As Tim Bousquet said on Friday, when you get to this stage of the Halifax Examiner annual November fundraising drive you start running out of things to say. We have a lot to get to this morning, so I will keep this short.
I want to say a few words about how Bousquet reacted when the pandemic hit. As soon as it became clear this was a major news story that would hit close to home, he more or less threw the budget out the window, ramped up pandemic coverage, and didn’t put any of the stories behind the paywall.
Now, the paywall (stories that are for subscribers only) are an important part of the Halifax Examiner’s business model. All the revenue comes from subscribers, so it makes sense to have stories that are only available for those who pay the bills. (Stories generally come out from behind the paywall after 30 days. See, for example, Joan Baxter’s two part series, “The Goldboro gamble”, below.)
But in the context of the pandemic, what made the most sense was getting as much information in front of readers as possible, and revenue models be damned.
Now, I am not privy to the Examiner’s finances (nor, as a freelancer, should I be — it’s really none of my business) but I imagine that running a whole bunch of stories you didn’t budget for had some kind of effect. But it was public service journalism, and it was important that someone do it.
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1. COVID-19 advisories mapped
The Halifax Examiner is providing all COVID-19 coverage free.
The province reported 19 new cases of COVID-19 over the weekend. That brought with it a whole slew of possible exposure notifications and raised our number of active cases to 44. (Fortunately, there is nobody currently hospitalized.)
Eleven cases may not seem like a lot, but remember we are dealing with an infection whose transmission shows exponential growth — something we know is hard for the human mind to grasp.
What does exponential growth look like? Kind of like this:
- November 18: 2 new cases
- November 20: 5 new cases
- November 21: 8 new cases
- November 22: 11 new cases
See where this is going?
As a Forbes article back in the spring put it:
Exponential growth is so powerful not because it’s necessarily fast, but because it’s relentless. Without introducing a factor to suppress it, exponential growth is an infectious disease doctor’s nightmare, particularly as more time goes on.
The “factor to suppress” it in this case is restrictions.
Tim Bousquet has put together a helpful map (how do you like them icons?) covering all current COVID-19 advisories. On Twitter he wrote:
My hope is I won’t have to update the map much. My fear is I’ll be adding all sorts of stuff.
Click on any of the virus icons in the map, and you see the details of the advisory. Some ask that people present at that time monitor for symptoms (as we should all be doing) and some say that if you were there, you should go get tested. For instance, clicking on the “Truly Tasty” icon gets you this:
CALL 811 TO GET TESTED. 6210 Quinpool Rd. Nov. 19 between 5:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. It is anticipated that anyone exposed to the virus at this location on the named date may develop symptoms up to, and including, Dec. 3.
It’s also interesting to see the clusters of exposures close to each other when you zoom in on the map. It’s impossible to know whether these are related to the same individuals or are just coincidence.
While the province is not shutting down bars, restaurants, or gyms, a number of establishments have decided to either take a short break on their own, in the interests of protecting staff and public, or to shut down indoor service and continue with take-out and delivery only.
The Halifax Noise Food Facebook page has been sharing these announcements. A quick look last night showed Dilly Dally closed today, Stillwell Freehouse shutting down for a couple of days, the Bird’s Nest, Sushi Jet and Obladee closing in-person dining, The Old Apothecary has gone back to curbside pickup and takeout, and You’re Father’s Moustache is shutting the doors for a few days. The Propeller Arcade is also closing. I love that freakin’ arcade, but I’ve got to say that the idea of standing in an underground space playing pinball is not particularly appealing right now. I’ll have to continue to settle for the PlayStation versions of classic tables.
I wrote the paragraph above last night, and since then the number of businesses doing this kind of thing has kept rising.
At CBC, Haley Ryan writes about the voluntary shut-downs, quoting dance studio owner Moses Diallo, who has decided to shut his studio down for two weeks:
“It’s not an easy decision, but it’s one that makes sense and it’s better we do this than have an exposure,” Diallo said Sunday.
“Myself, along with many people, have vulnerable individuals in their families and … the risks are just too high at this point.”…
When asked whether the government should mandate that businesses close for a short time to get a handle on COVID-19, Diallo said he’s “all for it,” since short-term pain is bearable if it brings a long-term gain of keeping the economy open over the next few months.
Diallo said they nearly didn’t survive the last shutdown, when their studio was closed for nearly five months.
This sentiment, and the voluntary closures, seem to run counter to the “lockdown vs the economy” narrative. I guess there are two ways of looking at this: Either the businesses are doing what the government should mandate, or hey, the free market is working.
2. Let’s open up the relationship (between citizens and government)
In his latest column, Stephen Kimber dubs the three provincial Liberal leadership candidates “the Three Bland Men,” and urges them to adopt an Openness in Government Act.
Kimber suggests if you want examples of how to run a more open government, just look at Premier Stephen McNeil’s approach, then do the opposite:
The guiding principle of this new legislation will be that all government business is public business. My government’s default positions will be that the public’s business should be conducted in public, and that we will be continuously accountable to the public for the decisions we make. If there are exceptions, they will be spelled out in the legislation. If not, there will be a public process by which any government would need to justify any additional secrecy, and those decisions would be subject to judicial review.
If I was seeking specifics to incorporate into my new overarching legislation, I would look no further than cataloguing even some of the many and various ways in which Stephen McNeil has been un-open, unaccountable, opaque — and pledge to do the opposite.
Kimber goes through how to improve on the various opaque and unaccountable practices of the legislature, legislative committees, secrecy in government contracts and more. It’s quite a list.
Admittedly, there are no easy or sure ways to ensure governments are open and accountable to the people they represent.
But the best of that bad lot of ways is to make openness, transparency and accountability the law.
This article is well worth your time. It is for subscribers only. Please subscribe.
3. Doctors decry poisonous culture of silence
Jennifer Henderson has a shocking-not-shocking story about doctors in Nova Scotia suffering the consequences of speaking out about their working conditions or problems in the healthcare system.
Dr. Rob Miller, an emergency-room physician who formerly worked at the Valley Regional Hospital before taking a job in BC, convened an online meeting of his colleagues, Henderson writes, to talk about ways doctors who speak out can be protected:
Miller and the handful of doctors who participated in the Zoom meeting Friday want to see a process established that will protect health care workers who raise concerns or advocate for improvements in patient care. Doctors who experience conflict with their bosses have no grievance procedure through their professional association (Doctors Nova Scotia) and provincial “whistleblower” legislation isn’t designed to address this problem.
“At the moment we are caught between our professional obligation to advocate and the threat of overt and covert retribution from administration as demonstrated by the way the NSHA has treated Dr. Jeannie MacGillvray, Dr. Rebecca Brewer, and others including Dr. Gabrielle Horne,” said Miller.
The doctors tell stories of mysteriously hearing for the first time about complaints against them, after they point out deficiencies in the system.
Dr. Jeannie MacGillivray, who left her practice in Antigonish and now lives in the state of Washington, says she was surprised by the number of colleagues who shared their horror stories with her after she resigned:
“I was shocked at how many people were suffering in silence. There needs to be a cultural shift within the Health Authority before we lose more doctors but that will take engagement by government.”
Henderson’s article is for subscribers only. You can subscribe here.
This is, to put it mildly, no way to run a health system. I understand the need for privacy and the need for some kind of organizational control. But punishing doctors in a province that desperately needs them and bringing the hammer down on anyone who speaks out is not conducive to a healthy system. For one thing, shutting down opinions that run counter to those who run the show is not a great way to improve. You’re telling anyone who is not happy to shut up.
I realize I may be naive, but several months ago I found myself shocked at the level of worry and fear among people I interviewed at a non-profit which receives a portion of its funding from the NSHA. My sources were terrified that saying something that could be seen as critical of the health authority would result in a cut to some of their meagre funding. Understand that these are not people working for the NSHA. That kind of culture of fear is not acceptable, sustainable, or healthy.
4. Jail phone calls and privacy rights
El Jones has long written about issues related to incarcerated people and phone calls. Calls are absurdly costly, for instance.
Because of the pandemic, there are no in-person visits at provincial jails. Instead, Jones writes, inmates get video visits, using tablets provided to them:
Telmate collects personal information through its services, including but not limited to your location, voiceprint and facial geometry, and shares such data (and access to such data) with law enforcement and correctional facilities.
These policies also apply to families and loved ones using the services for video visits or phone calls.
Particularly disturbing is that self-represented prisoners must use the tablets to prepare their cases. CanLii, the case law database, for example, is housed on the tablets. These tablets used for case preparation do not have internet access: the law library is downloaded and stored on the devices. Prisoners who are preparing submissions for court must also do so on the tablets. They cannot use the tablets without agreeing to the Terms of Service and must submit identifying information in order to log on. One self-represented prisoner tells the Halifax Examiner:
“I have the right to a fair trial under Section 7 of the Charter. And what this is telling me is that if I don’t want any law enforcement agency to be able to use my data forever, or the company to use my image in advertising, then I can’t even get access to case law that I need for my trial.
“I haven’t been convicted of anything. I’m an innocent person under the law and now even if I get off [my charges], my face, all my identifying information, my mom’s credit card can be with any law enforcement agency or correctional facility anywhere in the world. I don’t think that’s fair, and I don’t think it should be legal. “
Jones tries to find details of the contract the telco has with the provincial government and… surprise… “Details of the province’s contract with Telmate are difficult to find.”
5. Colonial Honda is at it again
Remember Homes not Hondas? That was the community group that set out to block Colonial Honda from demolishing a bunch of houses in order to expand its parking lot. That didn’t work, the buildings were taken down, and now the car dealership wants to knock down three more houses, which it purchased for a total of $1.2 million, Zane Woodford reports.
A trio of colourful homes in central Halifax will soon be demolished as Colonial Honda expands its parking lot again.
After buying Colonial Honda in 2016, Steele Auto Group’s affiliate companies started buying up two dozen surrounding properties. A community group, Homes Not Hondas, sprung up to oppose the dealer’s plans, but it eventually demolished most of the buildings and expanded its parking lot.
Four years later, the dealership is bringing the wrecking ball back out.
There is nothing in the zoning rules to prevent the demolition, but it’s kind of amazing to think of this as the best use of land in that part of the city.
6. The Goldboro gamble: How much of a sure thing is the Guysborough LNG plant?
Joan Baxter’s two-part investigation into the multi-billion proposed Goldboro LNG plant is now available for all to read for free. In Part 1, Baxter looks at the history of the project and whether it really is as much of a done deal as it has been made out to be. Part 2 tears apart the spurious claims that the project has a financing guarantee from the German government — when it has nothing of the sort.
Doctors and free speech
In a spectacularly wrong-headed editorial that ran last Friday, the Chronicle Herald lauds the provincial College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia for finding that Dr. Chris Milburn was not guilty of professional misconduct when he wrote an op-ed for the paper in which he complained about the behaviour of “criminals” and “the criminal element” who show up in emergency rooms under police escort.
I was taught to respect authority and take responsibility for my own actions. As such, I have always had great respect for police and related professions. My respect has only grown during my many interactions with them and jail guards during my work. On at least one occasion, I am quite sure they saved me from grievous harm (or worse) when dealing with a particularly violent criminal.
Someone complained to the College, it went through its review process, and it ruled that Milburn was not guilty of professional misconduct. All well and good.
That’s not the wrong-headed part of the editorial. The trouble with it is that it conflates two different issues — freedom for doctors to be able to speak out about their working conditions and problems in the healthcare system, and the right to have your views criticizing your patients published in the press.
I hardly think these are the same thing.
The editorial writes, of Milburn’s op-ed:
Yes, he was critical at times. That’s what freedom of expression protects — the right to openly advocate, even if it may discomfort some, for a better way.
But was he being critical of the system? The context of the piece was the conviction of the two special constables in the death of Corey Rogers, (who Milburn refers to only as “a man in custody.”) It’s not a criticism of the system. It’s a defence of it. The op-ed concludes:
Spit hoods sound cruel and unusual to someone who has never been around one of these patients. But it is not safe, nor reasonable, to expect police, jail guards or hospital staff to be spit on as a normal part of their job. A large percentage of patients who would spit on someone trying to help them are carrying dangerous infectious diseases.
Khamsi, who was interviewed about the story on WNYC’s On the Media podcast, points to the tremendous variation in public health rules and the seemingly arbitrary restrictions in some jurisdictions.
In New York, bars, restaurants, and gyms have to close at 10 PM. Nova Scotia has a 14-day quarantine, while Alberta’s is 48 hours. In South Africa, the government banned the sale of open-toed shoes and shorts as an infection prevention measure.
I’ve seen this happen again and again since the start of the pandemic: a new, “science-based” Covid-19 measure is prescribed, but the science in support of it is either vague or missing altogether. Just last week, for example, I was working on a story about the latest research into quarantine procedures. The best data to this point suggests that an eight-day stretch of quarantine, combined with a Covid test, provides the same level of protection as the traditional 14-day quarantine. But then I saw New York state’s new policy: Some people who arrived from out of state are allowed to quarantine for just four days. I asked New York’s Department of Health how they’d come to this decision, and they sent me another statement from Cuomo, in which he said only that he’d “worked with global health experts” on the plan…
While reporting on that same quarantine story, I reached out to Alberta, Canada, which allows for an even riskier-seeming 48-hour period of quarantine for some travelers. What was the scientific basis for this policy? I never heard back.
Unsourced rules are everywhere in this pandemic. There was no way for the general public to know, at first, that the recommendation to stay 6 feet apart originated in part from a 3-foot rule determined by decades-old studies of card-game players, and that the recommended spacing had been doubled on the basis of research into the spread of the original SARS virus through airplane cabins. And what about the widespread rule that each child in school should be allotted 44 square feet of space? WIRED’s David Zweig traced that back to a consultant who’d found it in an education magazine, which in turn had bungled what was already a faulty calculation by an educational nonprofit. Some pandemic guidelines are even stranger and more mysterious.
In her On the Media interview, Khamsi talked about trying to piece together the origins of the six-foot/two metre rule (while pointing out that these are not identical distances) and said part of the problem is that she and her fellow journalists should not have to be doing this. Public health officials and politicians should state the science behind their decisions, so we can understand that they are not capricious.
Of course, there is an element of learning as we go. I don’t think anybody would argue against that point. But if you want the population to accept critical public health measures, openness would seem to me to be a key.
When your public health policy becomes a target for mockery, that’s not great. Over the weekend, the Winnipeg Free Press ran a piece by Ben Waldman called “The end justifies the memes.” It included this image:
Meanwhile, in Quebec premier François Legault has told residents that the ban on indoor gatherings will be lifted from December 24 to 27, so families can celebrate Christmas.
I highly doubt any scientific evidence was offered.
Here in Nova Scotia, we also have our share of seemingly capricious regulations, with different numbers of people allowed at different types of events. (Nothing on the scale of the virus taking a Christmas holiday though.)
More significantly though, seems to be a lack of transparency on how transmission of the virus is occurring. At the Friday COVID-19 update, Examiner publisher Tim Bousquet asked if we knew how transmission took place at the schools. For instance, did one student infect another by being on the same school bus? In the same classroom? It might be helpful to know (if we have this information).
The provincial chief medical officer of health, Dr. Robert Strang, replied:
We don’t know for sure… Our definition of close contact is everyone in the classroom.
Fair enough. Then Strang got testy:
When we start identifying even in the same classroom or on the same bus, we’ve already had people online — the cases we have right now are being harassed on social media. I am very protective of these people, Tim. And I am not going to put them in a situation where we put an increased likelihood they are going to be harassed because you are asking for information. We have to protect their privacy… We get people’s private health information. I have a legal obligation to protect that privacy.
But Bousquet wasn’t asking for data that would identify anyone in particular. Just some sense of how the virus is being transmitted. This kind of transparency can help people make decisions, and other jurisdictions manage to do it without jeopardizing privacy.
Here, for instance is the city of Ottawa, tracing how a cluster came out of an indoor sports practice.
No public meetings.
Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 1pm) — virtual meeting
No public meetings.
Natural Resources and Economic Development (Tuesday, 2pm, Province House) — Malcom Fraser from Innovacorp and Bernie Miller, Deputy Minister of Business. Info and CART link here.
No public events.
Breaking down homological cycles of simplicial complexes and the subadditivity property of syzygies (Tuesday, 2:30pm) — Sara Faridi will talk via Zoom. Info and link here.
The work presented in this talk is motivated by the subadditivity property of maximum degrees of syzygies in a minimal free resolution of a monomial ideal. We give some background for this problem, focus on topological interpretations, and discuss cases where the subadditivity property can be proved from this approach. No prior familiarity with free resolutions will be assumed, they will simply lead us to questions in discrete topology. This talk is based on joint work with Mayada Shahada.
Note: Iris once won a school spelling bee with “syzygy.” Now she just uses syzpellcheck.
Teaching Artists: Working Through the Lens of Civic Practice (Tuesday, 4pm) — Gwenna Fairchild-Taylor and Patrick Maubert will discuss their work as teaching artists in marginalized communities. Info and link here.
ABC’s of Immunity Research in the CHILD Cohort Study: Atopy, Breast Milk, and COVID‑19 (Tuesday, 4pm) — Meghan Azad from the University of Manitoba will talk. Info and link here.
Killer Info: Big Data, the Fallacy of Homicide Stats, and Disrupting the Murder Industry (Tuesday, 6pm) — Michael Arntfield will talk.
In the summer of 2018, the Chief Coroner in Ontario announced an overdue inquiry into so-called “concealed homicides”, or murders that had been improperly categorized, coded, and never properly investigated by police, and which have since ended up in the proverbial dustbins of history. While this was the first such admission of the fallacy of homicide data in Canada, an audit in the United States conducted by the Murder Accountability Project (murderdata.org) had already confirmed that as many as nearly 3000 murders in any given year have been mislead by police every year for at least the last twenty years, with some states having as many as 50% of all murders miscategorized as either suicides or accidents that the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention later confirmed were actually criminal homicides.
Yet, these contradictory records have never been properly reconciled, corrected, and the cases properly investigated, and the offenders for the most part remain at large and unidentified. The rate jumps to nearly 80% on average when tabulating murders committed on Native American lands. These same data, like the case that prompted the inquiry in Ontario, are believed to contain large clusters of serial killers given the often sophisticated counter-measures seen in many cases, and which led to critical misinterpretations by primary investigators as a result of crime scene staging and/or elaborate concealment efforts.
More Powerful Together: Conversations with Climate Activists & Indigenous Land Defenders (Tuesday, 6pm) — launch of Jen Gobby’s new book, with a moderated panel and a spoken word performer. More info and Eventbrite link here.
Scholarly Journal Quality and Open Access (Monday, 7pm) — how to identify scholarly journal quality, a key skill for researchers and authors. Info and webinar link here.
In the harbour
10:00: MOL Emissary, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
14:00: Algoma Verity, bulker, arrives at National Gypsum from Tampa, Florida
16:00: Tropic Lissette, cargo ship, sails from Pier 42 for Palm Beach, Florida
16:00: Algoma Integrity, bulker, arrives at Bedford Basin anchorage from Baltimore
16:00: IT Intrepid, cable layer, sails from Pier 9 for sea
22:00: MOL Emissary sails for Rotterdam
I am reading A Catskill Eagle, published in 1985. It’s one of Robert B. Parker’s hardboiled Spenser novels. I’ve been reading my way through the series, and this is probably the worst of the books so far. However, this passage jumped out at me, and seems somewhat appropriate to the moment. Speaking of the book’s main bad guy, a wealthy, arms-dealing industrialist, one of the characters says this:
“He is entirely committed to the belief in some kind of frontier radicalism in which absolute individual freedom is life’s greatest good. He is also a white supremacist… And an anti-Semite. He seems to believe that America is in danger of being overrun by blacks and Jews and foreigners and… lesbians…. You get the idea,” Rachel Wallace said. “Costigan appears to be fearful that America will be overrun by Americans.”
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