have been established around the province. Perhaps a search of surrounding communities like Debert could have been undertaken. Perhaps the public could have been warned that a killer might be at large.

The killer left his hiding place in Debert at 5:45am on April 19, and RCMP resources were still focused on Portapique.

Nine more people were murdered that day.

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2. More on those “big temporary changes” at the Atlantic Gold mine

This contributed photo shows waste rock being trucked into and levelled at the bottom of the open pit of the Atlantic Gold’s Touquoy gold mine.

This item was written by Joan Baxter.

Last Friday, we reported on some “big temporary changes” at Atlantic Gold’s Touquoy gold mine in Moose River, about 63 kilometres northeast of Halifax, where the company has been extracting gold since late 2017.

Based on information from Nova Scotia Environment and Climate Change (NSECC), we wrote that Atlantic Gold had requested authorization in January 2022 to temporarily store up to 2.65 million tonnes of waste rock in the open pit at its Touquoy mine, and that the authorization was valid until July 2022.

After that, according to NSECC spokesperson Tracy Barron, the waste rock will have to come out again, unless an extension is requested.

Since then, we’ve heard from informed sources that waste rock started going into the gaping open pit at Touquoy not in 2022, but a year before that, in January 2021.

In an email, Barron explained:

The Department granted authorization to Atlantic Gold in January 2021 to store waste rock in a section of the pit for six months, with an extension granted of another six months. In January 2022, Atlantic Gold applied for and received an extension and permission to relocate waste rock within the pit. At that time, total volume of waste rock was limited to 2.65 million tonnes.

The authorization is temporary and the material must be removed before the authorization expires. Prior to the expiry of this authorization, Atlantic Gold may choose to apply for a time extension. The final disposal site for waste rock must be at a location approved by the department.

Several people have contacted the Examiner expressing scepticism that the large amounts of waste rock that have been deposited at the bottom of the large pit will ever be removed.

We asked Barron if waste rock storage in such a deep open pit was an acceptable practice in Nova Scotia, how much has been placed in the pit, and why it has to be removed.

Barron replied:

To date, the company’s request has been for the temporary storage of waste rock, so it must be removed before that temporary authorization expires. The requested volume of material was determined by the company and is monitored by the Department through audits and information requests as necessary.

Any permanent disposal of waste rock in the pit would require an amendment to the current operating approval. To request such an approval, a company would need to identify possible environmental effects, propose mitigation measures, and predict whether there will be any significant adverse environmental effects and/or potential residual environmental effects following any mitigation measures.

Recall that Atlantic Gold has applied to NSECC for environmental approval for modifications at its Touquoy mine, including an expansion of the area where it stores massive piles of waste rock, and also permission to use the exhausted open pit for tailings from three more open pit gold mines that the company, owned by Australia’s St Barbara Ltd, has proposed on the Eastern Shore.

Recall too that twice, the Nova Scotia Environment Minister has found Atlantic Gold’s proposal lacks information, sent the company back to the drawing board to assemble the missing and “previously requested” information, and declined to approve the proposed modifications.

The company now has a year to prepare that information if it hopes to get approval for the changes at Touquoy.

And Atlantic Gold has another two months before it has to start removing all that waste rock it has been trucking into the open pit, unless, of course, it gets another extension that allows it to keep piling the waste rock deeper and deeper.

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3. COVID

The weekly COVID death count in Nova Scotia since January. Note that because of a change in the reporting period, the week ending April 11 has just six days.

Thirteen people died from COVID in Nova Scotia last week (May 17-23).

By age cohort, the 13 deaths were:
Under 50: 1
50-69: 1
70+: 11

Additionally, there were 40 COVID hospitalizations over that period.

By age cohort, those hospitalized are:
Under 18: 2
18-49: 3
50-69: 13
70+: 22

Nova Scotia Health reported the status of COVID hospitalizations as of yesterday:

• Currently in hospital for COVID-19: 33 (8 of whom are in ICU)
• Currently in hospital for something else but have COVID-19: 171
• Patients currently in hospital who contracted COVID-19 after admission to hospital: 83

The above figures do not include the IWK.

Weekly new COVID lab-confirmed (PCR tests) cases since January. The gap reflects a change in testing protocols that left meaningless data; note that because of a change in the reporting period the week ending April 11 has just six days.

There were also 1,584 new lab-confirmed (PCR tests) cases last week, a significant decrease from 2,513 the week before. These new case figures do not include people who tested positive with the take-home tests, or those who didn’t test at all.

Trend graph of 7-day rolling average of COVID-19 viral load in three of HRM’s sewage plants.

The decline in deaths and new cases (even with limited data) is of course a good thing. But COVID levels have been increasing in samples taken from two of the three sewage plants being tested in HRM — Halifax and Mill Cove have seen increased COVID, while Dartmouth remains steady. This could mean that there’s a resurgence of the virus that will be reflected in higher case numbers next week, but it’s also possible that there’s more virus in the community but it’s not resulting in increased severe illness. Or, it could just be a statistical fluke.

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4. Emera

Emera President Scott Balfour. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

“The Annual General Meeting of Emera Inc. — a company that grew out of  Nova Scotia Power and has become a multinational business with $34 billion in assets and 7,000 employees — was a tame, well-scripted affair,” reports Jennifer Henderson:

There wasn’t a single question from shareholders about a controversial proposal to raise power rates by 10% in Nova Scotia over the next 18 months. That may be because only one-third of Emera’s profits derive from Nova Scotia and nearly two-thirds relate to regulated electric and gas utilities the company owns in Florida. 

Or it could be because Emera continues to deliver very good returns to shareholders who have no reason to be upset about an application that proposes to increase power bills and increase the company’s profitability on each capital project from 37 % to 45% of the project’s cost. If that gets approved by the Utilities and Review Board, profits to shareholders would increase by tens of millions of dollars each year. 

Emera shareholders are doing very nicely, thank you. Total shareholder return (TSR) was 22% in 2021, 11.5% over the past three years, and 76% over the past five years. A good stock to hold. 

The company reported a $723 million profit for 2021. Investors were told that compared to other regulated utilities in their Index or stock market grouping, only one other utility out-performed Emera in the last three years.

Click here to read “Emera has record profits, but wants more from ratepayers to move off coal.”

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5. Brave cop fights off potential pen attack

Halifax Regional Police Const. Nicole Green speaks to her lawyer, Brian Bailey, at a Nova Scotia Police Review Board hearing in Dartmouth on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. — Photo: Zane Woodford

“The Halifax Regional Police officer who tased a man on Quinpool Road in 2019 said she felt she had no choice but to arrest him, and she was worried he was going to use a pen as a weapon,” reports Zane Woodford:

Const. Nicole Green testified during the second day of her Nova Scotia Police Review Board hearing on Thursday, telling the board why she made the decision to arrest Clinton Fraser following a traffic stop…

“I made the decision based on everything up until that point to place him under arrest for breach of peace. And then that was when I noticed that he had the pen in his right hand.”

The pen isn’t visible in the videos shown to the board. Green claimed he was using it in his truck to record the officers’ names, and then stepped out of the truck gripping it in his hand.

“The immediate thing I thought of was that it could be used as a weapon, and why would he get out of the truck with it in his hand?” Green said.

Officers didn’t collect the pen as evidence after the incident, and Green said it “exploded” in the struggle.

“It was one of those clear plastic pens,” she said. “So I grabbed hold of his hand when it’s still in his hand and I squeezed and kind of like turned and the pen exploded into pieces and all the ink from the pen was all over my hands.”

The hearing continues today.

Click here to read “Halifax cop claims she worried the man she tased would use a pen as a weapon.”

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6. Local seeds

Heirloom Wentzell tomato. Photo: Yonder Hill Farm

“More Canadians are trying to grow their own vegetables and fruit amid escalating food costs, but very few likely think much about the origins of the seeds they’re sowing,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:

One of the Nova Scotia farmers whose seeds will be showcased is Chris Sanford, co-owner of Yonder Hill Farm in Laconia outside of Bridgewater. Their farm has more than 200 seed varieties and they’re featuring five as part of the SeedChange demonstrations.

The Tancook Island cabbage was the original variety grown on the island brought by German settlers in the 1700s. Sanford said some older residents were keeping the variety alive and she managed to get a few seeds to grow what she describes as a “remarkable” cabbage.

“It makes the best sauerkraut. It just stays really nice and crispy and just has really nice flavour,” Sanford said in an interview. “We started growing it because of the historic and regional importance, but then we fell in love with it.”

As for the tomato, Sanford said it has “quite a following locally.” That South Shore heirloom variety was named after the Wentzell family. They saved the seed from the very first fruit that ripened every year. Sanford said over the course of more than 50 years of growing the tomato, it ripens shortly after cherry tomatoes, which is unusual for a beefsteak variety.

“It’s (local seed preservation) really important work because we as individual growers aren’t going to be around forever, and that’s part of the whole problem and why we’ve lost the vast percentage of diversity of crop varieties in the last hundred years or so,” Sanford said.

Click here to read “Sowing seeds of sustainability in Nova Scotia.”

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Views

1. Tourism

Indian Brook Falls. Photo: cabotshores.com

Mary Campbell of the Cape Breton Spectator has an interesting report on Destination Cape Breton’s (DCB) presentation to the Cape Breton Regional Municipality council.

As DCB has a fixation on its website, and is attempting to lure Chinese and LGBT tourists by inviting a Chinese tourism specialist to “judge” the island and a gay comedian to “assess” it.

“I don’t think they’ve had great success with these markets,” comments Campbell. Maybe DCB should have microtargeted the Chinese LGBT community.

“Critiquing this presentation could easily fill this week’s entire issue — pretty much every sentence or graph or photograph is worthy of deeper exploration — but that would be tedious, so I’m just going to hit a few final highlights,” writes Campbell, who goes on to relate a bizarrely off-key campaign to get people to come visit Cape Breton’s waterfalls.

Hey, waterfalls are lovely. But — and no offence to the lovely Cape Breton waterfalls — no one at all is going to travel to Cape Breton solely to see, say, the Indian Brook falls. We’re not talking Niagara Falls here, which is single destination trip, but maybe you stop by the casino after seeing the falls. In that case, promoting the falls results in a secondary positive affect on the local tourism economy.

But people go see run-of-the-mill lovely but nothing-to-write-home-about falls in places like Cape Breton because they’re already on the island and want to get away from all the kitschy tourist traps. In this case, the falls detract from the local tourism economy. You can’t drop a thousand bucks at the roulette table if you’re out hiking in the woods.

All that aside, Campbell analyses DCB’s tourism projection figures as follows:

[Destination Cape Breton director Terry] Smith’s “2022 Forecast” slide is worth reproducing in full:

He admitted the quotes on the slide pre-dated the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the spike in gas prices, and given the invasion began in February and he gave this presentation yesterday, I really think he should have updated his slides. But he didn’t, so I’ll do it for him. The Conference Board of Canada’s most recent outlook for Nova Scotia (“Time for a Lobster Roll“) dated May 12, says:

Total visits to Nova Scotia will rebound to their pre-pandemic level in 2024[emphasis mine].

Most provinces are struggling with inflation and labour shortages, and Nova Scotia is no exception. As visitors return in earnest, higher costs and lower capacity will limit the pace of recovery.

SKIFT Megatrends claims to be able to forecast the top trends for the entire travel industry for the coming year and yet, for 2022 its first trend is “Uncertainty Is the New Certainty” and its explanation begins:

If you believe the people who tell you when and how the travel recovery will take shape, be assured that no one has precise answers right now.

Interestingly, DCB quotes SKIFT—a strange place full of badly written but interestingly dark takes on the future—at length in its actual 2022-23 Strategy, singling out six trends it considers “relevant” to Cape Breton including “The Rapid Ruralization of Travel Sets Stage for New Overtourism” (DCB admits elsewhere in the report that “overtourism” is already a problem in the Highlands on October weekends) and “Communities Move Beyond Spectator Roles for Tourism” (in which the author explores the novel idea that tourism must “enhance the quality of life of residents”).

The Expedia quote is just an excuse to use the term GOAT and seem down with the kids.  (I’m not even kidding, I’ve never seen an agency that chases trends like DCB does.)

As for the Dr. Robert Strang quote, it is from January and could really use a little fleshing out. The best I can figure (even after listening to the entire interview) is that he was referring to a theory floating around at that point that because Omicron was highly contagious but didn’t make people as sick as the Delta variant, it could end up providing us with some sort of herd immunity. By February (as in, a month later) you could find as many stories in which experts were pouring cold water on this notion. The bottom line here is that quote is dated and cryptic and probably should have been edited out of the slide presentation.

This brings up the… yes, Ivany Report.

Remember the Ivany Report? It was written by the greatest minds of Nova Scotia who patiently explained to all of us with less-great minds how we could transform our economy so the people who already have lots of money in Nova Scotia could get more money.

The Ivany Report laid out a bunch of targets that were achievable if only we set aside our differences and remained singularly focused. Among them was Goal 14, which was to double “gross business revenue from tourism” from $2 billion annually in 2014 to $4 billion annually in 2024.

Spoiler: that ain’t happening.

Annual tourism revenue in Nova Scotia, pre-pandemic. Graph: Tourism Nova Scotia

Tourism revenue never even reached $3 billion, and indeed contracted in each of the two years before the pandemic. Tourism Nova Scotia trotted out an explanation for that decline:

The decline in tourism revenues is reflective of the decline in non-resident visitation to Nova Scotia in 2019. Three external events contributed to the decline: 1) the grounding of the Boeing MAX aircraft resulted in a significant decline in air capacity from overseas markets, as well as a decline in domestic air capacity; 2) the Maine-Nova Scotia ferry did not operate in 2019; and 3) Hurricane Dorian contributed to a significant decline in visitation in September 2019.

The ferry excuse is cute. Had the ferry sailed and reached the purported goal of 60,000 passengers for the year (it has never come remotely close to that), and assuming that all the passengers were tourists (many are Nova Scotians), then each person on the boat — including kids, campers, etc. — would have to spend $20,000 during their short stay in the province to bridge the $1.2 billion gap in hoped-for tourism revenues.

And since then, there was of course the pandemic, and now the war in Ukraine…

But hey, Bousquet! No one could’ve predicted the pandemic or the war!

Which is exactly the point. It turns out that the world isn’t beholden to the golden predictions of the greatest minds of Nova Scotia, or anyone else’s mind, either. Shit happens. Shit always happens.

I mean, in my lifetime alone, there has been all sorts of shit that happened that disrupted all the best laid plans of the greatest minds: the Vietnam War, the OPEC oil embargo, hyper-inflation, the non-response to climate change, the collapse of the Soviet Union, 911, the economic collapse of 2008, the reemergence of Nazis, a global pandemic, and more war. I’m probably missing a few.

There’s a book that lays all this out. In one chapter, it says there will always be war and rumours of war. In another chapter, it speaks to how there’s a season for everything — a time for war, a time for peace, a time for building, a time for tearing down, and so forth, the point being we’ll never attain heaven on Earth. But I try not to get too hung up on that book because people read whatever bullshit they want into it and use it as an excuse to kill people they don’t like.

There’s another weird little book I read just after the economic collapse called The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, written by financier and mathematician Nicholas Taleb. Taleb is full of himself, sometimes relies on pretzel logic, and his prose can be unbearable, but I think his argument is essentially right: we can’t predict the future, and so the best we can do is build a society that is resilient — a word that has been bastardized to mean “oh aren’t poor people amazing for being able to survive being poor,” but really means that the social and economic system is multi-faceted and deeply rooted such that it can survive a major unexpected blow to the system thanks to perhaps under-appreciated strengths in unexpected places.

My takeaway from Taleb was that the economy should be bottom-up rather than top-down, that workers and regular people should have more opportunity and power to adjust as the world turns, because the brightest minds and monied interests will always work to obtain the opposite: streamline the economy and extract profit from the multiple centres of true value. (Taleb has another really important insight: beauty is a foundation of any successful society.)

In short, a singular focus on building an economy based on lobsters and tourism is super foolhardy. It doesn’t take much to disrupt either: climate change kills the lobster fishery, the Chinese boycott Canadian seafood, gas prices soar, the pandemic stalls tourism, etc. (Note that Taleb does not think the pandemic is a black swan event.)

As I say, I keep writing the same thing over and over again. But focusing on Other People’s Money is a terrible economic strategy.

You can read Campbell’s article, “Destination Cape Breton Presents (To Council),” here.

As with the Examiner, the Cape Breton Spectator is subscriber supported, and so this article is behind the Spectator’s paywall. Click here to purchase a subscription to the Spectator, or click on the photo below to get a joint subscription to both the Spectator and the Examiner.
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Government

No meetings


On campus

Dalhousie

Resounding: a celebration of the arts (Friday, 7:30pm, Rebecca Cohn Auditorium) — a concert with “world class” and emerging artists including Keifer Sutherland, Jeremy Dutcher, Hillsburn, Ashley MacIsaac, and the Fountain School of Performing Arts students. Info and tickets here.

Saint Mary’s

Womens’ Empowerment Conference: Women in Entrepreneurship (Friday, 1pm) — the fourth event in a week-long virtual conference. More details and registration here.


Footnotes

Sorry for the lateness.


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Tim Bousquet

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. Let me see if I have this right about Atlantic Gold.

    They are ‘temporarily’ putting waste rock into the exhausted part of the open pit mine. They can apply to make that permanent storage there, and there are indications that this is the “plan”

    At the same time, this exhausted mine is the proposed site for a toxic tailings pond for new mines the company has applied for. (Building a new conventional tailing pond on the surface is expensive.)

    Waste rock and tailings cannot occupy the same space. Physically, there is not room; let alone whether it would be allowed.

    ?

  2. It is absolutely horrific to listen to the press conference on the Texas shooting and hear parallels to our mass shooting – the disconnect that meant key information was not communicated between 911 and the operational command and the initial obfuscation (that then leads to rampant speculation that further buries the truth.)

  3. I’m a big fan of Taleb’s work – and it is all too funny that people ask him to predict the next black swan event. My average coworkers, mostly in their 20’s and non-owners pay 50% of their after-tax income for housing. Maybe we could start by fixing that instead of encouraging tourism? We could be actually world-class and be the first province to restrict AirBNB to owner-occupied housing.

  4. Two things.

    1) If I can plug my book, Adventures in Bubbles and Brine, there is a really interesting bit in it on heritage seeds and Tancook cabbage, including an interview with Chris Sanford (who I finally met in person and bought seeds from a few weeks ago).

    2) Taleb says people are constantly asking him to predict the next black swan event, which, of course totally misses the point, but also speaks to our desire to want certainty, even about uncertainty.