The Atlantic Journalism Award finalists were announced this morning, and the Halifax Examiner has three nominations.
- Zane Woodford is nominated in the “Breaking News” category for his story “Halifax police arrest, pepper spray protesters as city evicts homeless people from parks.”
- Tim Bousquet is nominated in the “Commentary” category for “The witchification of Lisa Banfield.”
- And I am nominated, also in “Commentary,” for “Could a robot write this? Lessons on using AI writing tools, and what they mean for journalism.”
- In addition, Examiner columnist Stephen Kimber is nominated in the “Enterprise Reporting” category for his Globe and Mail story, “Donald Sobey’s sexual assault of a young man was an open secret. Now his victim is finally telling his story…” and has been awarded gold in the “Best Profile” category for his Atlantic Business Magazine article, “Chief Terry Paul: Atlantic Canada’s first Indigenous CEO of the Year.”
It is very satisfying to see Examiner writers recognized for the good work they do. This work is made possible by your subscriptions, as the Examiner does not carry advertising of any kind. Please subscribe here.
1. Stabbing at CP Allen high school
Charles P. Allen high school will open late today, after two staff members were stabbed yesterday.
Lindsey Bunin, a spokesperson for Halifax Regional Centre for Education, said earlier on Monday two staff were taken to hospital after being injured in “an incident with a student who did have a weapon.” She said the third person who was injured was the student.
At the Chronicle Herald, Andrew Rankin writes:
Halifax Regional Centre for Education said later that “two staff members…were injured and taken to hospital following an incident involving a student with a weapon.”
Spokesperson Lindsey Bunin said “three individuals — two staff members and one student — were transported to hospital.”
Rankin speaks with students at the school who are, of course, shocked by the events. He writes that one student “said it appeared that the school’s vice-principal and receptionist were being stretchered out from the school and placed in ambulances. The boy was also moved from the police car into an ambulance.”
I learned about the stabbings on social media as, it seems, did many parents, some of whom were critical of HRCE communications. It seems inevitable though that word would get out first through personal networks. That said, our institutions seem to default to “give the least information possible” mode, which is often not helpful — particularly in a crisis.
Again, from Rankin’s story:
The Chronicle Herald spoke to another parent who received two texts and two emails from HRCE about the incident. We obtained a copy of the texts showing that the first text was sent out at 10:07 a.m. It said: “CP in hold and secure.”
The second one came soon after, saying the school was closing for the day. Both texts indicated that an additional email would be sent. The woman asked not to be identified. She said the emails contained no information about what had happened at the school.
Classes at CPA are cancelled for today.
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2. Bonuses for nurses
The provincial government “is finally putting some money where its mouth is” by offering substantial bonuses to nurses, Jennifer Henderson reports:
Surrounded by nurses and therapists working at the Dartmouth General Hospital, Premier Tim Houston and Health Minister Michelle Thompson announced $10,000 retention bonuses aimed at stemming the rising tide of departures among burnt out front-line workers.
For 11,000 registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, and nurse practitioners working in hospitals, nursing homes, and schools the cheque should be in the mail within the next month…
In addition to the $10,000 the government is offering immediately, nurses who sign an agreement next March will receive another $10,000 if they promise to stay and work two more years, until 2026.
Henderson says to expect more health care announcements today.
Click here to read “Nurses to receive $10,000 bonus, offered a second $10,000 if they stay two more years.”
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3. New documentary on life in Pubnico
Yvette d’Entremont has a lovely story on the new documentary Raconte-moi un souvenir (Tell me a memory), about growing up in Pubnico between 1930 and 1950. The film is based on stories told by seniors in the community. d’Entremont writes:
My father was born in Pubnico in 1941. He died in 2018, and this was the Acadian childhood he would’ve experienced. I have a connection to this place and its stories, but even without it I’d have been hooked
The documentary’s creator and artistic director, Yvette d’Entremont, said the screening felt like a huge family picnic or reunion where everyone was watching family videos.
“Lots of people from not even from that generation but maybe 10 or 20 years younger were nodding their heads in the theatre, recognizing themselves in some of their stories even though they weren’t that old,” d’Entremont said in an interview.
“It’s (the documentary) for generations to come. It’s a legacy, and that is so important for our young people.”
For the record, d’Entremont is the second person with my name that I’ve interviewed in my career, and we aren’t related.
Reading this piece, I realized I interviewed the director of the film several years ago, just after she retired from teaching, and one of her preoccupations was the decline of French among students. That concern certainly fits in with her goals for the film. From d’Entremont’s story:
One thing d’Entremont hopes people take away from the documentary is the importance of preserving family and community stories.
“I hope it triggers curiosity so that when younger people visit their grandparents or great grandparents, they will ask about these things, what life was like, tell me stories about when you were young. I hope this encourages that,” she said.
“Their stories become our history forever. We learn from the past, we learn that we were all kids at one point and we all have valuable stories to tell. These seniors have wonderful stories to tell, and they have something important and valuable to share with us. We should never forget that.”
Click here to read “‘Their stories become our history forever’: Pubnico seniors share memories in new film.”
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4. Rinks vs housing
In a piece published last week, Mary Campbell of the Cape Breton Spectator compares how CBRM council deals with rinks vs housing.
In a dig at secrecy surrounding council’s housing discussion, Campbell writes:
They are so much happier talking about rinks, they don’t even mind doing it in public. They just relate more to rinks: they love the volunteer boards that oversee them, they respect the hard work of the people who operate them and they freely acknowledge the needs of the people who use them.
They get to talk about “volunteers” who put their “heart and soul” into rinks and reminisce about their own time coaching Major Bantam hockey. They get to shudder imagining what would happen if the community rink closed. And then they get to vote to take the rink over, at a cost of $250,000 annually.
How does spending a quarter of a million dollars on the rink compare to spending a quarter of a million in a couple of other areas? Campbell writes:
District 5 Councilor Eldon MacDonald, who expressed something akin to horror at the mere possibility the CBRM might be on the hook for cost over-runs or operational expenses associated with a supportive housing project proposed by New Dawn and the Ally Centre, agreed to take on the quarter million dollar subsidy for a rink without batting an eye. (Not to mention the general consternation caused by the estimated operating costs for a new central library which, at “up to $240,000” would be less than the rink subsidy.)
Campbell discusses the history of the rink, and how it got into financial trouble, and she makes clear she’s not against rinks! I think the end of her piece nicely sums up the issues, though:
Council will probably argue that the difference between this debate and the debate over supportive housing is that recreation is clearly a municipal responsibility and housing is not, but I have two things to say about that.
First, recreation may be a municipal responsibility, but the Emera Centre was not a CBRM facility, so taking it over involved going above and beyond the municipality’s responsibilities.
And second, when the federal government gives you $5 million for housing, housing becomes your responsibility, and if you are not capable of accepting that responsibility, if you cannot rise to that challenge, then you should not be in government.
I don’t actually begrudge the Emera Centre this lifeline and I do understand the value of rinks to communities but if you can see the value in a rink, then you should also be able to see the value in housing for your most vulnerable citizens. How can the Emera Centre be a “gift” to the CBRM and $5 million from the federal government a burden?
Recreation and access to recreation are core municipal services and they should be run that way.
Like the Halifax Examiner, the Cape Breton Spectator is supported by readers like you and me. You can subscribe here.
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5. Tidal power company bows out
At CBC, Paul Palmeter reports that Sustainable Marine Energy Canada has given up on its Minas Passage tidal generation project.
The company’s project would have used floating turbines. Previous projects involving turbines on the ocean floor have failed.
Sustainable Marine Energy Canada CEO Jason Hayman tells Palmeter the company is withdrawing because it hasn’t been able to get regulatory approval from DFO:
“We have been working for about three years to get an authorization from DFO to deliver our project, but we are basically coming up against a brick wall.”
DFO did not get back to Palmeter, but others he interviews use the term “clear path” in terms of what’s lacking for regulatory approval of tidal power projects.
I have no idea if DFO is being obstructionist, cautious, incompetent, short-sighted, or rightly concerned about impacts. I do know that whenever I see businesses complain about “red tape” at least some scepticism is warranted.
Palmeter also published a story earlier this month on the BigMoon Power tidal project, which is still in its early stages.
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Mastodon hits 10 million users: Is decentralization the future?
Last week, Tim Bousquet wrote about media running pieces for rage clicks:
The rage-inducing is intentional: it gets the article shared on social media, with people saying stuff like “can you believe these assholes?” and thousands more people click on the article, upping the all-important CPMs, the “cost per million impressions” on which advertising revenue is based…
Anyway, just something else to be aware of: if an article pisses you off, it’s probably doing so intentionally.
This is the world we live in. Everything, even our anger, is commodified.
You can find examples of this pretty much any day of the week. The middle manager at Meta (which owns Facebook) pissed off that they may not be making $1 million/year soon, as they had planned. Or the NYU student who spent a year in Florence and hated it, for incoherent reasons, including that the locals didn’t fit her stereotypes, her house was too crowded, and when her roommates went away for the weekend her house was too empty.
The NYU student story was terrible and painful to read, and it followed a typical trajectory: publication posts story, story gets shared around by people hating on it, other media pick it up and write about how people online are mad about this story. The NYU student’s story got an extra bump because Amanda Knox (who was convicted of murdering her roommate while on a student exchange in Italy, before being exonerated) retweeted a link to the story.
There was a time when I would have gleefully piled on too, but I’ve seen so many of these by now that I mostly feel anger at the editors who are willing to let young writers hang themselves out to dry for the benefit of a day’s notoriety and bunch of clicks.
I became aware of the NYU student story because a Greek sociologist I follow on Mastodon shared a link to it. (He seems to have since deleted the post.) I was tempted to share it and say something snarky — thereby helping to perpetuate the rage-click economy — but Mastodon disincentivizes this, because there is no equivalent to the quote-tweet feature, making it harder to just dunk on people. Curious, I logged in to Twitter, where, of course, the NYU student was the main character of the day (and, subsequently, had locked her account.)
Over the weekend, Mastodon passed 10 million users. Last November, it seemed like a big deal when it broke one million. (These numbers are the source of some debate, but what’s undeniable is that the network is growing rapidly.)
This is interesting, insofar as Mastodon is expressly designed to suppress features that drive other social networks. It deliberately makes searching posts difficult, shows you a purely chronological timeline (meaning the most rage-inducing content isn’t pushed to you) and it limits the number of times you see “boosted” posts. So if people are sharing the same link — say, to a story by an NYU student over how she hated Florence — over and over and over, you only see a small fraction of those boosts.
Mastodon is part of what is called the Fediverse: a collection of decentralized, non-commercial services that can connect to each other (also known as federating). Some have analogues to the world of commercial social media. Pixelfed allows you to share photos, BookWyrm is the non-commercial Goodreads, Friendica is designed to fulfill some of the same functions as that other behemoth whose name starts with F, and so on.
During my time in the Fediverse (basically, since last November), I’ve been struck by how difficult it is for people to wrap their heads around the idea of a non-commercial, decentralized internet — even though this is exactly how the internet started out. I’ve seen Mastodon referred to as a website, and its creator, Eugen Rochko, referred to as its owner. One notorious article said Twitter had blocked links to “John Mastodon, the founder of a competing social media company named after himself.” Needless to say, there is no John Mastodon.
But Mastodon, by its nature, can’t be owned by anyone. The best simple explanation I’ve seen of the Fediverse (of which Mastodon is a part) is by Matthew S. Smith, writing in the IEEE Spectrum. (IEEE is the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.)
The Fediverse, unlike the social networks that rose to dominance over the last two decades, is a decentralized collection of servers that communicate over an open protocol…
Mastodon, unlike Twitter, is not hosted as a singular service but instead a collection of independent servers that communicate through [the] ActivityPub [protocol]. Joining Mastodon means joining a server with its own community and code of conduct. Users can interact with users on other servers, but their account is hosted on the server they choose…
The Fediverse’s connected but independent servers give users more control. Everyone has the option to join the server they think best, and moving to a new server is relatively simple. Servers can also block other servers, providing more power to respond against harassment or objectionable content.
I’ve seen a few good examples of how this setup disincentivizes going for outrage. Last year, Raspberry Pi created its own Mastodon server and soon after began essentially trolling people who were upset that one of its employees had bragged about being a former cop and using Raspberry Pi devices for surveillance. On Twitter, this trolling strategy would probably have worked, because people would have shared the tweets in outrage. On Mastodon, by contrast, the organization’s server simply wound up being de-federated, or blocked, by many users, meaning hardly anyone saw their posts.
When I described Mastodon to someone I know a few months ago, he quickly replied with, “If you’re not a paying customer, you’re the product.” I’ve used this adage myself, many times, but the fact is it is simply not true. We can actually create relationships and networks in which we are neither customer nor product. Worse, with many services we are now both the customer and the product. You can provide a whole bunch of content to Facebook for free, and it will want to charge you 15 bucks a month to verify you.
The internet was built on decentralization — the reason the US military funded its development was so that a nuclear attack couldn’t knock out a centralized system — but over the past couple of decades we’ve come to see a venture capital backed “ecosystem,” centralization, and scale as the primary ways to approach it and to measure success.
Back in 1999, science fiction writer Neal Stephenson (who coined the term metaverse) wrote an essay called “In the beginning was the command line.” Stephenson draws an analogy between the makers of operating systems and car dealerships:
One of them (Microsoft) is much, much bigger than the others. It started out years ago selling three-speed bicycles (MS-DOS); these were not perfect, but they worked, and when they broke you could easily fix them.
There was a competing bicycle dealership next door (Apple) that one day began selling motorized vehicles — expensive but attractively styled cars with their innards hermetically sealed, so that how they worked was something of a mystery…
Eventually the big dealership came out with a full-fledged car: a colossal station wagon (Windows 95). It had all the aesthetic appeal of a Soviet worker housing block, it leaked oil and blew gaskets, and it was an enormous success.
Across the road are two other dealerships, the now-defunct BeOS, and Linux:
Linux… is not a business at all. It’s a bunch of RVs, yurts, tepees, and geodesic domes set up in a field and organized by consensus… Anyone who wants can simply climb into one and drive it away for free.
Customers come to this crossroads in throngs, day and night. Ninety percent of them go straight to the biggest dealership and buy station wagons or off-road vehicles. They do not even look at the other dealerships.
Stephenson later became a fan of Macs, but I still like this analogy as a way to look at not just operating systems, but also the organization of the internet.
Many of the complaints about Mastodon — it’s hard for businesses to reach an audience because you can’t advertise, it’s too easy to block users and whole servers, it’s hard to go viral — seem like advantages to me.
Sure, Mastodon is far from perfect. And it is only one of many Fediverse services. But I think the most important thing is that it, and the rest of the Fediverse, represents a new approach at a time when we desperately need new approaches.
As Molly White (best known as a cryptocurrency sceptic) wrote after the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank:
We are coming to a point, I think, where the shine is wearing off. People are realizing that despite the hundreds of billions of dollars being deployed each year by venture capital firms in pursuit of “innovation”, the world doesn’t really feel hundreds of billions of dollars better off for it. For all the talk of unbridled innovation, venture capital services only very specific types of innovation: those that stand to produce large exits for investors, and with relatively low risk, regardless of whether the business itself holds much promise or provides any societal benefit. As Edward Ongweso Jr. writes for Slate:
“For the past 10 years venture capitalists have had near-perfect laboratory conditions to create a lot of money and make the world a much better place. And yet, some of their proudest accomplishments that have attracted some of the most eye-watering sums have been: 1) chasing the dream of zeroing out labor costs while monopolizing a sector to charge the highest price possible (A.I. and the gig economy); 2) creating infrastructure for speculating on digital assets that will be used to commodify more and more of our daily lives (cryptocurrency and the metaverse); and 3) militarizing public space, or helping bolster police and military operations.”
We are overdue as a society for seriously questioning what has become, but what has not always been, the dominant model of “innovation”. Recent weeks have drawn a bold underline beneath what has been clear to many for a long time: that those controlling massive amounts of capital and power in our society are not the smartest, or most level-headed, or most altruistic among us. Venture capital may be the best way to serve the interests of capital, but we need to consider alternative models that prioritize the interests of people.
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The Dolly Parton pinball machine and changing celebrity identity
Everyday items encode and embody all kinds of assumptions, ranging from the personal to the broadly cultural. And they can carry meanings for some to which others are completely oblivious.
Take pinball machines, for example. From the representation of women in backglass and playfield art, to the “Winners don’t use drugs” messages scrolling across the screens of 1980s and 1990s machines, the machines tell us a lot about the cultures from which they emerged, and about assumptions about their target markets.
The Dolly Parton pinball machine is interesting in this regard. I was at the Propeller Arcade on Gottingen twice recently, and noticed they had a Dolly Parton pinball machine. I last saw one of these four years ago in Athens, and I was intrigued enough to look up its history.
Wouldn’t you know it, the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center at Berea College in Kentucky has an interesting virtual exhibit on this pinball machine. It’s called “Dolly Parton Pinball Machine in the Appalachian Collections: A virtual exhibit about the 1979 Dolly Parton pinball machine and its backstory — one Appalachian woman’s wrestling with fame, her image, and her mountain identity.”
In 1977, pinball manufacturer Bally decided it wanted to feature Dolly Parton on a pinball machine. Parton was very much a country singer at the time, and had not crossed over to become a bigger phenomenon yet. The original design of the backglass art reflected this down-home country image.
But this image would not wind up on the backglass. Parton was leaving her country roots behind and going more mainstream. In 2013, the Appalachian Center’s curator wrote to artist Dave Christensen and asked about the changes to the art requested by Parton’s team. Christensen replied:
The initial finished prototype showed Dolly in a typical Blue Ridge country setting. She was wearing a sexy, low cut plaid gingham blouse, cut-off blue jean shorts, a big fancy hair-do, playing a country guitar. It was approved by Dolly herself. Just as it was scheduled for production her new ‘Hollywood Ca.’ MGR. . . . wanted her to be portrayed more ‘cosmopolitan,’ a crossover artist…
But it wasn’t just the manager. Parton herself very much wanted to change her image. The exhibit quotes her from a 1977 interview with Barbara Walters:
My dream was always to make as many people happy as I could in this life. I would like to be a superstar. I guess all people dream of that. So in order to be a superstar you can’t be just a superstar in one area. That means you have to appeal to the majority of people. And that’s what I am trying to do.”
On the pinball machine’s playfield, Parton is shown in a more informal country style.
But the inclusion of both depictions is less about honouring both her country and pop personas, than about practicality, according to a quote from pinball designer Paul Faris on the Internet Pinball Database:
With Dolly Parton, we did have to change the backglass artwork from a country theme to a more crossover mainstream look on the backglass art only. Since the playfield was completed, they (she) agreed to let it stay “Country” in her denim outfit… The artwork sequence was usually: Backglass concept first (for approvals), then production art on the cabinet, playfield and plastics, and finally the finished backglass art. It is possible that the [cabinet with her image] was a cabinet done BEFORE the backglass art changed and the version [without her image] was another concession to her crossover look and used for production. Different sample color cabinets was not unusual before a final version was determined.
In 2013, Christensen still thought changing the backglass was a mistake, and that his original design would have appealed more to “the younger men who are the bulk of our pinball players.” He blamed the backglass design on what he said were poor sales for the machine.
Interestingly, the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center does own one of the machines and has kept it in good working order. They purchased it from a suburban Atlanta owner who bought it for his family, because his wife was from Parton’s hometown.
I don’t know about you, but I am generally fascinated by the history of individual objects, and what they can tell us about time, place, and people.
Oh, and if you are looking to play the game on your travels, you can find the Dolly Parton pinball machine in Montreal, Toronto, San Juan, and many other cities. I see the one I played in Athens is still there too. Here are the North American locations (plus one in Puerto Rico).
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Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 1pm, City Hall) — Regional Council agenda; Committee of the Whole agenda
Heritage Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 3pm, online) — agenda via this page
Regional Centre Community Council (Wednesday, 6pm, HEMDCC Meeting Space, Alderney Gate, and online) — agenda
Legislature sits (Tuesday, 1pm, Province House)
Serial secondary and tertiary endosymbioses in dinoflagellates (Tuesday, 10am, Room 3-H1, Tupper Medical Building) — Yuji Inagaki, from Tsukuba University, Japan, will talk
Earthquake, Erdogan, Elections: Türkiye in 2023 (Tuesday, 3pm, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building and online) — a roundtable discussion on Turkish politics, looking ahead to the 2023 general elections; featuring Can Mutlu, Buket Tatlidil, and Emre Turker, moderated by Tobias Schminke
Speak It: From the Heart of Black Nova Scotia (Tuesday, 6pm, online) — film screening and discussion with Sylvia Hamilton, David Wood, Tandiwe Nyajeka, Karen Hudson, Krista Brodie, Shawn Grouse, and Emmanuel Solomon
Concerto Night 2023 (Tuesday, 7:30pm, Rebecca Cohn Auditorium) — with Fountain School of Performing Arts student soloists and orchestra; tickets $15/ $10, info here
In the harbour
06:30 Grand Povo, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Goteborg, Sweden
07:15: Tropic Hope, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Philipsburg, Saint Croix
08:00: British Engineer, oil tanker, moves from anchorage to Irving Oil
10:30: CMA CGM Nerval, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for sea
11:00: MSC Sena, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Sines, Portugal
16:00: Atlantic Sun, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Hamburg, Germany
16:00: Atlantic Star, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
16:30: Grand Povo sails for sea
16:30: MSC Sena sails for sea
17:00: CSL Tacoma, bulker, sails from Gold Bond for sea
19:00: UBC Santos, cargo ship, arrives at Berth TBD from St. George’s, Grenada
23:00: Tropic Hope sails for Palm Beach, Florida
00:30 (Wednesday): Atlantic Star sails for New York
06:00: Sheila Ann, bulker, moves from anchorage to Coal Pier (Sydney)
14:00: Blue Moon, oil tanker, arrives at Chedabucto Bay anchorage from Az Zawiyah, Libya
Twenty years since the Iraq war started. If you want a case study in propaganda, please check out the media of the day.
Congrats on the AJA noms. Every year, the space for such quality, in-depth, investigative and public interest journalism – especially in the Maritimes – seems to shrink.
Totally unrelated but I’ve noticed that “Sheila Ann” under your ship listings has been consistently misspelled (assume it’s a copy paste error).
Congratulations to Zane, Stephen and Tim.
They along with other fine writers have indeed made The Halifax Examiner a centre of excellence in journalism. Definitely worth the subscription.
I agree. Congratulations to all! I look forward to reading The Morning File, usually with my second cup of coffee, and often recommend the site to others who want good coverage of the issues. Keep up the great work!
In CBaRM its rinks, in HaRM its stadiums. The Wanderers Grounds is temporarily/permanently contracted out to a private-for-profit developer’s professional club for a mere $2400/game even though it was fully booked by amateur players (who also paid) and in 2017 HRM staff said the deal should never be permanent. And remember how easily we’ve thrown away millions on feasibility reports to see about building a stadium? And didn’t we delay the federal government’s development at Shannon Park to see if one could get slipped in there? And what about the $20 million mayor & council voted to set aside for this phantom-famed-desired home of spectacle? 700 living in tents. 450 building demolition permits since Jan 2020. What team are we on?
Great Morning File, Philip!