Just as we were about to publish today’s Morning File, the province issued a news release saying it is no longer going to treat COVID-19 any differently from other respiratory illnesses.
The release says:
Effective today, Nova Scotia has lifted the Health Protection Act Order, the mandatory vaccination protocol for high-risk settings and the directive around COVID-19 management in long-term care facilities.
Employers and operators of high-risk settings will be responsible for policies about COVID-19, including masking and whether employees, outside service providers and volunteers need to be vaccinated. Employees and others who have questions about an organization’s vaccine policy should contact the organization directly…
On Thursday, May 25, the weekly COVID-19 dashboard will be updated for the last time.
Monthly COVID reports will end in October, when the data will be folded into a public health report called Respiratory Watch.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang is holding a press conference at 11:30am, and Tim Bousquet will be there. We will have more to come on this story later today.
We kick things off this morning with this feature by Suzanne Rent, looking at the cohousing movement, and in particular Treehouse Village Ecohousing, which is close to opening in Bridgewater. It will be Atlantic Canada’s first cohousing project.
Treehouse was started by Cate and Leon de Vreede, who live in Bridgewater with their young son, Dylan. Cate is an environmental educator and Leon is a sustainability planner with the Town of Bridgewater. Cate said as newlyweds, she and Leon started dreaming about what kind of housing they wanted to live in and raise a family.
“We were daunted by the prospect of building an eco-friendly home and not seeing a lot in the landscape around Nova Scotia,” Cate de Vreede said during an interview on site at Treehouse in late April. “We got dreaming and thinking and came across this concept of cohousing and, actually, ecovillages first.”…
Treehouse consists of two two-storey residential buildings with different sizes of apartments each named after a tree: one-bedroom units are Spruce or Fir; two-bedroom units are Maple or Pine; and the three-bedroom unit is called Oak. All the buildings were designed with the principles of universal design. They’re also incredibly energy efficient; de Vreede said it will cost less than $200 to heat one of the units each year.
Also on the site is a three-storey common building with a laundry room, two guest rooms, playroom, mudroom, and a large kitchen and dining area where residents can share a meal. The common space has an elevator for accessibility. Another separate building houses a workshop.
Treehouse’s six-hectare plot of land is located just off Pearl Street. There’s a forested area behind all the buildings where there will be treehouses for kids and trails for hiking. Between the residential homes is a common area with picnic tables and sandboxes where kids can play or people can just hang out and meet. All the doors open onto that space and the units’ kitchen windows face that area, too.
In the story, Rent looks not only at Treehouse’s growth and development, but also at other projects in the works. And she talks to a range of people about what it takes for these projects to succeed — and why even introverts should not be scared of cohousing. (It doesn’t mean you have to spend a ton of time with your neighbors if you don’t want to.)
I find it encouraging that there are dedicated people committed to figuring out new ways we can live together. We are going to need to get more creative about housing — and by more creative, I don’t mean gutting environmental and planning rules.
Rent writes that Cate and Leon de Vreede first started talking about ecohousing a dozen years ago. I remember that well, because I had featured them in a radio documentary I made for CBC at that time.
The documentary was about an annual community Christmas dinner they helped organize in Bridgewater. I knew Leon in passing — we had been on a canoe trip together, with other people — and I remember admiring his and Cate’s dedication and persistence. They seemed like good people who wanted to make the world a better place. I’m glad to see this project has finally become a reality.
2. One last chance for e-scooters in Quebec
Montreal banned app-based scooter services in 2020, but now are willing to give them one more, albeit very limited shot. Laval will also pilot a last-chance scooter project.
In theory, e-scooters are a useful solution to a common problem: getting around downtown quickly and easily. They are also said to be helpful in solving the “last mile problem” — completing the part of a trip between where you get off transit and your destination — although, it is not clear how useful they actually are for this purpose.
A recent study proposing transportation alternatives to students at Portland State University concluded that “e-scooters were lackluster in bringing racial and gender equity in transportation. Additionally, we found that there was no place in Portland where combining an e-scooter and light rail to travel to PSU was most utilitarian compared to bike or private car… Overall, our analysis of the implementation of e-scooters suggests that their promise is overstated…”
E-scooters hit in a big way in the late 2010s — several years after Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, and other companies claiming to “disrupt” this and that had been on the rise. Maybe it’s because people were already starting to become less enamoured of these companies, or maybe because the companies just launched with little regard for local regulations or the welfare of people who didn’t use scooters, or maybe just because the people who rode scooters had a tendency to leave them lying here and there, blocking the sidewalk and so on, they were not wildly embraced and indeed faced a sharp backlash. As I wrote back in 2019:
In many cities, the scooters have caused a backlash, with complaints that riders go too fast, dockless scooters are left to pile up and block sidewalks, in addition to being an eyesore, and that they lead to injuries. I’ve watched with interest online as people vehemently express their hatred of these things. (In many cases the injuries to scooter-riders come from being hit by cars or trucks, in which case banning the scooters seems like a bit of victim-blaming. I know, I know, some will argue that the way they ride these victims deserve to be blamed, etc.)
Search news sources for the term e-scooters and you’ll find lots of this kind of language:
“Cities are pushing back and trying to get organized, banding together to form a new coalition to figure out what the hell to do with all these electric doohickeys littered across their streets. (The Verge)”
“It was fun when a few weeks ago three electric scooter-share companies descended onto San Francisco streets (and in other Bay Area cities)… Since, the fun for pedestrians has faded. Maybe because they don’t get to enjoy moving around at 15 mph, but instead are tripping over the casually discarded vehicles. Even for riders the scooter-share concept is falling apart with broken, over-used scooters in what was recently described as a “nightmare” situation. (Mashable)”
Three years after self-serve e-scooters left Montreal, Laval announced in April that it was launching a pilot project to give them another shot this summer. The city will impose several conditions on operators, in an attempt to put the brakes on illegal parking — which led to the failure of scooters in Montreal.
Several other cities are also currently debating the issue. Even Montreal hasn’t completely shut the door: e-scooters will be allowed this summer within Jean Drapeau Park.
The Ministry of Transportation and Sustainable Mobility’s conditions include location technology to clearly show the locations of docking stations. This technology could ensure users’ rentals stay active unless the e-scooter is properly parked…
For Pierre Barrieau, a transportation planning expert at Université de Montréal, the reality is that few or no companies “have really shown they know how to solve the problems we saw in Montreal [during the 2019 pilot project] with respect to illegal parking and offensive behaviour… If these companies believe their technology has evolved, let them show it. But it’s clearly their last chance.” (Translation mine.)
As Halifax considers what to do about e-scooters, it would be good to pay attention to what happens this summer in cities in Quebec.
The blame for e-scooters left blocking sidewalks and for riders being a nuisance rightly falls in part on the riders, but, as the La Presse article makes clear, the companies are not blameless here. If you keep paying for that scooter that’s lying on the sidewalk for the next 24 hours, that’s going to be an incentive to park it properly.
In 2021, when I interviewed former Halifax Cycling Coalition co-chair Ben Wedge, who now works for a company that provides software for e-scooter and bike share systems, he said for e-scooters to be useful and succeed, you can’t have a free-for-all: “It’s important to think about where parking will occur. The cities that are doing it well will define certain parameters.”
He also pointed out a condition of terminating the rental period could be uploading photo showing the bike or scooter properly parked.
Paul Withers reports for CBC on the state of lobster stocks. According to a new DFO report, stocks remain healthy in the fishing zones in all three Maritime provinces, but scientists and fishers are keeping an eye on what warming oceans might mean for the lobster population. Withers writes:
In LFA 33… — from Halifax to Shelburne County — landings have fallen from 8,400 tonnes in 2017-18 to a little over 7,000 tonnes in 2021-2022.
Both fishing areas remain firmly in the healthy zone, but scientists want to know if the population decline is part of a natural cycle or if climate change is playing a part.
Since 2012, there have been several unusually warm water years in the area — including 2022, when record-high temperatures were broken.
“So it is something we’re monitoring,” said [DFO biologist Adam] Cook. “We’re currently working through some analysis to see what that impact could be. Whether we can already detect it or when we might expect to see some of those changes.”
Cook says warming water is most likely to negatively affect young lobster and it would be seven to eight years before it shows up in landings.
Withers also notes in the story that lobsters can survive in a wider temperature range than some other species, including snow crabs.
4. Potential organ donor numbers up, but does it translate into a significant increase in donated organs?
At SaltWire, Francis Campbell reports that the number of people who have registered as organ or tissue donors continues “an upward trend” since deemed consent legislation was enacted in 2021.
This sounds great, but what about actual numbers? Campbell reports that the percentage of registered donors has gone from “51 or 52 per cent of the population to 55 per cent.” I don’t know how many Nova Scotians need donated organs per years, but the number of actual donations seems like a pretty low number. From Campbell’s story:
In 2022, there were 25 consented donors and 19 actual donors but, to date, this has not affected overall actual transplants in Nova Scotia because of an increase in the number of consented patients not being able to donate for transplant due to medical safety reasons [eg finding cancer] Nova Scotia Health reported…
[Nova Scotia organ donation program head Dr. Steve] Beed said when the legislation conversation was first started with the Health Department, there were 17 donors and last year there were 25 consented donors.
Interestingly, a recent episode of the If Books Could Kill podcast looks at the question of presumed consent for organ donation, and notes that increasing organ donations is a complex process, and that no matter what percentage of people agree to be donors, there are many other factors involved, including a capacity to carry out organ donation surgery.
1. What a cartoon duck can teach us about economics
I have been a fan of Ruben Bolling’s Tom the Dancing Bug cartoons for a long time. (The comics do not feature a dancing bug named Tom. Go figure.) Bolling, a pseudonym for Harvard Law grad and former finance guy Ken Fisher, has created a comics universe in which he mixes and matches tropes from various comics styles and eras, and has recurring characters and themes.
The one I want to draw your attention to today is the Lucky Ducky set of comics, which Bolling uses to skewer the absurdity of laissez-faire economics and other financial ills.
Lucky Ducky (“the poor little duck who’s rich in luck”) is a down-on-his-luck duck who appears alongside Hollingsworth Hound, the richest dog in town. Despite being a fabulously wealthy industrialist, Hollingsworth Hound sees Lucky Ducky as his nemesis — always putting one over on him, and coming out ahead.
In the most recent of the comics, “Private Inequity,” a guy selling pencils on the street hires Lucky Ducky to help him, as his business is growing. Then Hollingsworth Hound comes along, buying a controlling share in the pencil business and talking about optimizing it. Hollingsworth Hound proceeds to lend the pencil business a large amount of money, sucks out as much as possible in interest and consulting fees, and lays off Lucky Ducky. In the end, the business goes bust, but to Hollingsworth, Lucky Ducky wins again.
If you wanted to explain Postmedia’s woes, you could do worse than just hand someone this comic.
In another recent comic, “Railroaded,” Hollingsworth Hound has to fight the possibility of having his railroad business regulated, and the ensuing comic about the trouble with cost-benefit analyses of regulations is well worth your time. Spoiler alert: a railcar explosion is involved.
Didactic storytelling can be a pain in the butt. But Bolling manages to somehow avoid being didactic. The comics may be infuriating, but they are also fun. And, stripped down to this simple form, they do a great job of exposing social and economic ills that have been rationalized for decades, and that persist as “solutions” despite evidence to the contrary.
In his How Things Work newsletter, Hamilton Nolan has a great little piece called “Automate the CEOs.” While people with money look forward to the prospect of putting large swathes of the population out of work thanks to AI tools, Nolan says the job best suited to automation is CEO:
It is no coincidence that those of us who make up the “creative class,” who are collectively striking and sweating and strategizing with the utmost of our ability to get ahead of the prospect of AI replacing us, have quickly realized that this technology is in fact far better suited to replace our bosses, whose jobs are a million times more rote than ours. As Alex Pareene wrote, “A computer would do a better job owning the Oakland A’s than it would writing about them.” This, after all, was something of the same insight that Vanguard founder Jack Bogle had about the investment industry: Buying everything and doing nothing actually earned people more money than paying expensive consultants high fees to pick stocks and buy and sell for them. The whole investment industry was, with rare exceptions, a scam designed to enrich the managers rather than the clients. And when we can program an AI with a set of parameters and let it make rational decisions for a company, the same thing is true of CEOs. Bye!
(Money management as a scam is the subject of the current Doonesbury storyline, but unlike the Lucky Ducky comments, it does not rise above didacticism.)
Back to Nolan’s essay:
It’s nice to imagine a world in which algorithms replace CEOs and you could program them with the precise relative importance of each stakeholder in the business and then watch them manage a company in a way that respects workers and the public interest. This technology could, in another world, be a launching point for a million co-ops that are owned by employees and managed by a benevolent computer. The fact that this (technically feasible!) idea seems laughable is just a reminder that the whole conversation about automation is far more about power than it is about efficiency. Companies exist to enrich shareholders and managers. Making this group of people rich is the point of all the business activity. Workers are counted as a cost, detrimental to the goal of reserving all profits for the owners. So automating workers out of existence is counted as common sense, while automating executives out of existence plainly contradicts the goal of making executives rich. Efficiency is much praised in the business world, but, as Upton Sinclair pointed out, it is hard to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on not understanding it.
Punchy, smart writing. I like it.
I also noticed a piece called “The AI demands more habanero salsa” in Ryan Broderick’s Garbage Day newsletter. Broderick uses ChatGPT to come up with a meal plan for the week, then connects it to Instacart to order the necessary groceries, then spends way too much time fixing the resulting grocery list. Along the way, he comes up with what I think is a quite brilliant insight:
The way I see it, the jaw-dropping speed of generative AI’s embrace is essentially a large-scale acknowledgement that modern life is sort of miserable and that most people don’t actually care if anything works anymore. Which is, honestly, fair. Our lives are full of tasks that no one wants to do that offer little reward for doing them well. The systems we live, work, and create inside of are simply too large to comprehend or really care about. I mean, at this point, pretty much everyone I know in an office job that isn’t in media is using ChatGPT at work basically all of the time. But as more companies push to integrate themselves into AI platforms, it’s also revealing that they don’t really care either. The institutions and industries responsible for these systems we all hate don’t want to maintain them either. And we know this because there is simply no way you can say you care about something if you replace it with AI. You can’t say you care about audio production if you replace voice actors. You can’t say you care about food service if you replace drive-thru workers. You can’t say you care about advertising if you replace copywriters. What you care about is speed, scale, and, if this stuff works correctly, money.
And groceries are sort of the perfect metaphor for this ongoing enshittification of modern life. I don’t have a car, I live in a city, and my apartment is a fourth-floor walk up. I either hoof it to the supermarket, buy a week’s worth-ish of food, and haul it up the stairs. Or try and go multiple times a week, which never actually happens because I get busy and/or tired. So I order app food and spend too much money, and the cycle continues.
Let’s play nuclear war!
Alembic, a company selling lots of interesting stuff I can’t afford, currently has a “Distant Early Warning radar station” toy from the 1950s available. (It will set you back 500 pounds.)
From the description:
A remarkable relic of the Cold War, this interactive tin toy allowed a child to pretend that they were manning a distant early warning station with a radar “scope” showing the silhouette of a moving plane, as well as a rotating radar dish and blinking lights. It was made by the famed Masudaya firm of Tokyo, which was founded in 1923 and became the leading producer of battery and mechanical-operated toys during the post-war period (fabtintoys.com). This toy has been tested and is only partially functional, with two of the lights and the rotating wheel of plane silhouettes not working at present, possibly due to loose connections. it is nevertheless a lovely example, and rare in the original box with the paper signal key, as here…
This toy was probably inspired by DEW, and it might be a coincidence, but the illustration on the box looks remarkably similar to a 1955 ad in Time magazine extolling Raytheon’s role in designing and manufacturing the radar for that undertaking. Though the toy is undated it was probably sold in the late 1950s or early 1960s, given the short period during which distant early warning radar was of military significance. Work at these stations would have involved fairly dull duties, monitoring radar screens for the start of World War III in an isolated and harsh environment, and it’s strangely charming that someone chose to produce a colourful toy based on what must have been one of the more demoralising jobs in the Air Force.
I think I will apply “strangely charming” to more things.
Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 1pm, City Hall and online) — agenda
Heritage Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 3pm, online) — agenda
Community Services (Tuesday, 10am, One Government Place and online) — Access to Midwifery and Efforts Towards Reconciliation; with representatives from the Department of Health and Wellness, Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association, Tajikeimɨk, and the Association of Nova Scotia Midwives
Natural Resources and Economic Development (Tuesday, 1pm, One Government Place and online) — Challenges in the Agricultural Sector; with representatives from the Department of Agriculture, Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture, and the Chicken Farmers Association of Nova Scotia
House of Assembly Management Commission (Wednesday, 12pm, One Government Place) — 2022-23 audit report; HAMC Regulation changes; Centralizing MLA IT hardware; CPI adjustment; 2022-2023 financials
Promoting Equity in Early Childhood: A Storytelling Series to Build Atlantic Connections (Wednesday, 10am, online) — open to anyone interested in equity in early childhood; info and registration here
In the harbour
06:30: IT Integrity, supply vessel, arrives at Pier 9 from Bay Bulls, Newfoundland
07:00: Zaandam, cruise ship with up to 1,718 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Eastport, on a seven-day roundtrip cruise out of Boston to Montreal
10:30: Tropic Lissette, cargo ship, sails from Pier 42 for Palm Beach, Florida
12:00: MSC Alyssa, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Montreal
15:30: MSC Sandra, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for sea
15:30: APL California, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for sea
16:00: Navig8 Success, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from Antwerp, Belgium
16:30: Zaandam sails for Sydney
17:00: Augusta Luna, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 28 from Moa, Cuba
I realized I was going in circles trying to leave IKEA, and, as I walked through one of the showrooms for the third time, I looked up and saw this sign: