A meteor exploded over Halifax last night, and the flash was seen as far away as Cape Breton Island and PEI. The explosion was caught by the Nova Scotia Webcam attached to the Westin Hotel
2. Rewriting history
Yesterday, I pointed out that on the city’s website, all past references to “Metro Transit” had been changed to “Halifax Transit,” even years before the transit system had been rebranded. I asked the city for an explanation of the change, and got a reply from city spokesperson Tiffany Chase, as follows:
Thanks for bringing this to our attention. It appears a global ‘search and replace’ was undertaken last year at the time of Metro Transit’s rebranding to Halifax Transit to ensure consistency of language on the transit web pages. We were unaware until this morning that this unintentionally affected historical html based records on our website, including our archived news releases and public service announcements.
We’ve advised our IT and Web Services staff and they have told us that it’s a simple fix to amend the affected records back to reflect the name Metro Transit based on specific dates. Therefore all html based records prior to the July 14, 2014 announcement of the name change to Halifax Transit will be changed back to Metro Transit.
With respect to the governance policy around web content changes, essentially all material changes to the website must go through our corporate communications department. This was an administrative oversight that we are addressing now that it’s been brought to our attention. Please note no material content was affected or changed, but we will be sure to consider and flag the unintended consequence of global changes like this with the ongoing Halifax.ca website transformation project.
Well, no harm done, I guess. I accept the explanation and trust that it was all an honest mistake. Still, it seems like some greater protocol should be in place here. Maybe now that I’ve pointed out the problem it will be.
It’s been a week since the Big Dump of 2015™, and the cleanup continues. Outside of the downtown core and main arterials, most sidewalks are still impassable.
Yesterday, I discussed the cleanup efforts with Darrin Natolino, the city’s manager of winter operations. I don’t have time right now to relate the whole conversation, but I was struck by a point of disagreement we had. Natolino maintains that plows equipped with snowblowers are clearing sidewalks in Halifax. I told him that in my 11 winters in Halifax, I’ve never seen such a thing — not in my Dartmouth neighbourhood, nor anywhere else, for that matter.
In fact, I’ve published lists of all the machinery used by the contractors who clear the residential streets on the peninsula, and there’s not a snowblower on them. It’s possible that the main arterials, which are cleared by other contractors, may be cleaned by snowblowers, but I’ve never seen them.
How ’bout it, readers: Does the contractor who clears the sidewalk in front of your house use a snowblower?
Yesterday’s meeting of Halifax council was boring and, besides a convoluted property dispute that didn’t interest me at all, mostly pointless.
The biggest potential issue on the agenda were two reports on the Khyber building, which I used as the excuse to publish a secret document I’ve been sitting on for a while: a January 2013 assessment of the Khyber building performed by Capital Management Engineering Limited, which pegged the costs of stabilizing the building at just under $2 million. So far as I can determine, however, that CMEL report was never given to city council, and was never made public. Instead, just two months later, in a report dated March 26, 2013 that was given to council, city staff put the cost of recapitalizing the building at $4,150,945 — more than twice as much.
Yesterday, however, council did not discuss the Khyber. Instead, councillor Waye Mason asked that the issue be discussed at council’s April 14 meeting, and the rest of council agreed to that plan. I’ll be discussing the Khyber with Mason for this week’s edition of the Examineradio podcast.
Peter Ziobrowski gives an interesting history of tramways, horse-drawn carriages, etc, in Halifax, which is worth a read. I found this particularly interesting:
The Halifax City Railroad was inaugurated in June 1866, and ran from the foot of Inglis Street to Duffus Street in the north, terminating at the Nova Scotia Railway station in Richmond. Cars ran on the line every fifteen minutes from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. until 1874, when frequency increased to every ten minutes between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m.
If only we had such frequent transit runs today.
Ziobrowski couches his post in the context of a horse vs car argument. Horses were dirty; they shat and pissed all over the streets, bred disease, they provided uncomfortable rides, etc. And, “the motor car was seen as a savior from the muck, and a tool to improve the heath of cities.”
But this is a false dichotomy, I think. No one contests that the horse-filled city was by our modern sensibilities disgusting. And I’ll take Ziobrowski’s word for it that many more pedestrians were killed by horses than are now killed by cars.
“The past was worse” isn’t an excuse to not care about present-day threats. Six workers died in the 1950s during the construction of the Macdonald Bridge; should we shrug away the death of, say, four workers during this year’s re-decking project because, well, it’s not as bad as it was?
There’s no question that we’ve made progress in terms of pedestrian safety, and Ziobrowski gives us some of that history:
William Phelps Eno was trained as an architect, however went on to become the Father of Traffic Control. In his books, he writes of the chaos he experienced in streets of New York, Paris and Italy, and how pedestrians had few safe places of refuge. As a boy, He rode velocipedes, early pedal-less bicycles in Paris. Though he died in 1945, he never possessed a driver license and was unable to drive himself.
Eno is credited with the creation of the first traffic code, which he did in 1903 for New York City. He is also credited with the invention of the crosswalk, stop sign, stop light, yield sign, the pedestrian island, the traffic circle and the one way street. Born in 1851, more then half his life was spent before the widespread adoption of the automobile. His primary goal in traffic control was to reduce the number of accidents caused by horse-drawn vehicles.
His code for New York explicitly gave right of way to road traffic.
I have no problem acknowledging that in 1903 such innovations resulted in fewer pedestrians being killed. But there were all sorts of unintended consequences from giving the drivers of cars more rights than people on foot, which would later come to haunt us: suburban sprawl, decaying downtowns as the critical mass needed for a thriving business scene was given over to streets and parking lots, a soulless car-oriented architecture, and ultimately the dehumanization of our urban fabric.
It would be madness to say that because a century or so ago giving cars priority saved some lives, we should never again revisit the issue, never look at what’s happened in the intervening years, never consider how we might make cities safer still for pedestrians. In fact, plenty of people have looked at these issues, and we have a good idea how to improve pedestrian safety in urban areas: #1, slow down the cars; give the right-of-way back to pedestrians; widen sidewalks, narrow streets; increase transit so people don’t need to drive in the first place; institute Leading Pedestrian Intervals at the busiest pedestrian intersections; increase restrictions on right-turn-on-red; etc.
2. Old people
We’re not leaving our provincial debt to our children and grandchildren, says Paul Schneidereit — they’ll simply move away:
So it’s not the children and grandchildren I’d be worried about. Like many before them, if good job opportunities aren’t available, if taxes and fees keep rising, they won’t be here to inherit the mess, they’ll leave for greener pastures.
It’s those of us who are, or relatively soon will be, retired — and will be counting on those health services being there — who should be worried.
Schneidereit has it mostly right, but misses that old people, too, can move away. There’s a bit of truth to the “sky is falling” demographic challenge we’re facing, but at some point there are self-correcting measures. If there aren’t enough young people to pay the taxes and provide the care needed to service a generation in retirement, then the old folks will find some place to retire where there are.
I realize that’s a rather cold view of it. There’s a great attachment to place here in Nova Scotia, which sometimes is baffling. I’ve seen talented young people with promising future careers abort those careers and find some survival job just to stay in Nova Scotia. We should wish more for our young people; if it means getting outtahere to thrive, they should. Go west, young person!
Same with the olds. If you’re really worried about high taxes eating away at your meagre life savings (I think that’s mostly a myth, but if you are…), or if you can’t get the minimum-wage worker to dispense your meds correctly, or if the three feet of snow is too much, there’s nothing keeping you here. Go south, old person!
Of course we care about the place we live, and we should try to do right by it, be responsible stewards of the environment, the society, and governance health of the place. “It’s OK to thrash the place because we can all leave” is about as irresponsible as it gets. But people gotta do what they gotta do, and they will.
2. Cranky letter of the day
Scott Cote is correct when he says “no currently employed teacher will openly comment on issues and problems with the curriculum.” He claims they must be “content with the status quo.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. Teachers, the front-line workers in the education system, are frustrated beyond belief. If a currently employed teacher decided to write a letter to the editor, contact a school board member with a complaint or suggestion, or express an opinion on education in an interview, the teacher would immediately be disciplined. Repeat the offence and the teacher would, in all likelihood, be fired.
Teachers know what bullying looks like because they’ve been bullied into a conspiracy of silence. They see first-hand the negative effects of policies on student performance, staff morale, and their ability to do their duties. But they are silenced, not by choice, but by the threat of dismissal.
What teacher with at least six years of university debt to pay off, a new career and a family to support would be willing to, as Mr. Cote says, “have the intestinal fortitude to stand up for the kids”? None. But know this, Mr. Cote: the silence within the teaching profession has nothing to do with intestinal fortitude; it has everything to do with keeping your job.
Kevin O’Brien, Pictou, 33 years a teacher
City council (10am, City Hall)—budget deliberations continue. Today council will look at the fire services review. I’ll be there.
Heritage Advisory Committee (2pm, City Hall)—the committee will look at creating a Heritage Conservation District in Schmidtville.
Plan Dutch Village Road (6pm, Fairview Legion)—this “community workshop” is intended to draw up a new set of planning rules for the Dutch Village Road corridor. It’s badly needed, but these sort of planning exercises sometimes seem purposefully intended to increase citizen cynicism: get dozens of people to commit hundreds of hours of their time and attention to draw up a plan for their community, then put the plan on a shelf somewhere. Twenty years later, repeat. Hope I’m wrong; more information here.
Public Accounts (9am, Province House)—Chief Information Officer Sandra Cascadden will be asked about the governance of IT operations.
International Perspectives on Science and Economics (Wednesday, 12:30pm, Mona Campbell Building, Rooms 1110, 1111, 3110 and 3207)—third year students in Dalhousie’s China Program in Economics and students from the Science without Borders initiative with Brazil will give their perspective on “policy matters, international trade, sustainable development, consumer behaviours and interesting topics on science and engineering.”
Honours Student Seminars, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology (Wednesday, 4pm, Theatre D, CRC Building)—no further information is given, but I guess it’s self-explanatory.
Pitfall (Wednesday, 8pm, Dalhousie Art Gallery)—André De Toth’s 1948 Film Noir: “Dick Powell plays a returning vet with an ideal family life, yet he risks it all for a woman who is also being pursued by a thuggish PD played by Noir’s favourite heavy, Canuck Raymond Burr.”
Climate Change Adaptation, Coastal Governance, and Community Resilience: Vignettes from a Global Review (Wednesday, 4pm, Loyola 271)—Ahmed Khan, a post-doc, will present.
I’ve long been vaguely wary of the We Day festivities held at the $48 NSF Fee Centre every year, where busloads of schoolchildren are supposedly taught to stop being little shits and to start caring about the world. The city throws a bunch of money into this because Think of the kids!
The for-profit parent corporation that runs We Day is called Me to We, created by Craig and Marc Kielburger, who also have a nonprofit foundation.
This past week, Jesse Brown at Canadaland has been reporting on how the CBC’s Fifth Estate had scheduled a documentary titled Volunteers Unleashed, which looked at the “dark side” of volunteerism. That documentary, however, was at the last minute pulled from the schedule and replaced with something else. I’m told that it actually did air here in Atlantic Canada, but I haven’t been able to verify that. Regardless, a source has given me the entire documentary, and it’s as Brown describes:
So what’s in it?
Nothing crazy. Volunteers Unleashed is a well-reported and decidedly mild critique of the booming volunteer travel industry. Without dismissing volunteer travel entirely, the film shows how it might not be so great to send well-meaning college kids to dodgy foreign orphanages where they form emotional bonds with impoverished children for a few weeks and then take off forever, repeating the trauma of abandonment all over again. Also, using Africans as practice patients for Western kids who couldn’t get into Med school might be less than ideal. Overall, Volunteers Unleashed is every bit a CBC documentary, in a good way: it’s nothing incendiary, but it offers an even-handed introduction to a troubling issue you might otherwise never have known about. It should be seen.
So why wasn’t it?
We looked into it and confirmed that the reason Volunteers Unleashed was pulled was due to “concerns” raised by Craig Kielburger’s Me to We, the for-profit sister company to his Free the Children charity. Me to We pops up a couple of times in Volunteers Unleashed. Kielburger happened to be wrapping a stint as a CBC Canada Reads panelist on the day the doc was set to air.
Officially, CBC says the doc was temporarily pulled due to a “copyright issue” and will be “re-edited and re-scheduled”. Free the Children similarly told us that it was the CBC’s use of “unauthorized footage” that led to their complaint.
Brown, who evidently has better video editing skills than do I, has posted the offending parts of the documentary to YouTube; you can watch them here:
To give some philosophical context to the issue, read The “Me to We” social enterprise: Global education as lifestyle brand, a 2012 paper written by David Jefferess, an English prof at UBC, who makes the point that:
To the degree that Me to We works within the humanitarian framework, it relies upon common tropes of development discourse that simplify global relations of power. For instance, the Other in need is produced as an object of pity, and social inequalities are represented as reflecting a dichotomy of the fortunate and the unfortunate.
Craig explained that poverty is caused by local governments that are not sustainable and by population growth, which strains resources and fosters violent competition. The reason poverty persists in Africa, he claims, is because Canada has not provided sufficient or effective development aid. While the Kielburgers acknowledge that “racism still exists, colonialism has given way to neocolonialism, and inequality is still rampant” (2006, p. 192), and in the speech Craig does acknowledge the problems of tied aid and debt, their proposed solution reaffirms the role of North Americans to provide more and better aid, rather than challenge neo-colonial relationships that (re)produce poverty.
Such formulations of global inequality and “our” place in the world, which are repeated in the various ways that “Me to We” presents its philosophy, avoid the complexity of global relations and ignore the possibility that we might be complicit in structures of inequality.
In the harbour
Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro cargo, arrived from Saint-Pierre this morning, at Pier 41
ZIM Tarragona, container ship, to Pier 42, the sails to sea
Florida Highway, car carrier, Emden, Germany to Autoport
Canopus Leader sails to sea
I’ll be on the Sheldon MacLeod Show, News 95.7 FM, today at 4pm.
Also, I walked by the Nova Centre site yesterday… I’ve got 20 bucks that says the announced Sept. 30, 2016 “substantial completion” date, which was delayed from the contractually obligated January 1, 2016 substantial completion date, won’t be met. Any takers?