1. COVID-19: Cases holding steady, hospitalizations creep up
In his daily update, Tim Bousquet reports that the province announced 586 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday, and that there are now 24 people in hospital with the disease, three of whom are in the ICU. Good news: It seems that the outbreaks at several hospitals are being contained.
I notice Bousquet has switched from using “fully vaccinated” for two doses to breaking down vaccination numbers by first, second, and third dose, which seems like a more accurate approach as we start opening up more third — or booster — doses:
In total, there have been 1,776,330 doses of vaccine administered, which break down as:
• 67,233 people with only the first dose
• 673,479 people with the second dose but not the third
• 120,713 people with three doses
Remember that the criteria for testing have changed. From Bousquet’s report:
Nova Scotia Health labs completed 5,355 PCR tests yesterday, with a positivity rate of 10.9%. I realize everyone wants to know about the self-reporting of rapid test results, but I don’t have any info on that front.
The testing protocols have changed. Now, if you test positive with a rapid (antigen) test, you no longer will follow that up with a PCR test. Instead, you are assumed to definitely have COVID, and you and your household are to self-isolate as required.
But take-home rapid testing kits are no longer widely available.
I have a friend whose wife is away, spending time with a sick relative. I asked him about his New Year’s Eve plans and he said he was staying home with a book and a drink. Seems like the perfect way to ring in 2022.
2. Who are bike shares for?
Earlier this year, in the pre-Omicron (note: NOT “Omnicron”) days, I spent a week in Montreal and Toronto, making extensive use of each city’s bike-share program. In Montreal, I used a combination of bikes and transit to get around. In Toronto, I didn’t even bother with transit, using Bike Share Toronto bicycles to get to and from a Jays’ game, go for a ride along the Don River, and head out to a café to meet a friend. Apart from a few frustrations, the systems seemed easy to use and a great way to make short trips downtown.
When I drive into Halifax, I generally have several errands to run, and I was thinking that instead of making a bunch of short car trips on the peninsula, it would make sense for me to load my bike onto the car, park, and then run my errands by bike. Of course, a bike share, with readily available vehicles downtown, would make that a lot easier.
All this to say that I came back enthused about various possibilities for bike-share programs, and wondering about what the odds were that Halifax would start one. It’s an idea that’s been around for a good decade, but has generally run up against at least two major challenges: Nova Scotia’s mandatory helmet law and how hilly the city is. Last week, the Examiner published part 1 in my two-part series on bike shares. It looks at whether the time is now right for bike share in Halifax, what it would take to succeed, and how new technologies — hello e-bikes — can address challenges for success.
In the second and final part of the series, I look at how bike shares can be built to serve as broad a population as possible. When I started working on this series, my enthusiasm for bike shares was tempered by a conversation with Simon Fraser University sociology professor Nicholas Scott, who studies cycling and has written about bike-share programs. Noting that bike-shares are usually promoted by municipalities but privately operated, he called them “your classic neo-liberal public-private partnership model.” And in discussing who they cater to, I listened as he ticked all my boxes:
Asked about the predominant demographic served by bike share, Scott said, “”White males, higher educated, wealthier white collar workers.”
One reason for that is simply that it’s also a core demographic for biking in general in “low-cycling nations like Canada.” But Scott said a number of factors lead to bike shares serving “kinetic elites” — highly mobile affluent people. Those factors include the areas where bikes are available, high costs, and payment systems that require credit cards.
“Inner cores, where origins and destinations cluster are a key condition for success for bike share systems — so, yeah, gentrified inner cities.” Scott said in an interview. “I like this term ‘kinetic elites.’ People who already have a lot of different transport options and might be flying in. People like you and me. That’s who’s using them.”
But, Scott pointed out to me, it doesn’t have to be this way. Some municipalities, like Quebec City, run their bike shares as part of the transit system. Detroit’s is operated by a non-profit and offers a $5 annual membership fee for people with low incomes. In some cities, riders can pay cash or use debit instead of having to have a credit card.
Prominent Halifax cycling advocate Jillian Banfield says equity needs to be a “first layer” in thinking about any bike-share program for Halifax:
To the argument that programs like building bike networks and bike shares cater to elites, Banfield said in her “little brain all these things are connected.”
“If you’ve built a society where you need a car to get around, you’ve built a society where housing is unaffordable. There are often conversations about bike lanes being gentrification, but they also make it easier for people to get around via modes that are not cars… It’s adding transportation options — especially for people who have fewer options than more affluent people.
One aspect I didn’t wind up getting into in the story is whether bike shares actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In other words, are people riding a shared bike replacing car trips, or would they have been walking, riding their own bike, or taking transit instead? I think there is still a lot of research to be done here. A study on e-scooters published in the journal Case Studies in Transport Policy found that while most e-scooter trips in many cities replaced walking or public transit, a significant minority replaced trips in private cars, taxis or ride-hailing services. And e-scooter provider Neuron Mobility claims that 40% of its UK trips replace car trips. I’m curious to know what the numbers will be like for bike shares around North America in the next few years.
3. End-of-year episode of The Tideline is here!
The final episode of The Tideline podcast for 2022 has been published, and you can listen to it here. (Or, as they say, wherever you get your podcasts.)
This time out, host Tara Thorne does a year-in-review episode, with clips from episodes published throughout the year. And what a year it’s been:
It’s been a wild and confusing year, but there was always — somehow — art. We take a spin through 2021’s interviews and uncover resilience, surprises, and victories even in the face of multiple setbacks, shutdowns, and cancellations. Featuring Erin Costelo, Mo Kenney, the creatives behind The Crevice and Fat Juliet, Zuppa Theatre, Christy Ann Conlin, Deborah Young, Gus the Gopher Tortoise, Jane Kansas, Bretten Hannam, Stephanie Domet, Vinessa Antoine, Steve Murphy, and Hello City.
4. Prepping Halifax for climate change will not come cheap
In the Chronicle Herald, Jen Taplin looks at the costs of preparing Halifax’s infrastructure for the destructive effects of climate change.
Taplin looks at overall costs and the role of wetlands, and highlights a couple of specific areas. Point Pleasant Park’s shoreline is threatened by continued erosion, and in Eastern Passage Shore Road has repeatedly flooded in large storms. Building bigger seawalls and hardening the coast are unlikely to help much in the long term. As Coun. Waye Mason tells Taplin, “The water always wins.”
The municipality has spent millions on fixing [Shore] Road in years past, but fresh ideas using natural elements to attack the problem (like using oyster beds) might be the solution. This is just one of the tasks on Shannon Miedema’s to do list. She is HRM’s environment and climate change program manager.
“It gets really strong wave action that hits a particular part of that road and we’re looking to do a natural infrastructure solution there,” she said. “Just hardening the coast is not considered to be the best option, it usually just pushes the problem further down.”
I think about stories like this every time someone complains that trying to slow down climate change will cost too much. What do you think not doing anything about it will cost?
I wrote a story that touched on many of these same issues for Halifax Magazine (now Unravel Halifax) back in 2015, and quoted Jacob Ritchie, who was a planner with the city at the time:
City planner Jacob Ritchie says he’s aware of these concerns, and that the conversation among planners has shifted from redevelopment to resilience.
“Mother Nature is a force and you either design to include that force in your plan or you design to hold it out,” he says. “Maybe the trick is to design our communities to accept a storm, let it move around us, and then have it go out to sea.
Meanwhile, I keep seeing people building houses right up against the water with big rip-rap walls.
5. More than 700 Nova Scotia Health workers are off work in isolation or waiting for test results
Yesterday, the Examiner published Martha Paynter’s piece on how Nova Scotia simply does not have the capacity to maintain the same level of COVID-19 testing that we saw earlier in the pandemic.
As a nurse who cares for a typically very healthy population — pregnant people who choose abortion, or who deliver healthy babies — I am, for the first time in the pandemic, seeing many colleagues unable to come to work because they are either COVID-19 positive or a close contact, and required to isolate. That leaves the rest of us stressed, overworked, and anxious. So, it does not matter right now that Omicron is seemingly less severe in terms of hospitalizations. Hospital staff nurses are still overworked, and the system is seriously impacted.
At CTV, Sarah Plowman looks at the number of health-care workers now off because they have to isolate.
As of Wednesday, the health authority says 721 NSH workers are off work because they are either waiting on COVID-19 test results, have tested positive for the virus or they have been identified as a close contact.
“Each day NSH is anticipating large groups of employees returning to work, but unfortunately are also seeing several other employees go off work at the same time,” said Marla MacInnis, spokesperson for the Department of Health and Wellness.
Nurses’ union president Janet Hazelton tells Plowman she is not in agreement with plans in other provinces that would allow some health-care workers to continue to be on the job, even if they test positive for COVID-19:.
“It’s not a good idea at all. Nurses and health-care workers are human beings. They should have the same occupational protections as anybody else,” Hazelton said.
Reading highlights for 2021
Since it’s the end of the year, I thought I’d quickly note some of my reading highlights for 2021. I don’t usually set myself reading challenges: a number of books as a goal, and so on. But I do generally have a few themes in mind: Reading more classics, reading more books I own that I haven’t read, re-visiting a particular author, and so on.
A good chunk of my reading this year was dominated by the Dune novels. I was in high school during one of the periodic Dune revivals, and I think almost everyone else in my circle of friends had read these books, but they passed me by and I never had any particular interest in them. Then, last year at Christmas, my partner gave me the graphic novel adaptation of Dune, and my oldest son told me it’s good, but that I shouldn’t read it until I had read the book. So I fought my way through the book, wondering if a) anything interesting was ever going to happen, b) if this would start making sense at some point, and c) why I was bothering.
And then it was like someone flicked a switch, it all came together, and all of a sudden I found myself going from frustrated and irritated to somewhat baffled but enthusiastic. I tore through the next couple of books, but after the 50-page monologues in God Emperor of Dune I’m taking a break before tackling the rest of them.
Another book that started off in the slog category for me was also another missed classic: Catch-22. I read this (like several other books this year) because it was recommended to me by my podcast co-host Jay. (We discuss books on our podcast, Dog-eared and Cracked.) It’s a maddening book in that the storytelling is so circular, but as the situations grow increasingly absurd you get dragged along and appreciate it more and more. I am not a big fan of writerly books that are no fun to read, just as I am not a fan of crosswords that are impressive feats of construction but no fun to solve. But Heller? Heller is an amazing writer and it doesn’t distract you from the book. If you’ve passed this one by like I had, I recommend picking it up.
I finally started N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series, starting with the first book, The Fifth Season, and all I can say is wow. Well, I can say more. The contrast in world-building between The Fifth Season and Dune is striking. Jemisin just throws you into her world, like a lot of science-fiction writers, but she feeds you enough information as you go to leave you alert to what’s happening, arouse your curiosity, but not throw you into complete befuddlement. All becomes clear before it becomes annoying. I’m on the waitlist for the next book in the series from the library. The first one was so good it left me feeling enthused about reading more.
An incredible (and incredibly short) non-fiction book I read this year is The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by the pseudonymous Elisabeth Tova Bailey. Bailey has a medical condition that keeps her in bed for long stretches of time. She has a terrarium beside her bed, and realizes there’s a snail in there. She observes the snail closely, gets to know its moods, the sound it makes eating, its habits, and so on. The book is a remarkable bit of observation, natural history — as she delves into what we know about snails and their evolution — and a memoir of illness. I cannot recommend this book enough, even though I know it is weird-sounding enough that most people I mention it to seem to have a “yeah, right” reaction.
The book whose cover is at the top of this section is Le Gourmet Solitaire, a collection of comics short stories that I learned about after watching the Netflix Series Samurai Gourmet. The series is very loosely based on the series of books including Le Gourmet Solitaire. (The stories are written in Japanese; I am reading them in French and I don’t think there is an English translation.) I’ve had this book on my bedside for most of the year, and I dip into it two or three stories at a time. Our hero runs a fashion import business that takes him to various parts of Japan, including many Tokyo neighbourhoods, and he gets hungry and goes out to eat. The illustrations are detailed, subtle, and beautiful, and while the stories are not exactly action-packed, they are entertaining to read and also offer subtle social commentary. I am really enjoying the book.
Short hits: I read several Agatha Christie novels and learned that Christie was extremely knowledgeable about archaeology. I’ve also been plowing through the Sherlock Holmes stories and am wondering whether I should just read them all. They are quite fun. I also read my first-ever romance, Ocean’s Lure by Halifax writer Tim Covell. It’s set in a Cape Breton campground run by a woman who inherited the property from her grandmother. Having never read romance, I have nothing to compare it to, but it was an enjoyable read that left me curious about the genre.
Happy reading for 2022.
An Australian forum called Aussie Arcade has a thread of posts called “Famous people playing pinball.” I almost never use browser bookmarks, but this thread is one of my current four bookmarks.
One of the pleasant surprises of the last decade or so has been the pinball revival. Here I thought these machines were dead and gone. Then, in the mid-2010s, I heard about the then-nascent Halifax Pinball League, wrote about it for Halifax Magazine, and then became hooked on pinball all over again. (Although these days, most of my playing is on the PlayStation. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing.)
The pics in the Aussie Arcade thread features a bunch of actors and musicians (for the most part), with a wide range of playing styles.
Bob Dylan’s style seems fairly cerebral. Is he even playing at all?
Bruce Springsteen seems to be much more into this, and to have his nudging game going.
Leonard Cohen seems like another fairly cerebral player.
I like the ones with musicians playing their own or other musicians’ machines: Slash playing the AC/DC pinball machine, Elton John hamming it up next to the Elton John machine, which I seem to recall was a really fun one, and Mick Jagger playing a Stones machine (not the ridiculous one that highlights an over-exaggerated, er, package).
There is a photo on the page of Axl Rose playing this one though.
And there’s a shot of Paul Stanley leaning on a Kiss pinball machine. A couple of months ago on Twitter Stanley wrote about running into Joni Mitchell at a restaurant and chatting with her. He says she reminded him that she owns a KISS pinball machine.
In the harbour
02:30: Conti Contessa, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
06:00: NYK Nebula, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Antwerp
06:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Fairview Cove from Saint-Pierre
06:30: Oceanex Avalon, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
11:00: ZIM Qingdao, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for New York
11:30: CLI Pride moves from Pier 42 to Fairview Cove
16:00: ZIM Constanza, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Valencia, Spain
16:30: NYK Nebula, container ship, sails for Port Everglades, Florida
18:00: CLI Pride sails for sea
18:30: Onego Maas, cargo ship, sails from Pier 27 for sea
10:00: CSL Tarantau, bulker, arrives at Aulds Cove anchorage from Sydney
I watched every season of Friday Night Lights hoping someone at some point would play the damn pinball machine in the Riggins living room, but it just sat there. Don’t hang a gun above the fireplace, etc.
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Of course it will cost money! Stop dithering and let’s just get at addressing this transition if we’re ever going to succeed at saving future lives and human communities on a massive scale.
Nobody whined, “Oh it’s going to cost money” for the WWII, or for mega-pandemic expenses or even for bringing in the military to repair the mudslide damage to BC’s highways. It was needed and we just did it. And this is bigger than all of them combined! We are so overdue for the kind of imaginative and competent leadership that Churchill provided during the Blitz to help and motivate us in so many important ways to deal with this enormous challenge with hope, courage and a positive vision to work towards. Where is the Churchillian leadership we so badly need? Not in Premier Tim Houston that’s for sure.
Prepping for inevitable impacts of climate change is the most important thing we can do right now. It is no longer theoretical but a very real impact. While Halifax seems to have figured this out, not so much at the provincial level. Mis-leading by example. The province continues constructing the new art gallery in the worst possible, and quite bluntly most stupid location imaginable. Bureaucratic inertia and political arrogance have intersected to dump public and private philanthropic money into this bottomless pit. In 30 or 40 years, untold millions will be required to rescue the art gallery from becoming submerged.
For YEARS it has been known that global warming means higher ocean levels. Nonetheless, despite highly charged public input warning against the builds of the egregious Queen’s Marque, the Art Museum, etc etc etc… the City Council and the Province in their ‘grater wisdom’ or negligence, allowed all to go forward ….right at the oceans edge.
Taxpayers should withhold taxes. What other way is there to get these government entities to pay attention? Riots? Looting? Is that what they want, you know something to really dig into ? The irresponsibility of council members like Waye Mason is terrifying.