Before we get started, a word about Morning File. Sometimes people I’m talking to refer to the Examiner as though it’s a newspaper. “When is the Examiner coming out?” But the Examiner doesn’t come out or publish the same way a newspaper does. (And, increasingly, newspapers don’t either.) As articles are ready for publication, they get published to the website. The website you are on right now, reading this.
Once a day, we publish the Morning File. It provides a blurb about and links to each of the Examiner articles published over the previous 24 hours, plus some kind of little essay by whoever is writing Morning File. See the section right below this that says “News”? In it you will find numbered items pointing to news stories. Then, below that, you’ll find the “Views” and “Noticed” sections. These are more free-form little essays written by whoever is doing Morning File on any given day.
How do you know who is writing Morning File? Well, if you go peek up at the top of the page, you will see a name and photo. At the bottom of the page, there is a bio. If any items in the Morning File are written by someone else, we indicate that. (“This item is written by…”)
The Halifax Examiner articles we point to in Morning File are generally for Examiner subscribers. This means you can read my little blurb about the article here in Morning File, but if you want to read the whole thing, you’ll need to buy a subscription.
It will be repetitive for you and tiresome for me to write, “This story is for subscribers only. Click here to subscribe” below each of the Examiner stories I link to in the “News” section below. So take it from me, to read the stories please subscribe.
1. Learning about life from a funeral director in training
Suzanne Rent is a self-described private person. So I was very surprised when I headed over to the Examiner website this morning and saw her essay called “What my kid, a funeral director in training, is teaching me about life and death.”
I’m so glad Rent wrote this. It’s a lovely essay about her daughter, who changed course after a year in university, applied to go to NSCC, and is now studying to be a funeral director — and about how this has prompted Rent to think more about death herself.
In the essay, she writes:
Middle age is a funny thing. Just when you think to yourself, “I’ve got this life stuff all figured out,” the loss comes in waves…
In middle age, there is more death. My father died last year. Musicians whose music you have loved for years die, too. And with every death, you do the math between your age and theirs, asking yourself what you would do with the time you had left.
The reminders seem to be everywhere. I have Facebook friends who have died since I signed up for the app in 2007. Do I delete them as friends? I don’t know the etiquette. An uncle on there who died several years ago somehow still shares posts. I’m sure it’s his widow who just forgot the password to her own account because I can’t imagine thinking about social media from the great beyond.
And then there’s a classmate who has stage IV cancer. She shares her adventures in photos; trips to New York and Paris with her kids. Choose joy is her motto and she exudes it in every post. I think about her often and choose joy, too. Write more, go on road trips, tell the stories of strangers, take more horseback riding lessons even if I’m terrible at it. Take pictures of all of it. Choose joy.
It is a lovely piece about life and death, and also what we can learn from our children.
Click here to read all of “What my kid, a funeral director in training, is teaching me about life and death.” This article is for subscribers. You can subscribe here.
There is a new National Film Board documentary about funeral directors, made by New Brunswick director Georges Hannan. The film is in French with English subtitles. In English it is called Undertaker for Life! It is not available to stream yet, because it is still on the festival circuit, but you can watch the trailer here.
“Undertakers are anything but gloomy; they’re funny, generous and dedicated,” says the film’s description. In the trailer, one of them says people say the only two things that are unavoidable are death and taxes, “but some avoid paying taxes.”
Many years ago, I heard funeral director Robert D. Webster on CBC Radio’s The Current, being interviewed by Anna Maria Tremonti on his book, Does This Mean You’ll See Me Naked?: A Funeral Director Reflects on 30 Years of Serving the Living and the Deceased. I remember thinking I should read it at the time, and I never got around to it. I see the library has the ebook available. I should check it out (literally and figuratively).
2. Funding renewed for African Nova Scotian Justice Institute
Last December, premier Tim Houston announced multi-year funding (through to March 2026) for the African Nova Scotian Justice Institute. Today, Matthew Byard looks at the critical but largely “invisible” work the institute does, and interviews its interim acting director, Robert Wright.
Wright said for Black people who can afford lawyers, but whose lawyers may not have expertise in “race litigation,” the institute is able to provide a consulting service to their lawyers in order to help them “increase their capacities to better serve Black people.”
“But then there are Black folk who, for one reason or another, may be better served by a lawyer from the justice institute or whose case is like precedent-setting case, or a test case, or a significant case where the demonstration of how the law either works in our favour or against it. Those are the kinds of cases that I think we would be focusing on at this point.”
Click here to read “African Nova Scotian Justice Institute to continue ‘invisible’ legal work with renewed funding.” This article is for subscribers only. You can subscribe here.
This item is written by Jennifer Henderson and Suzanne Rent
Nurses working in the Halifax Infirmary Emergency Department have sent a letter to Premier Tim Houston, Health Minister Michelle Thompson, and Nova Scotia Health CEO Karen Oldfield outlining their concerns about the province’s failures to deal with the issue of retention of nurses at the hospital.
Here’s the letter:
Dear Premier Houston, Minister Thompson and Ms. Oldfield,
We are writing to you with grave and sincere concern for the citizens of Nova Scotia accessing care at the Charles V. Keating Emergency and Trauma Centre at the QEII in Halifax. We, the front-line Registered Nurses in the ED, have bore witness to the ongoing health care crisis with beginnings far outdating the pandemic. Now, as we stand on the other side of that pandemic, it’s in an unraveling and hazardous health care landscape that’s experiencing a “brain drain” of skilled RNs. The recent press conference on ED improvements instilled one last glimmer of hope in our RNs. We envisioned our calls for help were finally answered. To everyone’s bitter disappointment, it is now clear that the Nova Scotia government is completely blind to the needs of and issues facing RNs in our collapsing ED.
The measures announced do not address one of the major issues contributing to increased morbidity and mortality in the ED: retention and recruitment of skilled RNs. Our ED now operates RN staffing levels at an average of 50-60%. With patient to nurse ratios worsening, the burnout experienced by RNs has ballooned. This is affecting our ability to retain and recruit RNs. It is driving our existing RN staff to move to casual positions, sign lucrative travel nurse contracts or leave the profession altogether. Our daily operations are now totally dependent on casual staff and travel RNs, with our core staffing being begged to cancel their vacation, come in for overtime or extend their shifts. The QEII ED is a revolving door for RNs. As soon as our new hires complete their orientation, they realize their licence to practice nursing is at risk by being forced to do the impossible with limited resources, and they leave the department. Without immediate action and interventions focused on RN retention, we fear unnecessary suffering will continue in the ED. We simply cannot be expected to spread ourselves any thinner.
We implore you to save lives and our EDs: implement RN recruitment and retention strategies immediately. Every experienced RN that leaves the ED is taking invaluable experience and expertise with them. The suggested incentives include higher wages, retention bonuses, improved night/weekend shift premiums and work short premiums. These incentives in the ED will entice RNs who have left to return, and will help to retain the few skilled ED RNs who remain. Without these incentives, the “brain drain” will continue, and it will undoubtedly sink our community EDs.
The Registered Nurse group, Charles V. Keating Emergency and Trauma Centre
One issue around retention concerns compensation offered to travel nurses, who earn significantly more than nurses working in hospitals.
The Examiner has learned these travel nurses work on contracts as short as six months to one year and earn between $70 and $80 an hour, double what experienced registered nurses earn if they work for Nova Scotia Health.
Many private nursing agencies such as Select Medical Connections and 911 Nurses GTA also pay the nurses’ rent and travel expenses. These are two of eight companies hired by Nova Scotia Health to supply registered nurses to hospitals in Nova Scotia. There are 1,200 vacancies for nurses in this province.
One company, Canadian Health Labs, has successfully recruited nurses from the emergency department of the Montreal General Hospital to work in Newfoundland and New Brunswick. Canadian Health Labs has not been hired by Nova Scotia Health to provide nurses.
Those nurses willing to sign a one-year contract to work in Newfoundland have their rent paid and are provided with a vehicle. After working two months, travel nurses get two weeks of vacation, about twice as much time off as a nurse in the public system.
The Canadian Health Labs contract states employees cannot be required to work overtime. The Examiner spoke with two travel nurses who resigned from their full-time jobs at a Montreal emergency department. Both said a chance to explore another part of the country while making top dollar was the reason for accepting the offers.
Both women are single and told the Examiner they hope to return to their Montreal hospital in a year or so. In the meantime, the offer of double their current salary and an expense-free lifestyle was simply too good to refuse. The only downside for these young nurses is this company does not provide health benefits, although some other travel nursing agencies do provide health insurance.
The Examiner sent a request to Nova Scotia Health last week asking how much the province paid travel nursing agencies to work in hospitals in 2022. We have yet to receive an answer.
Meanwhile, long-term care homes spent almost $22 million on travel nursing agencies to provide staff for nursing homes in 2022.
This is a developing story. More to come.
“A Nova Scotia company has just lost $1.32 million in a court battle over sea cucumbers that were too salty,” writes Chris Lambie for SaltWire.
The company is Atlantic Sea Cucumber Ltd, of Hacketts Cove, on St. Margaret’s Bay.
Lambie summarizes the gist of the case:
A judge ordered Atlantic Sea Cucumber Ltd. to pay Weihai Taiwei Haiyang Aquatic Food Co., a Chinese processor and supplier of dried sea cucumber since November 2012, damages in the amount of $986,256.75 US. Both companies are in the business of processing dried sea cucumbers, considered a delicacy in Asian countries and used in traditional Chinese medicine.
“In April 2020, WTH sold a shipment of dried sea cucumbers to ASC, which complained about the amount of salt in the sea cucumbers,” Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Richard Coughlan said in a written decision released Monday.
“WTH offered to take the shipment back and pay the cost of the shipment’s return. The offer was refused by ASC which kept the shipment. ASC has not paid the purchase price for the shipment.”
In writing about the sea cucumber business back in 2016, Tim Bousquet referred to the medicinal uses of sea cucumbers as “producing… boners.” He was writing about this because ACOA was sinking money into the sea cucumber business.
Well, according to Lambie’s story, the sea cucumber market seems to have collapsed:
Costco was a major purchaser of ASC sea cucumber. In March 2020 Costco slowed down taking shipments of sea cucumber. From October 2019 to March, April or May 2020, ASC had so much sea cucumber in its warehouse it was processing little, if any, sea cucumber itself. After March 2020 the sales volume in the North America sea cucumber industry collapsed due to the negative effects of COVID.
One aspect of the story I found interesting is that part of the lawsuit hinges on the translation of the Mandarin term “dangan.”
CBC Nova Scotia speaks to a former patron of the Halifax Alehouse who says when he heard about the death of Ryan Sawyer outside the bar on Christmas Eve, thought, “That very well could have been me.”
Reporter Josh Hoffman writes:
The 21-year-old man claims he was ordering a beer when a bouncer tapped him on the shoulder and told him to leave. He claims he wasn’t given a reason before being escorted out of the bar.
He claims that security guards taunted him once he was outside. He says he turned to walk away and hadn’t moved 10 feet before a bouncer punched him in the side of the head and then other bouncers joined in.
He claims the last thing he remembers before blacking out was one bouncer holding him in a choke hold while two other bouncers punched him in the face and stomped on his ankles.
He claims when he regained consciousness, he was in police handcuffs. He was lying face down on Prince Street, not far from the Halifax Alehouse.
Another man, Addisiane Freeland, has filed suit against the Alehouse, claiming he was assaulted by bouncers last August.
We need a truly distributed power grid, with thousands and thousands of home- and business-based renewable generators, local networks that can power themselves when the larger grid is down, and a huge investment into stored power projects, at the very least.
Over the last couple of years, we have started to see the breakdown of some of our highly centralized systems. People have been warning about this kind of thing for decades, but you know how it is: unless there is a crisis, we just carry on. Kind of like the way we looked at solar power in the 70s, said, nah, we’re good, and then doubled down on cheap oil.
I’ve been thinking a lot about decentralization lately, after making the switch from Twitter to Mastodon. I’m going to get into that again another day, looking at the issue of a more decentralized web. For now, I’d like to point to a short but thought-provoking piece by Mike Masnick called “Decentralization in All the Things.”
Masnick is the editor of Techdirt, and also the originator of the very useful term “Streisand Effect.” Despite the title of the piece, he doesn’t suggest decentralizing everything. But he does argue that we need new approaches to thinking about what can and should be centralized and decentralized.
We’re at an inflection point in the way we view society. We’ve been locked into industrial age views in an increasingly digital age. The economic and industrial policies of today are still tied to a world that existed over a century ago, and there are so many ways in which we can and should rethink them…
So much of our thinking about today’s world is based on a mental model that effectively craves centralization. We’re working off of a model that focuses on efficiency and profit maximization that automatically pushes towards centralization and what is, in effect, a dictatorial (benevolent or not) view of how society should be structured.
As such, it should not be particularly surprising that we see vast consolidation and diminishing competition in the corporate world, or growing illiberalism and authoritarian control in the political world. Our own societal structures have demanded it, and those same structures make it feel as if there are few ways to alter the overall path, but that’s mainly because we’re viewing the issue through a very narrow prism.
Now, this may sound like the classic venture capital garbage we’ve all read a million times. But Masnick isn’t arguing that some new tool that will disrupt everything is just around the corner. Instead, he argues that both centralization and decentralization have benefits, but that we should rethink which type of organization is most beneficial for which activities and services.
Masnick takes the US interstate system as a great example of a centralized project (building highways across the country) that allowed more local ones to flourish. Often, of course, this led to sprawl, but that’s another issue.
The internet is the opposite in some ways. It is built on an open, decentralized series of protocols (Masnick wrote an influential paper called “Protocols, not Platforms” in 2019), but it has increasingly come under the centralized control of a few corporations: Google and Meta (the parent company of Facebook) to name a couple.
The keys to making this work are fairly straightforward: core infrastructure, preferably built on an open model or owned by no one as an open protocol, creates a standardized foundation. From there, you push the power to the ends, allowing lots of people to build on that foundation, enabling competition and innovation.
You can see how this could work with, say, power generation.
In terms of the internet, Masnick notes that decentralization enhances portability. Email, for instance, is decentralized:
Yes, Gmail has a large market share, but using Gmail does not cut you off from others using other email providers like Microsoft’s Outlook, Yahoo Mail, or a privacy-focused provider like Proton Mail. While it’s not technically easy, users can host their own email as well. They can all communicate with one another, and if you are using one service and feel it’s not serving your needs — or worse, has become untrustworthy — you can export your emails, move them to a different service, and still communicate with everyone else.
In contrast, if you find Facebook untrustworthy and decide to leave, you will lose out on the conversations happening there with your friends and family. That’s a centralized silo in which Facebook’s corporate entity, Meta, has full control and can even remove you entirely.
I am old enough to remember when switching phone companies meant you couldn’t keep your number. That was a powerful disincentive to switching. And even in the early days of keeping your number, sometimes the number would fail to port over.
I am not convinced by Masnick’s examples of centralization and decentralization in health care and education, but they are not meant to be comprehensive solutions. Instead, they are an invitation to think about the model of a centralized, open base onto which other, decentralized services are built. Or, as Masnick puts it:
Create the core infrastructure as a base. Make it a kind of open protocol. Enable others to build on that base to leverage the power of the standardized and connected infrastructure. Allow that experimentation and competition to drive new, different, and useful innovations.
Maybe this “Noticed” section should be called “newsletter corner” on the days I write Morning File. Today, I would like to draw your attention to Jagged Time Lapse, written by Dan Epstein and published on Substack.
Epstein is one of my favourite writers, in part because I want to be like him: a guy who writes mostly about music and baseball. His book Big Hair and Plastic Grass is the definitive look at Major League Baseball in the 1970s.
Jagged Time Lapse is about music, though. It’s a combination of memoir, stuff from Epstein’s archives (he recently published old interviews he had done with Angus Young of AC/DC and Rob Halford of Judas Priest), and “cool/hilarious/fascinating chunks of music history” he comes across “in the course of doing research for other pieces and projects.”
When I saw on Instagram that Epstein’s latest entry was on the K-Tel records release Goofy Greats, I was hooked.
K-Tel was a Canadian company that repackaged songs onto compilation records. The company’s heyday was in the 1970s… maybe a bit into the 80s, too? I’m not sure. The songs were often shortened from the original versions, and the records were advertised on TV with loud, obnoxious, used-car salesman type ads. “Original hits! Original stars!” (I never understood what this phrase meant.) “Don’t miss this exciting offer! 25 of the greatest polkas ever assembled on one LP — only $3.99!”
Goofy Greats was, well, I’ll let Epstein describe it:
Goofy Greats was basically a grab-bag of rock n’ roll, R&B, novelty and bubblegum pop songs from the ‘50s and ‘60s, whose unifying thread was that they were all “goofy” — or at least, filled with enough nonsense syllables, upbeat tempos and broad humor to appeal to ‘70s elementary schoolers. I can also see in retrospect that this was a fairly brilliant marketing concept: these songs were pretty much the antithesis of “hip” by mid-’70s standards, yet somebody at K-Tel figured out a way to repackage and sell them to kids who hadn’t been around to hear them the first time.
But back when I first saw this commercial, I had zero frame of reference for any of it. All I knew was that these songs — or at least the brief snippets I heard in the ad — sounded like a hell of a lot of fun.
The record includes bona fide older hits (“Rockin’ Robin”), straight-up novelty songs (“Yummy Yummy Yummy”) and tunes best forgotten (“Ahab the Arab”). There were various versions of Goofy Greats, not all with the same songs on them.
I had (OK, I still own it) a copy of Goofy Greats. Like Epstein, I had “zero frame of reference” for any of this. But that’s what a lot of childhood and culture is like, right? There’s a flattening of time, you don’t know what happened when, and it’s confusing until you sort it all out. Karl Marx and Groucho Marx. Is Happy Days actually old? The concept of nostalgia doesn’t make a lot of sense when you are eight or 10. (If you try rewatching Happy Days, let me know if you make it through more than five minutes.)
The songs on Goofy Greats were about a tiny bikini (Did I understand this was sexist? No.), a purple people eater, and Tarzan playing guitar. Did I understand that Bill Haley and the Comets “See You Later Alligator” was more important than Ray Stevens’ “Gitarzan?” Also no. But the songs were simple and, for the most part, stupid and catchy enough that they made me want to listen. And I suspect that had something to do with leading to a lifetime of wanting to listen and explore.
Epstein remembers being fascinated by Goofy Greats:
My friend Peter did have Goofy Greats, however, and we spent lot of time up in his room listening to it — too much time, as far as he was concerned. I vividly remember one Saturday afternoon where I was over at his family’s house, and had once again insisted that he pull out the album for a spin on his plastic Fisher-Price phonograph. We were about halfway through listening to Side One when we heard someone yelling our names from outside. It was our friend Scott, who lived down the block; he and a couple of other neighborhood kids wanted us to come out and join them for a snowball fight.
“Cool, let’s go!” Peter shouted.
“Uh, but we still have the rest of the record to listen to,” I protested.
“Fine, Epstein,” he shrugged. “I’m going out there without you!” He started stomping down the stairs towards his coat and boots.
“Where are you going?” I heard Peter’s mother call to him from the kitchen.
“Scott and them are having a snowball fight,” he answered.
“Where’s Dan?” she asked.
“He’s up in my room — he just wants to listen to that fucking Goofy Greats record again!”
Epstein was listening to the one record edition, I gather, whereas I had the double album. Suck it, Dan.
Before I leave you, a word about the newsletter phenomenon in general. Many writers have turned to these as a source of income in unsteady times, especially what with Twitter melting down, but they also provide a sense of connection with the audience. Back in my documentary marketing days, I got to know the legendary Canadian documentary filmmaker Colin Low, and I vividly remember him saying that a church basement full of passionate viewers at a screening was worth more than a million people casually watching on TV. A couple of hundred newsletter subscribers in some ways beats tens of thousands of social media followers. Here’s how Epstein puts it:
It’s incredibly heartening to have a built-in audience audience to write for. I know a lot of my readers are alerted to JTL posts via social media — but should there come a time when I get booted from any of those forums (or feel the need to bail, a la Twitter) for whatever reason, a free subscription to this Substack ensures that my posts will go directly to your inbox, with no social media middleman.
In many ways, this is also what is appealing about writing for the Halifax Examiner. I have met some of you, and some of you I have a pretty good sense of from your comments and emails. You feel like our readers, and not some formless mass audience.
Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 10am, City Hall and online) — agenda
Budget Committee (Wednesday, 9:30am, City Hall and online) — agenda
Land Lease Community Project (Wednesday, 6:30pm, Sackville Heights Community Centre) — scheduled in event of inclement weather on Feb. 1
Community Services (Tuesday, 10am, One Government Place and online) — Community Improvement Grants, with representatives from the Department of Communities, Culture, Tourism and Heritage
Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, One Government Place and online) — Nova Scotia Farm Loan Boardand Nova Scotia Fisheries and Aquaculture Loan Board – Annual Report, Financial Statements and Business Plan; with representatives from the Department of Agriculture, Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, Nova Scotia Farm Loan Board, and Nova Scotia Fisheries and Aquaculture Loan Board
‘He is remarkable for…wearing a Handkerchief tied round his Head’: Resistance as Escape and Cultural Retention in Art and the Fugitive Slave Archive (Tuesday, 7pm, online) — Charmaine Nelson from the University of Massachusetts will talk:
Scholarship on Transatlantic Slavery has long benefited from the often-exhaustive data published in the fugitive slave archive. Ubiquitous throughout the transatlantic world, fugitive slave advertisements were commonly produced by white enslavers. Seeking to recapture their runaway “property,” standardized icons of enslaved males and females became a staple of such print advertisements. However, the more complex textual descriptions were also fundamentally visual and arguably comprise an archive of dubious, unauthorized “portraits” that have sadly come to stand as “the most detailed descriptions of the bodies of enslaved African Americans available.” (Graham White and Shane White, 1995, p. 49). Besides noting things like names, speech, accents, language, and skills, fugitive slave notices frequently recounted the dress (hairstyles, adornment, clothing etc.), branding, scarification, mannerisms, physical habits, and even the gestures and expressions of runaways. These advertisements also routinely disclosed the bravery, intelligence, and resilience of individuals who fled, alongside elements of their cultural practices, their retention of African dress traditions and their adaptation under the burdens of creolization. Through a comparative analysis of the dress practices of enslaved black subjects in fugitive slave advertisements, painting, and sculpture, this lecture examines resistance as flight and African cultural retention and self-care in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Not Now, Not Yet. Build Your Own Lockdown (Tuesday, 7:30pm, David Mac Murray Theatre, Dal Arts Centre) — until Feb. 11; a cross-disciplinary collaboration across Music, Theatre and Dance areas of The Fountain School of Performing Arts, faculty and students; $15/$10
Etuaptmumk: Two-Eyed Seeing – Transforming Education (Wednesday, 6pm, online) — a virtual conversation between Elder Albert Marshall and Richard Kroeker; info and registration here
Naturally deadly: A toxicologist’s take on foraging and gardening (Wednesday, 7pm, online) — Dalhousie Mini Medical School
Not Now, Not Yet. Build Your Own Lockdown (Wednesday, 7:30pm, David Mac Murray Theatre, Dal Arts Centre) — a Devised Theatre Production until Feb. 11
In the harbour
13:30: Harmonic, oil tanker, sails from EverWind for sea
For years, I had a big Ziploc bag full of lots and lots of USB cables, including the really outdated kind with the big square head. (Is it called a head?) Finally realized I was never going to need or use them, and threw them out. Guess what? Now I need one of them.