1. Former BC premier lobbied on Paper Excellence’s behalf by key advisor’s daughter
Joan Baxter drew my attention to this story by Stefan Labbé from the BC-based North Shore News. It details how former BC premier John Horgan was lobbied on behalf of Paper Excellence by the daughter of one of his key advisors.
Records obtained through B.C.’s lobbyist registry and freedom of information law show Bob Dewar — by some accounts the architect behind former premier John Horgan’s rise to power — was actively billing the Office of the Premier up to $1,000 a day for his services as a special advisor, while his daughter, Maeghan Dewar, lobbied that same office to gain favour for the forestry giant Paper Excellence.
“I think that kind of situation can raise a red flag,” said Stewart Prest, a Vancouver-based political scientist lecturer at Simon Fraser University…
Michelle Mitchell, a spokesperson for the Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists, and Alyne Mochan, a legal officer for the Office of the Conflict of Interest Commissioner, both said they have no jurisdiction in any potential or real conflict of interest involving the Dewars.
Mitchell said that conflict of interest standards are dealt with through supervisors in the public service, and is ultimately the responsibility of Deputy Minister to the Premier, Head of the Public Service. Lori Wanamaker held that position in 2020 when Dewar first started lobbying the premier’s office.
Wanamaker, who also was a target of Dewar’s lobbying, has since taken a job on BC Hydro’s board. She did not respond to requests for comment.
“We just have zero ability to look into anything like that because our jurisdiction is restricted just to MLAs,” Mochan told Glacier Media.
Labbé was part of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists Deforestation Inc. project looking at Paper Excellence and its links to Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) and the Sinar Mas Group. His piece goes into a lot more detail than I can get into here, and is worth a read.
2. For the Love of Lichens
This item is written by Suzanne Rent.
For the Love of Lichens and Old Forests, an art exhibit created to raise funds for the Save Our Old Forests Campaign, opens at ARTSPLACE in Annapolis Royal today.
The exhibit is a collaboration between local artists and citizen scientists and features paintings, sculptures, lichen-encrusted rocks, and photos of some of lichens that are species at risk in Nova Scotia. Artists whose work is featured in the exhibit include Wayne Boucher, Geoff Butler, Brad Hall, Basma Kavanagh, Deb Kuzyk, Ray Mackie, Julia Redgrave, and more. The exhibit was curated by Susan Tooke with assistance from Dr. Niki Clark and Nina Newington.
“These exciting and thought-provoking shows bring together artists and citizen scientists in celebration of what we have, while acknowledging how much has been lost,” Tooke said in a press release about the exhibit. “They include a variety of art forms: sculpture, painting, printmaking, video and audio. The artwork shares the exhibit with detailed photographs and specimens of lichens, the unlikely and diminutive heroes in recent successful efforts to protect our forests. For the Love of Lichens and Old Forests pairs artists and scientists as natural allies in defence of a habitable planet.”
The discovery of at-risk species of lichens was responsible for the halt of harvesting on Crown lands in the Goldsmith Lake area of Annapolis County. Citizen scientists discovered two Blue felt lichen and 11 Frosted Glass-whiskers lichen in that area.
Some of the proceeds from sales of the artwork will go to the Save Our Old Forests campaign, which was recently launched in Annapolis County by the Arlington Forest Protection Society and Citizen Scientists of Southwest Nova.
Ashlea Viola is one of the citizen scientists whose work is featured in the show:
Photographing the lichens is a way to document our finds. But then you want the photographs to look good. And the stubble lichens in particular are really cute. I want people to see how amazing our old forests are. They are so complex and so many forms of life depend on them. It’s fun to think of my photographs being part of this show, to think that this thing I like to do can make a difference and reach lots of people, including people who don’t think peering at tree trunks, looking for lichens in the cold, is as much fun as I do.
The exhibit will run until May 26. Another show with all new artwork will run from June 1 to 24. ARTSPLACE is located at 396 St George St. in Annapolis Royal.
Richard Woodbury reports on excess death stats for CBC. Excess deaths refers to the number of deaths over what we would normally statistically expect for a given time period. He writes:
New data shows Nova Scotia recently experienced its largest number of excess deaths — deaths above what would be normally anticipated — since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Statistics Canada’s excess mortality tracker was updated to include the four-week period of Nov. 27 to Dec. 24, 2022. There were 262 more deaths in the province than expected.
The previous four-week high was 155 deaths, covering Jan. 16 to Feb. 12, 2022, which coincided with the arrival of the Omicron variant in December 2021.
Are these deaths all/largely/partially caused by COVID-19? Well, it would be nice to know, but the province isn’t keen to talk about it. Woodbury notes:
The province has repeatedly declined interview requests to speak with officials about what is causing the excess mortality.
“A man who says he was sexually assaulted by former Halifax professor Wayne John Hankey in 1982 has filed a civil lawsuit against the professor’s estate, the University of King’s College, Dalhousie University and an Anglican diocese,” Frances Willick reports for CBC.
The man, whom CBC News is not naming because he was previously a complainant in a criminal case against Hankey, alleges he was a student in the Foundation Year Program at King’s in autumn 1982 when he attended his first tutoring and mentoring session with the professor at a residence on campus.
“As the tutoring and mentoring session progressed, Hankey inched his chair ever closer to the plaintiff,” reads the statement of claim. “Hankey then put his hand on the inside of the plaintiff’s gym shorts and ran his hand towards the plaintiff’s genitals. The plaintiff, in shock, ran out of the room and withdrew from King’s shortly thereafter.”
The lawsuit, filed through Wagners Law Firm, claims general damages for pain and suffering, as well as special, aggravated and punitive damages and legal costs.
Willick says both King’s and Dalhousie refused to comment on the lawsuit.
If a coronation is your cup of tea, SaltWire has you covered, with a full list of events.
Here’s what strikes me about the list:
- The municipality is not hosting any events.
- The list of events is actually pretty thin, and many of them are simply businesses taking advantage of the opportunity to serve high tea, or whatever.
- The oddest one seems to me to be Rousseau Chocolatier holding an invitation-only event featuring a “crown-jewel-inspired box of chocolates.”
- The most fun one will probably be at St. Patrick’s Church on Brunswick Street, where participants are encouraged “to bring along their favourite royal souvenirs to share their thoughts on the ceremony while sporting fancy hats and dress, toasting the new king (with coffee, tea, milk or juice) and enjoying snacks.” I want to see those royal souvenirs.
1. No, micropayments won’t save journalism
After having spent several months antagonizing and mocking journalists and media outlets, Elon Musk has a new plan: allow publications to pay for single articles through Twitter, Thomas Ricker at The Verge writes:
Musk says that Twitter’s forthcoming “one-click” service “should be a major win-win for both media orgs & the public” by allowing media companies to charge a higher per article price to readers who wouldn’t necessarily pay a full subscription rate.
Musk didn’t say what percentage Twitter would pocket for itself or what conditions media publishers would need to abide by.
CBC is one of the media organizations that has decided to “pause” activities on Twitter. NPR has left, too.
This notion of saving journalism by allowing people to pay for single articles has been around for a long time. It’s like a bunch of other ideas that are wrong-headed but seem to come back over and over again. Zombie ideas like sending people a statement of what their health care use cost the system this year as a way of getting them to stop filling emergency rooms.
In typical Silicon Valley tech bro style, Musk ignores the failed history of micropayments, and lunges after whatever he thinks his next brilliant idea is. (See also: content moderation.)
Way back in 2000, NYU professor Clay Shirky wrote an essay called “The case against micropayments,” which “cyborg anthropologist” Amber Case quotes in a piece called “Who killed the micropayment? A history.“
Here’s Shirky, followed by Case:
“Micropayment systems have not failed because of poor implementation; they have failed because they are a bad idea. Furthermore, since their weakness is systemic, they will continue to fail in the future.”
Shirky saw the entire concept as fundamentally flawed, in particular the desire to simplify transactions which he saw as naive. A system built for countless small transactions, Shirky argued, would give its users a lot more to worry about, instead of less.
“A revolution doesn’t happen when society adopts new tools. It happens when society adopts new behaviors.”
In the early days of micropayment evangelizing, this is how bloggers were going to make a living. That worked out well. Bitcoin was also going to be the future of micropayments. Sure, why not.
Because the Examiner is a subscription website, with stories behind a paywall, we often hear this argument that we should just sell access to single articles for those who don’t want to subscribe. In fact, Tim Bousquet’s been addressing it for getting on close to a decade now. Here he is in 2016:
I get a steady stream of people contacting me, urging me to take the articles from behind the paywall because “it needs more exposure,” “people need to read this!,” and “it won’t have the impact it should have because it’s behind the paywall.”…
Some people have suggested that I adopt a hybrid paywall, such that people can make a micropayment to read one article without subscribing to the entire website. But that would be an administrative nightmare, and given the bank fees, third-party processing fees, and HST on every transaction, it’s really not a money-maker.
Moreover, buying a subscription is supporting the entire Examiner operation. There are plenty of articles we publish that would never pay for themselves via a micropayment system, but we publish them anyway because they’re important stories that are worth telling. You may not be interested in Article A, but those who subscribe because of stuff like that is what pays for Article B, which you do like.
Yes, it would be great if everyone in the world could read [the Examiner’s] work for free. But the days of free reporting were limited to the small window of time when newspapers were posting stuff on the internet for free because they didn’t know what else to do. I don’t particularly like it either, but in the future, getting quality reporting will mean paying for it out of pocket. That’s the future of news.
In 2019, Bousquet returned to the subject in a Twitter thread I will quote from here. After recapping some of the same arguments from 2016, he adds this key point:
The argument for micropayments misses the totality of what it is that news orgs do.
We are not selling widgets. We are selling a *process*. We’re not asking you to buy this article or that article, we’re asking you to support the entire process.
Even if — which I think highly doubtful — a single article could “pay for itself” via micropayments, what pays for the rest of the operation? Moreover, Micropayments (or advertising based on web hits) is a recipe for, well, shit. You know what could bring a lot of hits and therefore advertising revenue or micropayments? Cat porn. Listicles. Dumbed down shit posing as news articles. With a micropayment system, even the best writers and the best organizations will begin to turn towards the revenue streams. Quality takes a back seat to profit.
Again: I’m not asking you to pay 25 cents for a one-off article. I’m asking you to pay… to support a broad range of reporting, to pay reporters decently, to support investigations that may or may not land results, month after month.
Services like Blendle (surely you’ve heard of Blendle!) aggregate and recommend articles from various publishers, and then you can pay to read individual stories. Blendle takes 30% of the fee. It hasn’t exactly taken off, in North America anyway, and it’s hard for me to understand what the appeal would be for publishers.
In 2020, the Columbia Journalism Review ran a piece by James Ball called “Why micropayments will never be a thing in journalism.” Ball explains pretty clearly why the numbers don’t add up for publishers:
One of the core reasons publishers are reluctant to adopt this mechanism is that most publications are conceived as package deals. Premium outlets want to sign up subscribers, especially on recurrent payment plans. That means you decide once, and then the cost to you is invisible. If the subscription includes a print product, this also vastly increases your value to advertisers. A single new subscription might be worth, on average, hundreds of dollars of annual revenue to a publication.
At the moment, most users encountering new and tempting content on such a site will just click away when they hit the paywall—but a small fraction will subscribe. If a third option of paying twenty cents is added, some from each group will choose that.
But if a subscription is worth a hundred dollars a year to a publisher, then even one person clicking on the twenty-cent button instead means the publisher needs five hundred people to buy articles to make up for the lost revenue. The ratios are different for different outlets, but the math remains intimidating.
On the aggregator model, he says this:
Gaming is perhaps the greatest triumph of micropayments. But in games, you know what you’re buying in advance — three extra lives, a hundred coins, whatever. For a journalistic article, you’ll only know whether you enjoyed it after you’ve finished it.
And gaming companies only have to deal with a few large partners to make it work. Media companies would need to devise a low-friction method for users to pay across sites owned by dozens of different publishers, without new log-ins and usernames each time. That would require lots of sites to take the plunge at once, agreeing on a system and a payment provider—which would presumably need to take a cut in order to keep operating.
I also think there are people who claim they would buy a story if they could just pay for it who, in fact, would not do so. Is the person who is going on about the evils of paywalls going to pony up two or three dollars for every story they want to read? I have my doubts.
Jane B. Singer, a professor of journalism innovation at City University of London, feels the same way. In The Conversation, she writes:
While experimentation is all to the good, the pay-off from this option seems inherently small. The vast majority of online users do not pay now for digital news and have no plans to change their ways. There’s no evidence of a massive demand from users for the ability to pay upfront to read news content – and, even if there were, the small amount of revenue generated on any given day would fluctuate considerably depending on what was on offer. This is not the most desirable funding model for organisations that need a stable financial base to support staff, infrastructure and the ongoing ability to hold the powerful to account.
We can’t subscribe to everything, but we also don’t need to read everything. Most publications make a few stories available free per month or whatnot. Some, like the Globe and Mail, employ more opaque techniques to decide what to show you and what requires a subscription.
On his Technologizer blog, Harry McCracken (sort of) laments the end of the computer magazine era, as Maximum PC and MacLife both cease printing and go online only. McCracken has a history in the business, including serving as editor in chief of the PC World magazine and website:
I take the loss personally, and not just because computer magazines kept me gainfully employed from 1991-2008. As a junior high student and Radio Shack TRS-80 fanatic, I bought my first computer magazine in late 1978, three years after Byte invented the category. It was an important enough moment in my life that I can tell you what it was (the November-December 1978 issue of Creative Computing) and where I got it (Harvard Square’s Out of Town News, the same newsstand that had played a critical role in the founding of Microsoft just four years earlier). Even before I purchased that Creative Computing, our mailman had misdelivered a neighbor’s copy of Byte to our house, an error I welcomed and did not attempt to correct. From the moment I discovered computer magazines, I loved them almost as much as I loved computers, which is why I ended up working in the field for so long.
The first issue of Byte landed in 1975. Early computer magazines were very much about building your own. The first issue of Byte teases a story on the cover with “What is a character?”
I remember buying these magazines in the early days of Windows, when the operating system was far less optimized, and skills like defragging your hard drive were important. I was always looking for those tweaks and free apps and whatnot that would help me get the most out of my machine.
My impression — and I could be wrong — is that there used to be a lot more differences between one computer and another. Now, it seems like if you are looking within a certain price range, most models are comparable. Your $800 HPs will be fairly similar to your $800 Acers, or whatever. Where I used to spend ages looking over specs, now I tend to go yeah, that’s a decent price and looks like it will do the job. Sure.
One of the things that’s astounding about McCracken’s piece is the huge resources that went into these magazines:
PC World had a sprawling lab full of technicians benchmarking everything from laptops to TVs, and paid experts well to write how-to columns on products such as word processors and spreadsheets. When we wanted to compare the usability of Windows, OS/2, and Mac OS, we hired normal everyday people through a temp agency and shot video of them performing typical computing tasks. We invested an absurd amount of money on twice-yearly surveys that let our readers rate the reliability and customer service of major computer manufacturers. In 2000, I dropped everything to spend months flying around the country working with Dateline NBC on an investigation into PC repair shops.
McCracken shares a slide showing the precipitous drop in newsstand sales for four leading computer magazines, from 1996 to 2004, and writes: “The entire computer magazine category spent years in Wile E. Coyote mode. We’d blithely walked off a cliff — it’s just that gravity hadn’t kicked in yet.”
I enjoyed reading a similar piece from 2020 called “What happened to PCW magazine,” by Gordon Laing, a former editor of the British magazine, whose full title was Personal Computer World. The magazine started off with instructions on how to build your own computer and then program it, and carried on until 2009.
In Laing’s telling, the problems with PCW mirror those of many media outlets fighting to survive: It took something unique, that appealed to a relatively small number of enthusiastic people, and then drove itself into irrelevance in part by trying to be like everyone else:
What made PCW an essential read during the first half of its life was the sheer variety of platforms covered in detail and a feature-lead style of reporting which included columns, regular interviews and even on occasion short stories.
Commercial demands saw much of this unique approach replaced by reviews and group tests which gradually dominated each issue. Coverage of alternative platforms was reduced and in some cases phased-out completely, and as time went on, PCW began to resemble its rivals which were often better-funded or equipped…
Trying to sell a magazine as a buyer’s guide next to countless others doing exactly the same is hard enough, but when increasingly respectable websites are beating you to the big news and reviews with more detailed reports and a free cost-of-entry, well that’s a very tough sell. Incisive Media may blame the recession of the late Noughties for PCW’s demise, but the writing was on the wall a decade earlier when PCW started fighting for a slice of an ever-diminishing pie.
About the readers, Laing includes this:
The readers were equally passionate, and having dealt with enquiries on several different magazines, I can tell you they were a unique bunch. Many computer magazine readers would phone to complain about a problem with the cover disc, but only a PCW reader would then tell you how to fix it.
For fun, I searched for “computer magazine” on a couple of stock photo services. Computer magazines were often known for their bright, eye-catching colours (you may prefer the term garish, depending on your tastes). Here’s a montage of Personal Computer World covers, from the top of Laing’s story.
I wasn’t really expecting my stock photo search to turn up actual computer magazine covers. But what struck me most was the colour palette: the awful ubiquitous home- makeover-show gray.
These images are from Pexels. Unsplash gives a similar palette but with more men.
The Allusionist podcast
I don’t know about you, but when I come across something new (to me) and wonderful, I feel a physical sensation of delight. A little tingle. A small thrill. I can see how you can chase that feeling, always looking for the next novel thing that will trigger it. Usually, I associate this feeling with music. Sometimes with writing and visual art. Occasionally with a podcast.
It was a podcast that triggered that sensation most recently. My friend Matthew, an excellent recommender of many different media, had told me about the Allusionist podcast several times. I am weirdly conservative when it comes to trying new podcasts, and even though this one sounded exactly like something I would be interested in, and even though Matthew has never, I don’t think, led me astray, I would listen to his recommendation, file it somewhere in my short-term memory, and then forget about it.
Finally, prompted by Matthew texting me the link to the first of two Eurovision episodes, I listened.
And I loved it.
First, there’s the subject matter. The podcast is about language yes, but Zaltzman takes a very broad interpretation of the subject, and is an astute interviewer who is not scared to veer off topic with her guests when warranted. The thing that shines through most for me is that whatever Zaltzman and her guests discuss, they do it with heart.
Take the episode on death, for instance, which discusses the ways we talk about death and dying, how we tend to avoid using the word “death,” and why it is important to speak clearly to children about death and not use euphemisms like “gone to sleep.” (I remember a grumpy high school history teacher telling us he didn’t want anyone saying he had “passed away” when he died. He wanted people to say, “Fulmer’s dead.” Of course, when he did die, the alumni magazine carried a tribute and said he had “passed away.”)
Guest Evie King’s job is “carrying out funerals for those without family or without money.” King tells Zaltzman:
It’s a strange form of connection to someone, to just know them once they’ve died and to not have had any connection with them at all when they were alive. Because that’s where you’re getting grief from. You’re getting grief from losing them. But I never had them. And a lot of the time their family didn’t always have them. So I’ve got this kind of universal grief for us all.
Another guest on the same episode, Cariad Lloyd, hosts a podcast on grief. She and Zaltzman talk about the deaths of their fathers, and about the impulse to not speak ill of the dead, and how troubling it is:
HZ: My dad, and also a friend who died a couple of years ago: they were both very difficult people, and quite difficult people to have in your life. And the way that people talked about them after when I think they were trying to express sympathy to me, was like they were talking about different people, because it was so hagiographic and I was like, this is so inaccurate. I feel like my opportunity to feel sorry for them has been taken from me, almost.
CARIAD LLOYD: Yeah. Yeah. And that’s the thing, like we said: people get put on a pedestal as soon as they’re dead. They’re an angel, you know, they could do nothing wrong. And I had the same thing. My dad was a really difficult character. He was brilliant in many ways, but he was like Marmite, people did not like him straight away. People would come up to me and my brother and be like, “He was such a wonderful father,” and you’re like, who are you talking about? Because it is not our dad. And like you said, that, that then removes you, like the dishonesty of that makes you go, well, I’m not grieving that person. I’m grieving the mess, the messy person who was real and flawed and brilliant and awful at the same time. And yeah, I think sometimes we really want grief to be neat and tidy, heading towards a finish line, rather than the truth of most grief, which is like, they were really complicated, I didn’t quite get what I needed from them in many ways, but I got all these other things I didn’t know I needed, and I miss them like hell, but also some days I’m relieved I don’t have to talk to them, because they were so difficult. And that’s all of those things at the same time, that’s all part of grief. But then we feel guilty for those negative feelings, inverted commas ‘negative feelings’, because we think, “I’m talking ill of the dead” — people are real. They’re not perfect. So why when they die would they suddenly become angelic? It’s not possible.
I have only just started digging into The Allusionist, so, lucky me, that means I have some 170 episodes to catch up on. One of the ones I listened to features a 13-year-old girl from London, Ontario, who has been petitioning the city to change the name of the street she lives on — Plantation Street — since she was eight years old. Apparently, lots of people feel it’s fine to tell her she should find a more age-appropriate activity or to send her hate mail and threaten to call child protection on her parents.
And the two-parter on the name Fiona was one of the best podcasts I’ve ever heard. It gets into Victorian attitudes towards gender, the publishing business in late 19th century London, colonial views of the Scots, and a whole lot more. Let me just say that unless you already know this story, whatever you think about the origins and meaning of “Fiona” is probably wrong.
I also very much appreciate that Zaltzman makes full transcripts of every episode available. Far too many podcasts treat this as an add-on, something that would be nice to have, and it really should be seen as essential.
Open House for Upper Hammonds Plains Land Use Zoning Changes (Tuesday, 3pm, Upper Hammonds Plains Community Centre) — more info here
Board of Police Commissioners (Wednesday, 12:30pm, HEMDCC Meeting Space, Alderney Gate and online) — agenda
Human Resources (Tuesday, 1pm, One Government Place and online) — Training and Educational Partnerships: Training Initiatives for Physicians, Nurses and CCAs; plus Agency, Board and Commission Appointments; with representatives from the Department of Advanced Education, Department of Health and Wellness, Department of Seniors and Long-Term Care, Nova Scotia Community College, and Health Association of Nova Scotia
Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, One Government Place and online) — Most Recent Accountability Report, Business Plan, Financial Statements, Action Plan and Affordable Housing Initiatives; with representatives from the Department of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and Nova Scotia Provincial Housing Agency (formerly Housing Nova Scotia)
In the harbour
06:00: STI Comandante, oil tanker, moves from anchorage to Irving Oil
06:00: North Atlantic Kairos, oil tanker, moves from anchorage to IEL
07:00: Lagrafoss, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Reykjavik, Iceland
10:30: AlgoScotia, oil tanker, arrives at Pier 28 from Sydney
11:00: Rt Hon Paul E Martin, bulker, arrives to debark pilot
15:00: Atlantic Sail, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk, Virginia
16:00: ZIM Yokohama, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Valencia, Spain
16:00: North Atlantic Kairos sails for sea
19:00: Tropic Hope, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for Palm Beach, Florida
22:00: CSL Tacoma, bulker, sails from Gold Bond for sea
03:30 (Wednesday): ZIM Yokohama sails for New York
03:30 (Wednesday: Atlantic Sail sails for Hamburg, Germany
I had an uncle and aunt in Toronto who were very proud of having blocked Gordon Lightfoot from buying a condo in their building, because they were snobs and thought musicians were a lower class of people who would be bad for the building. Were they thinking he was going to be throwing TVs out the window? My uncle was a Jew from a hardscrabble background who converted to Protestantism and changed his extremely Jewish name to a very bland Anglo when he joined the Navy. His wife was an Austrian sophisticate who looked down on everyone.