1. Syria and Halifax

“As evacuation efforts stalled in Aleppo, nearly 200 people gathered in a Halifax park on Sunday to raise awareness of the plight of people caught in the middle of the deadly civil war in Syria,” reports Zane Woodford for Metro:

Men, women and children, many of them new Canadians, gathered in Victoria Park holding Syrian flags with the word ‘Freedom’ printed on them. Young children held signs reading, “STOP THE KILLING IN SYRIA,” HELP MY FRIENDS,” and “SAVE PEOPLE IN ALEPPO” written in Arabic and English.

In 2013, soon after the Syrian civil war started, many in Halifax’s Syrian-Canadian community demonstrated against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. At the time, Mohamed Masalmeh, co-founder of a group called Justice and Freedom for Syria, estimated that three-quarters of the local Syrian-Canadian community were opposed to Assad. A notable exception was Roy Khoury, then the owner of the two Mary’s Place Cafés (he sold the Spring Garden Mary’s Place to non-Syrian owners a couple of years ago; I can’t determine who now owns the Robie Street café). In 2013, Khoury told reporter Mackenzie Scrimshaw that the anti-Assad demonstrators were just a few malcontents and that the majority of the local Syrian-Canadian community supported Assad.

Clearly, Syrian refugees who have come to Halifax are solidly in the anti-Assad camp. The number of people at Halifax protests against Assad has grown from a few dozen in 2013 to around 200 yesterday. Obviously, the pain of the war weighs heavily, especially on refugees who have experienced it firsthand.

The refugees will change this town for the better, I think. It’ll be interesting watching the social dynamic in coming years.

2. Examineradio, episode #92

Accessible Media Inc.’s Ryan Delehanty
Accessible Media Inc.’s Ryan Delehanty

This week with speak with Ryan Delehanty, the Atlantic Assignment Editor for Accessible Media Inc., about the province’s — and the city’s — slow march toward genuine accessibility for all its citizens.

Also, the McNeil government and the Nova Scotia Teachers Union agree to head back to the bargaining table just as the public sector union roundly rejects the latest offer from the province. Plus, Viola Desmond to be honoured on the $10 bill and Peter Kelly’s probation continues.

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I’ve had a request to have the podcast transcribed for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing. I’ll look into it, but I’m concerned about the expense. Do readers have suggestions?

3. Animals stranded at Stanfield

“A manager from a pet store in Gander is calling on Air Canada to deliver animals to her that have been left idle at an airport on the mainland for days,” reports radio station VOCM in St. John’s:

It’s been four days since a number of small animals arrived in Halifax en route to a local Gander pet store. Terri-Ann Crisby is the Manager of Pet Central Pet Store in Gander.

She says the animals were supposed to arrive days ago.

She says they ordered a number of live animals from Montreal that were supposed to be sent out on Wednesday but bad weather forced a delay. When Air Canada was contacted Crisby says they told her the animals would be put on the next flight but they only made it to Halifax where they have remained since.

Crisby was worried for the animals so she contacted Petsmart in Halifax which sent a representative to give the animals food and water.

Air Canada says that extreme weather and a high number of passengers during the holidays delayed the animals’ departure but Crisby says she called Air Canada and they told her the animals are less of a priority than people’s luggage.

She says the man told her baggage needs to go first, and if there’s room the animals can go, but Crisby argues the animals are not the same as normal baggage and should be sent off before they die.

4. Tim Woods

The city this morning issued a Request for Qualifications for firms interested in “Lean Six Sigma Training.” And what is that? Well, according to a Wikipedia entry that has “multiple issues”:

Lean Six Sigma is a methodology that relies on a collaborative team effort to improve performance by systematically removing waste, combining lean manufacturing/lean enterprise and Six Sigma to eliminate the eight kinds of waste (muda): Transportation, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Over production, Over processing, Defects, and Skills (abbreviated as ‘TIMWOODS’).

The Lean Six Sigma concepts were first published in a book titled Leaning into Six Sigma: The path to integration of Lean Enterprise and Six Sigma by Barbara Wheat, Chuck Mills, and Mike Carnell in 2001. Lean Six Sigma utilizes the DMAIC phases similar to that of Six Sigma. Lean Six Sigma projects comprise aspects of Lean’s waste elimination and the Six Sigma focus on reducing defects, based on critical to quality (CTQ) characteristics. The DMAIC toolkit of Lean Six Sigma comprises all the Lean and Six Sigma tools. The training for Lean Six Sigma is provided through the belt based training system similar to that of Six Sigma. The belt personnel are designated as white belts, yellow belts, green belts, black belts and master black belts, similar to judo.

For each of these belt levels skill sets are available that describe which of the overall Lean Six Sigma tools are expected to be part at a certain Belt level. These skill sets provide a detailed description of the learning elements that a participant will have acquired after completing a training program. The level upon which these learning elements may be applied is also described. The skill sets reflects elements from Six Sigma, Lean and other process improvement methods like the theory of constraints (TOC) total productive maintenance (TPM).

Such bureau-babble always fascinates me. For a variety of unknowable sociological reasons, this particular brand of babble was taken up by the gestalt of the bullshit industry just as it was most receptive to… a judo analogy? Which is weird, because 2001 was almost the precise moment when the western world’s love affair with Japanese business models soured as that country’s “lost decade” faded into a seemingly permanent status of  stagnation and anemic economic growth. The judo master can’t even tie his own shoes.

The new manager of procurement at City Hall.

Seems to me, if we’re looking to peddle some bullshit to corporate honchos, we should build a lexicon of buzzwords and useless analogies that promise to emulate the world’s fastest growing economy in 2016, which is India’s. The advantage here is that there are a bunch of Hindi terms that no one in North America has ever heard of before, so we can make up all sorts of crazy shit about them and the gullible honchos will fork over serious cash for training courses. Judo, schmudo. Break out some yuddhakalā, and teach the mid-level managers the importance of viravidyā; hell, you could probably build a six-week lesson plan around svarakshākalā alone, and sell some derivatives besides. Imagine the fun you could have explaining the meaning of Durga to the procurement department.

Anyway, it’s neither here nor there, but I’ve lazily tried to understand the etymological origins of my family name. Best I can figure, it’s probably a derivative of an Old French term that meant something like “small group of trees,” so roughly equivalent to the English family name Woods or Groves. So, I’ve thought that if I ever ditch this job and take up my fantasy career as a barbiturate-addicted science fiction writer, I would use the pen name “Tim Woods.” I’ll be the most efficient, waste-free, barbiturate-addicted science fiction writer ever.


1. Stephen McNeil: are Nova Scotians just parking their votes and keeping score?

Stephen McNeil. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Writes Stephen Kimber:

My own unscientific, un-poll-tested view is that McNeil’s broad support in the polls during his years in office was always more shallow than deep, more reluctant than heartfelt, more apparent than real… And now?

This article is behind the Examiner’s paywall and so available only to paid subscribers. Click here to purchase a subscription.

2. Cranky letter of the day

To the New Glasgow News:

The new program to replace the AEP will soon start — a two-hour session per week for 14 weeks and open to the public in general.

How in God’s name can two hours per week replace a program that took five eight-hour days to do in detox?

Alcoholics and addicts have deep, dark issues to deal with and will certainly not open up in such a public forum, they have to be in a safe environment and feel comfortable to open up to anyone.

I have talked to people who worked in this field for many years and they all state these changes just don’t make any sense. At no time were they involved with any discussions on the changes. Front line workers have a wealth of knowledge but are left out in the cold regarding important decisions.

The term “evidence base” is mentioned often. I have one question: where is this evidence coming from? For instance in British Columbia when a person leaves detox there are dozens of safe places to go. They can stay, take programs, in some cases for months on end. The Nova Scotia government has no safe places but will send people home stating this is the best treatment for addiction. When evidence base is mentioned, please include all the facts.

It is obvious people making these changes know little about addiction and the changes could be dangerous to people fighting this disease. Treatment for addiction has never been broken in this province — why recreate the wheel? I ask, anyone who’s had a problem or knows someone else who has, stand up against these changes and be heard. Like any chronic disease, addiction should be treated with care and compassion, not with the flippant manner shown in these changes.

This is just another way to cut costs. The health minister should take a close look at what is going on and the advice he is provided with. The process of addiction has never changed and the process of recovery has not changed. I suggest that those giving this advice get their nose out of a book and get out in the field, see what really goes on in detox. I’m sure you will not be in a hurry to change a thing.

I believe everyone is affected when it comes to addiction. Please call your MLA, let government know you won’t stand for these cuts. God forbid you or a family member may need what was offered in a detox unit.

Grant Polley, Abercrombie


YouTube video

This 1988 exchange between the cigarette-smoking, booze-swilling broadcasters Peter Gzowski and Jack Webster is great fun. I was especially taken by Webster’s answer to the question, “What will it be said of you after you’re gone?”:

When the next generation of reporters are gathered around, they might say of Webster, “well, he was a bit of an old twit. But he tried to be a reporter, he tried to be fair, and he certainly was a very useful irritant on the body politic. And he set a good example to those with critical capacity, and that it is to be agin the government, regardless of who the government is.”

h/t Ellen O’Neill


Police Commission (12:30pm, City Hall) — a few items of note:

— former commissioners Fred Honsberger and Mike Morash are bringing their proposal to jump start the commission to the meeting. The short of it is they want to commission to actually do stuff besides congratulating cops for doing a good job and rubber-stamping budgets. I’m reading their proposal now, and will report back in the new year.

— the establishment of a Halifax Regional Police Foundation (HRPF). Back in 2013, it was discovered that Mary Louise MacDonald, then the Benefits Administrator for the Halifax Regional Police Association (the police officers’ union), had stolen about $623,000 from the association, “employing various techniques, including using a chequing account that was intended for HRP’s Annual Employee Gala.” This was money that a trusting public donated to the cops, evidently unaware that most “give to the policeman’s ball!” solicitations are outright fraud.

MacDonald attempted suicide after the bank alerted the cops to the fraud. She subsequently claimed she stole the money to feed a gambling addiction. Last year, MacDonald was convicted on two counts of fraud and sentenced to two years in prison; additionally, the union has a civil judgment against her for $620,830. “It is embarrassing for a member of the police family to have committed the crime,” union president Mark Hartlan told judge Flora Buchan. “We’re supposed to be protectors, yet we can’t protect ourselves.”

[Insert here a snide remark about how the cops are more than capable of levelling charges when someone defrauds the Policeman’s Ball but are incapable of levelling charges when someone defrauds a dead woman and a bunch of charities…]

In any event, in the wake of that disaster, former commissioner Philip Reid said that maybe some tighter financial controls should be put on donations intended to benefit the cops, and so he suggested the formation of the HRPF, which would be either a registered charity of its own or a newly created division under the umbrella of the existing Community Foundation of Nova Scotia. Either way, says the staff report, “This Foundation would be used to fund ancillary community-based programs and projects. Examples of such specific support would be the purchasing of electronic equipment for after-school community programming, sports equipment and other supplies to enhance existing or nascent programs. Support would not be provided for sponsorships of community groups and entities, but for specific initiatives and purchases.” Apparently the cops will have to pay for their own Ball. The foundation would be funded through the sale of Halifax Regional Police swag, McGruff the Crime Dog T-shirts and the like.

Today, the commission will get the ball rolling on the proposal, agreeing to start studying it.

— Ted Upshaw, the Public Safety Officer, will give an update on the recent spate of shootings, presumably meaning how the community has responded to the shootings.

On campus

No events on our radar.

In the harbour

Maule. Photo: Halifax Examiner
Maule. Photo: Halifax Examiner

5:45am: Maule, container ship, moves from Anchorage to Fairview Cove
6:30am: CSL Tacoma, bulker, arrives at National Gypsum from Savannah, Georgia
11am: Baltimore Highway, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Bremerhaven, Germany
Noon: Silia T, oil tanker, sails from Bedford Basin Anchorage for sea
10pm: Baltimore Highway, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea


Cal at Strange Adventures (Prince & Water Streets, across from the Maritime Museum) tweets:

tshirts from the @HfxExaminer are here! $20 each and all funds goes to support the Halifax Examiner

— Strange Adventures (@strangeadventrz) December 15, 2016

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. I will never attend another BS thing put on by some BS Jargon named establishment, I will no longer be doing anything, my schedule is free from here to eternity

  2. When I saw the tender for Lean Six Sigma training, my first thought was to wonder if that was still the in thing. I trained as a green belt a decade ago, learning fancy new words to cover concepts like “making defective products is wasteful.” However, the training gave the appearance of much corporate effort being done to improve efficiency, without actually making anything more efficient. Meanwhile, management continued to do whatever they wanted to do, using Lean Six Sigma as the justification. The company eventually because a subsidiary of one of its competitors.

  3. re: transcribing the podcast

    You could look for volunteers like the EAC did for the “Shades of Green” radio show. You could also look into seeing if a dictation program like Dragon might be able to be trained to at least pick up the words from the recording being played & then someone could go into the file afterwards and add the punctuation & names of speakers.

    A good transcriptionist should be able to transcribe it at a rate of 1:3 or 1:4 (so 3x-4x the length of the recording). I’m sure there are probably graduate students or research associates who would be willing to do it if you’re able to pay. The rate for transcribing usually increases based off of experience and how technical the language is in the recording.

  4. Peter and Jack were fun to listen to and absolute terrors (language toned down) to be with. But by the thunderin’ they knew radio!

    Hateful, stupid, useless gobbledegook new management tools – hated every one I went to in the day; lasted longer than many; got stuff done anyway.

  5. BTW, if anyone wants to read an interesting history of the ancestors of things like Lean Sigma Six, at least up to 1948, I’d recommend the classic ‘Mechanization Takes Command’ by Sigfried Giedion. It is long out of print but urban libraries will have it and I think it is online as a pdf.

    Even though he was writing in his second language, the book is in plain, robust English and not in modern managementese or sociological jargon. The history of efficiency and standardization in manufacturing, design and management is largely a means to explain some other points he wants to make, but the history lesson is exhaustive (to 1948, as I say) and well worth reading.

  6. Re: Assad

    Maybe not the best thing to get into, but I’m pleased that the legitimate government of Syria appears to be winning. Remember that time the Americans and NATO bombed Libya and it became a liberal democracy? They couldn’t do the same thing this time because Putin wisely intervened and imposed a no-fly zone with antiaircraft batteries. Arming and providing medical aid (with no prison afterwards) to ‘moderate rebels’ wasn’t enough.

    This conflict is about pipelines not Assad being a big meanie.

    1. It’s also good to remember that the conflict in Syria is not actually a civil war. Positing as such perhaps disguises the real reasons this is happening to that country. The propaganda that is being spread about this conflict is shameful.

  7. Re: Tim Woods
    As soon as I started reading the Lean Six Sigma bafflegab my bullshit antenna immediately went up and I thought of another Tim – Tim Merry. I wondered if the guy who brought us the World Café, sticky note fad was on to something new and even bolder. “Lean” appears to be the current big word, so why wouldn’t Mr. Merry embrace it. On a quick search (pg. 1) I noticed that he had indeed become a purveyor of the Lean Start-up “Movement”. It remains to be seen if this is a step towards obtaining the Lean Six Sigma franchise, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

    What if this movement has been brought to the attention of Halifax mandarins by one Tim Merry? And what if Mr. Merry is in the process of getting the necessary certifications to become the only local entity with the “qualifications” to supply this remarkable and, let’s face it, bold system of managing people and other “resources”? Something to look forward to in the new year, I guess. Personally, I would prefer to see the city spend the time and money on a decent web site.

  8. RE: the cranky letter of the day

    Mr. Polley is not wrong. Addictions staffing and programs are being changed, downsized and cut across the province. It is an issue that needs more attention paid. Front line workers are concerned. Clients are concerned. Everyone should be concerned.

  9. this makes my crown chakra ache, yet I am nothing but a bunch of particles swirling around lookin for a good time, so that some other particles will reward this conciousness with the creation of some other particles. Enlightment, lose the attachments, to ego, to material.

    Create a learning tool that will help stressed out managers feel good, like a $$$ bonus for the Pheonix Playroll system. Stressed out managers can leggo they Ego!

  10. Lean Six Sigma is nothing new, and stripped of the gobbledygook, has some good ideas in it once you decipher what the manuals are talking about. The training seems silly, making paper airplanes and arranging Smarties and such, but really, there are some good ideas behind the bad writing.

    Unfortunately, the part about listening to the people who are actually doing the work — I mean really listening and respecting their views and experience and making them equals in the process – before making management decisions is routinely ignored. This is nothing unusual in many companies because managers don’t want to take the time to find out in detail what people are doing, and why they are doing it, before coming up with a new scheme. That takes a lot of time, and offends the egos of managers who think they know better anyway.

    Lean Six Sigma is just a modern form of Taylorism, but as I keep arguing, the original F. W. Taylor at least went to the shop floor and spent a lot of time with workers to establish what was a reasonable benchmark for a process before he came up with benchmarks and processes.

    Also, “we always did it this way” isn’t supposed to be an automatic reason to destroy a process by ax-swinging managers. You first have to ferret out what the underlying reason for that process was, and then see if circumstances now permit a better way to do it. You should at first assume that someone intelligent did it for a good reason,even if that reason may now be lost to corporate memory because there is nobody left who remembers why the process was established. Kind of like saying “this wall has always been here and nobody can say why this wall is there, out with it!”, knocking it down, and having the roof fall in.

    The concept of the kaizen meeting, which is supposed to be a form of dispassionate, friendly, honest, and open debriefing to improve processes, particularly after a fuck-up, to improve things for the next time, either isn’t conducted or is conducted in a blame-casting manner. They end up being like one of those re-education sessions the Maoists used to hold. Again, egos get in the way, and most times, the workers doing the actual work aren’t part of the kaizen conversation between departments, except second-hand through the filter of a manager with corporate and personal turf to protect.

    Effectiveness is supposed to be the goal, and efficiency just a means to get there. The classic example was the manufacturing of Toyotas a few years back — very efficient, but being shipped with major flaws. As someone once said to me, “It doesn’t do any good to be efficient, if you are just efficiently shipping shit.” But in practice, managers still make decisions which they claim are Lean Six Sigma compliant, while reducing the value of the product to the ultimate consumer. Kind of like taking the extra pickle or slice of cheese off the burger because it saves money and you think nobody will notice. They do notice, and they resent it, and will seek another burger joint. Or, perhaps, putting a newspaper out by getting rid of an expert workforce and instead using a staff of slap-head scabs who are inept even by the standards of scabs. Efficient and lean, I suppose, but ultimately not effective for your business.

    Finally, the continuous improvement process is supposed to be dependent on data and not anecdote or gut feeling. One of the reasons the implementation tends to fail is, again, either management ego ignores the good data because it tells them things they don’t want to hear, or the data is unreliable or incomplete because of the method used to collect and/or analyze it. Quite often, data collection is done by managers not trained in such things, or who have an interest in having it show a desired result. Even setting egos and turf-protection aside, they fall prey to any number of common logical fallacies in interpreting the data, particularly confirmation bias and the survivor fallacy.

    My prediction is that Halifax won’t be much different. Also, a municipality is not a private corporation, out to maximize profit for shareholders. It is a democratically elected government. Democracy and politics are messy and often illogical. Even in the Maritimes we can’t ignore that.

    1. My experience with those sorts of systems are in the context of a company that was um, top heavy, because during boom times they hired more management, who never saw the need to lay themselves off along with the workers during busts. So you get a lot of managers with too little to do and as you said, turf to protect.

    2. Tim, I agree with you wholeheartedly. My partner and I have been saying this for years (although not quite as intricately and eloquently as you just did.) It’s sad how companies and organizations keep making the same mistake year after year after year. It seems so simple, really–to ask those who do the work every day what their experience is and what their ideas for improvement are and what they feel needs to stay the same. The failure rate is astounding.

    3. Well said Tim. These management theories aren’t all bullshit, they are derived from successes. As you’ve pointed out, the issues come with poor implementation, or attempting to apply a theory where its not appropriate.

    4. Well said. I would add the challenge even with using data to make decisions is people tend to measure based on what they can measure, rather than measure something meaningful that actually represents success. This is often because success is hard to measure. I can come up with KPIs for $ saved per quarter, but it’s harder to measure more intangible value.

  11. Six Sigma, Kepner-Tregoe, all these “new” systems are garbage.

    In various places I’ve worked, corporate head offices cling to them as the next great thing, while the staff, already overworked, end up feeling even more over-worked and micro-managed to boot. People end up half-assing it for a while until it just goes away. Millions of dollars wasted later, no less.

    Long gone are the days of real-world experience, troubleshooting and working through a process in a logical manner. Now everything has to be streamlined/refined/documented in a specific way.

    No one really takes these things seriously, except those who are new to their industry, and have dumped thousands of dollars into these systems, so they can look flashy.

  12. Re: Lean Six Sigma Training:Gobblygook, jargon and please just speak english! We are starting to identify financial sleight of hand but this speaking in words that only “the in people” understand ,rasies the hackles on my back .

  13. The Ford Brothers in Toronto were also heavily into Lean Six Sigma. Doug Ford would talk about it seemingly every week on his and Rob’s NewsTalk 1010 radio program.