1. Studenting While Black

Shelby McPhee

“On June 2, Black graduate student Shelby McPhee was accused by two white women of stealing a laptop while he was attending the Black Canadian Studies Association session at the 88th annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences held at the University of British Columbia,” writes El Jones:

The white women, Congress attendees, asked to see proof that he was a registered member of Congress, and then followed and photographed him before calling the RCMP. McPhee was illegally detained and questioned until a representative for the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences arrived. The representative spoke to the white women first, and only spoke with McPhee once the police confirmed he had been exonerated.

Congress Connie and Conference Carol join Permit Patty, Cornerstore Caroline, and BBQ Becky in the annals of white women calling the police on Black people for simply existing in space.

This kind of racial profiling isn’t even new to academia. In 2018, Sarah Braasch called the police on Black Yale graduate student Lolade Siyonbola for taking a nap in the common room. At Smith College, an employee called the police on student Oumou Kanoute for eating lunch. At VCU, a fellow professor called the police on adjunct faculty member Caitlin Cherry for sitting in her classroom eating breakfast. The list goes on and on.

If anyone was surprised by this latest outburst of white profiling in British Columbia, it was only those people who persist in believing, despite repeated evidence, that this kind of thing doesn’t happen in Canada. And, perhaps given the outsize media coverage devoted to the idea that universities are filled with Black and brown people oppressing the free speech of white men, it might be shocking to people that, in fact, universities remain overwhelmingly hostile to Black people.

Jones goes on to make some observations about the role of white women in such racial profiling:

Historically, it was white women who frequently led the fight for school segregation, using their roles as mothers to advocate for the exclusion of Black people. White women advocated for the vote for white women under the logic that as freed Black men were granted the vote; allowing white women to vote would help maintain white supremacy. In Canada, the Famous Five were instrumental in spreading eugenics ideology and advocating for eugenic practices. Despite the shock many white commentators felt that this racial profiling would happen in a “progressive” space, the reality is that feminist, liberal white women have always participated in anti-Blackness.

Click here to read “Studenting While Black.”

2.  Clearcuts

Recent drone shot of a clearcut located between Kejimkujik National Park and Lake Rossignol. Photo courtesy Jeff Purdy.

We’ve taken Linda Pannozzo’s latest piece, “Truth Be Told,” out from behind the paywall.

“The Nova Scotia Department of Lands and Forestry (DLF) recently hired DG Communications, a public relations firm, to assess the department’s progress in meeting the recommendations of William Lahey’s Independent Review of Forest Practices, specifically in terms of Lahey’s calls for increased transparency and engagement with the public,” reported Pannozzo:

The firm, headed by Pam Davidson, has also done PR work in the past for Northern Pulp, and the Forest Products Association of Nova Scotia (now Forest Nova Scotia) an organization representing the province’s industrial forestry players.

DLF spokesperson Lisa Jarrett tells me that hiring the firm is part of the government’s “response” to Lahey’s Review and that the department is “committed to improve and demonstrate a culture of openness, transparency, collaboration, and accountability.”

How’s that “culture of openness, transparency, collaboration, and accountability” going?

Pannozzo walked us through the province’s Harvest Plans Map Viewer — “a tool the government introduced in the spring of 2016  to ‘improve public engagement on planned fibre harvests’” — and, using comparisons between the map viewer and satellite photos, showed us how the map viewer actually obscures clearcuts, eliminating them completely.

Click here to read “Truth Be Told.”

3. Richard Butts

Richard Butts. Photo: Halifax Examiner

“Nova Scotia’s privacy commissioner is recommending Halifax release the full details of an eight-year-old employment offer to its former top bureaucrat and highest-paid employee,” reports Zane Woodford for Star Halifax:

In November 2015, an unnamed member of the media made an application under Freedom-of-Information legislation for former chief administrative officer Richard Butts’ employment contract. The applicant was told the terms of Butts’ employment were recorded in a letter of offer, and so the applicant sought that document.

The municipality initially withheld the letter of offer and eventually released a redacted version in March 2019.

The letter of offer, signed by former mayor Peter Kelly and dated March 1, 2011, offered Butts the job of chief administrative officer (CAO), the municipality’s top unelected job, starting March 28, 2011. His starting salary was $285,000.

Butts accepted the offer and worked as CAO till January 2016, when he left to go work for a local development company.

Aside from Butts’ and Kelly’s signatures and Butts’ address, nine phrases or full paragraphs are redacted from the letter of offer…

I remember when Butts first showed up at City Hall. He brought an air of professionalism that had eluded his predecessors, was always sharply dressed and stood while addressing council. I had high hopes for him. But within about a year or two he seemed to frump out, rushing into council chambers like he had just gotten out of bed, and he was clearly bored and perturbed by the job, slouching his way through meetings. Worse, city staffers were meeting with me secretly to tell me of Butts’ high-handed dictatorial manner. And then he got hired off by one of the biggest developers in town, and in a civilized world his dealings with the city would be deemed a clear conflict of interest.

So yeah, I’d like to see that entire contract.

4. Waterfront development job

Last month, I complained about a job ad for a custodian position at Develop Nova Scotia (formerly, Waterfront Development):

“$12.50/hour at 35 hours/week is about $22,000/year,” I wrote. “No one can live decently on that wage, college degree or not. I’ve long argued that government agencies should adopt a living wage policy; in Halifax, that means pay of about $20/hour. A living wage would increase the pay for the waterfront custodian to about $35,000/year. That’s the difference between abject poverty and the ability to walk through life with dignity, if not comfort.”

Yesterday, Suzanne Rent alerted me to a reposting of the ad. The position now pays “$12.00 to $15.00 per hour (commensurate with experience)” and the degree preference has been dropped. That’s a tiny bit of progress, I guess, but not nearly enough.

5. Gold

I’ve been reading the financial press about companies prospecting for gold in Nova Scotia. As with pretty much everything else in the financial press, there’s a lot of blather, unfounded speculation, stock hyping, and so forth, so I take it all with a grain of sand.

There is, however, a claim that at least some Canadian investment companies that traditionally focused on mining have found it more lucrative to invest in cannabis companies than in further prospecting, which is why the Australian mining companies have stepped in to the void to buy up the smaller prospecting outfits in places like Nova Scotia. That might all be bullshit, but it’s a good tale.

But talk about your hype. One article looks at something called MegumaGold, which is operating on the eastern shore:

Last month, MegumaGold revealed promising results from ongoing exploration at its Ecum Secum property, including one sample in waste rock piles associated with previous mining, that graded as high as 49.8 grams per ton gold. Also found were grades of 49.8 g/t gold, 9.5 g/t, 7 g/t and 5/2 g/t.

That’s right, they’re digging through old tailings. Further:

Earlier this year, Meguma’s chief executive officer, Regan Isenor, outlined to Proactive the reasons behind the resurgence of interest in Nova Scotia.

“Typically in Nova Scotia, everyone was always after the high-grade nuggety style quartz-hosted gold, which is quite expensive to extract and it’s hard to build models off of that type of mineralization. Atlantic Gold, here in the province, has shown that the disseminated model of low-grade, bulk tonnage is really where the projects that are economically viable are going to be found.”

The “disseminated model” means that instead of digging one shaft down to get at a vein of ore, they’re going to dig up, well, everything.

Basically, the plan is to blow up Nova Scotia and see what’s there.


1. Oil industry and GHG emissions

“A while back I surmised that a return to politics by Svend Robinson would mean the NDP carrying a tougher position on climate change into the federal election campaign,” writes Richard Starr:

Although that still could happen, last week’s campaign-style release of the party’s 22-page Climate Plan “Power to Change, ” put that idea in jeopardy.

In January this year Robinson marked his return to electoral politics with a statement that is simply common sense if this country is serious about living up to its decade-old commitment of reducing its GHG emissions by something in the order of 30 per cent over the next ten years — we’ve got to tackle emissions from the oil and gas industry.

As Robinson put it in an interview with CTV: “This is an industry which we have to recognize is on the way out…We’ve got to leave most of the oil and gas in the ground and we’ve got to move to renewable energy.”

Despite this looming issue, there is nothing in the NDP climate plan specifically addressing emissions from oil and gas production. The parliamentary caucus’ climate emergency resolution, recently defeated in the House of Commons, called on the government to bring forward a climate action strategy that “does not proceed with the Trans mountain pipeline expansion.” The Climate Plan criticizes the Liberals for spending $4.5 billion on the pipeline, but doesn’t commit to stopping the proposed expansion.

Instead, the NDP plan unveiled a week ago yesterday in Montreal laid out what could be described as a “Liberal-in-a-hurry-with-chequebook” approach. Aside from a $15 billion price tag and some inclusive rhetoric, there was a familiar ring to specifics in the plan. Money for energy efficiency retrofits and public transit, further greening of the electrical grid, help to buy electric vehicles and transitional support for workers are things we’ve been hearing from federal governments going back as much as 20 years. The NDP will keep the most recent federal initiative — the carbon tax — but while promising to modify it to make large industrial emitters pay more, there’s nothing about the widely acknowledged need to keep increasing it once it hits the currently established ceiling of $50 a tonne in 2022.


I’ve been listening to the Gangster Capitalism podcast, the first season of which focuses on the college admissions scandal in the United States.

Unlike in Canada, in the U.S., “college” and “university” are used interchangeably, at least in common parlance — American alums from Harvard or Yale talk about their “college days,” for instance, and the entire admissions scandal is dubbed the college admissions scandal, not the university admissions scandal. So I’ve found it strange to be corrected by my Canadian friends for, say, referring to Dalhousie as “college.” The importance of underscoring the difference between college and university depicts a strange-to-me and unexpected class consciousness among Canadians. (Note to my American readers: if you think that’s weird, wait until I tell you about the flashing advance green.)

Anyway, class is at the core the college admissions scandal, and at its best, Gangster Capitalism depicts the stark contrasts in opportunity faced by the 1% and poor and middle-class youngsters, and the unfairness of it all. Episode 2 drills right into the racial implications: the money-making sports are football and basketball, where the athletes are primarily Black, and those money-making sports fund the boutique sports like rowing, where the athletes are primarily white; that set-up provided the opportunity for rich, white people to game the system.

An interview with a rowing instructor at a Los Angeles non-profit devoted to bringing underserved and underprivileged students into the sport is particularly poignant. The coach tells of a talented young girl from the wrong side of town — where she literally dodged bullets — who spent years devoted to improving her skills in hopes of landing a rowing scholarship into USC, only to find that the USC rowing coach had been bribed into filling scholarship positions with the children of Mossimo Giannulli and Lori Loughlin — wealthy white girls with no rowing experience, much less skill — displacing the deserving girl from the wrong side of town.

The podcast is worthy — I encourage you to listen — but there are two things about it that bother me.

It won’t surprise regular readers to learn that the first bothersome thing is the advertising in the podcast. In a podcast titled “Gangster Capitalism,” it’s jarring to have host Andrew Jenks pivot from explaining the inner workings of Rick Singer’s racketeering scheme to shilling for Zip Recruiter. Yes, I know, this is the world we live in, but still, couldn’t the ads be voiced by someone besides the host? The irony is a bit much for me.

The second bothersome thing is more substantive, and that’s that the podcast doesn’t much examine the notion of meritocracy that underscores the desire to go to a big name university in the first place.

For a broader discussion of meritocracy, listen to Daniel Markovits, a sort of philosopher of law. Markovits recently gave a lecture at the London School of Economics, in which he argued:

Merit is not a genuine excellence but rather a pretence, constructed to rationalise an offensive distribution of advantage. Merit, in short, is a sham.

The meritocratic ideal — that social and economic rewards should track achievement rather than breeding — anchors the self-image of the age. Aristocracy has had its day, and meritocracy is now a basic tenet of civil religion in all advanced societies.

Meritocracy promises to promote equality and opportunity by opening a previously hereditary elite to outsiders, armed with nothing save their own talents and ambitions. But today, middle-class children lose out to rich children at school, and middle-class adults lose out to elite graduates at work. At the same time, meritocracy entices an anxious and inauthentic elite into a pitiless, lifelong contest to secure income and status through its own excessive industry.

In spite of its promises, meritocracy in fact installs a new form of aristocracy, purpose-built for a world in which the greatest source of income and wealth is not land but human capital and free labor. And merit is not a genuine excellence but rather — like the false virtues that aristocrats trumpeted in the ancien régime — a pretense, constructed to rationalize an offensive distribution of advantage.

There’s a lot to chew on in Markovits’ lecture; it’s rare to hear such a resounding critique of the logic of our entire society.

As I was listening, I kept thinking about the young rower in Los Angeles, the girl from the wrong side of town, who was devoting hours a day working out and practicing in hopes of nabbing a scholarship that would give her opportunity and break her out of poverty.

Now, I have no problem with people diving headlong into whatever sport they enjoy — there’s great pleasure in discovering how one’s body works in the world and chasing athletic excellence for its own sake. But there’s something heart-wrenching about her story, and not just because the opportunities were stolen from her by a rigged system.

The entire meritocratic formulation is wrong from the get-go: Why should a poor girl from the wrong side of town have to become one of the state’s very best rowers just to break out of poverty? Couldn’t she just, you know, live? Like live a decent life. Love and be loved. Find joys where they present themselves. Have a job that is fulfilling and serves a useful social function without devoting her every conscious moment to it. Be whimsical, playful. Have friends. Why can’t she just be a human being and live well without being condemned to a life of poverty?

Meritocracy has stolen our humanity.




Public Information Meeting – Case 21946 (Wednesday, 7pm, Lebrun Recreation Centre, Bedford) — WSP Canada Inc. wants to build a five-storey, 73-unit apartment building at the corner of the Bedford Highway and Southgate Drive.


Appeals Standing Committee (Thursday , 10am, City Hall) — Lesianu Hweld is appealing the denial of a renewal of his taxi driving permit. Writes city staffer Sally Christie:

Upon review of the taxi driver license application package for renewal, the Licensing Authority determined that the driver abstract had several infractions leading to a suspension of Mr. Hweld’s Nova Scotia driver’s licence as well as a second suspension one month later. Both suspensions had been served by Mr. Hweld and the Licensing Authority was not made aware of either case.

Between August 16 – October 23, 2018, Mr. Hweld’s provincial driver’s license was suspended. The Licensing Authority confirmed with Yellow Cab, the company with whom Mr. Hweld is affiliated, that Mr. Hweld was driving under roof light #H199 and that his owner license #H175 was being driven by another driver during the suspension timeframe.

On October 21, 2018, Mr. Hweld had a collision while driving #H199. Halifax Regional Police confirmed that the collision occurred while suspended and he was charged as a result. The pending court date is July 2, 2019.

Between November 19, 2018 – October 21, 2019, Mr. Hweld was suspended again. This suspension was lifted by the Province on December 31, 2018. Yellow Cab confirmed that Mr. Hweld was driving during November 19 – December 31, 2018 while his provincial driver’s license was suspended. From November 19, 2018 until January 8, 2019, Yellow Cab confirmed that Mr. Hweld’s owner license #H175 was no longer receiving calls from the system.

In his appeal, Hweld claims ignorance: “I did not know my driver license is suspended,” he wrote, and English is obviously not his first language. “1st time, and the second time, and I was come from Africa After my father passed away. I did’t know violation of meter Vhicle is a crime, didn’t understandet well.”

Regional Watersheds Advisory Board (Thursday, 5pm, HEMDCC Meeting Space, Alderney Gate) — the board will discuss a pollution source control study for Lake Banook and Lake Micmac.

Commemoration Task Force – Public Engagement Session (Thursday, 6pm, Millbrook Community Centre) — more info here.

Public Information Meeting – Case 22140 (Thursday, 7pm, North Woodside Community Centre, Dartmouth) — M&K Golden Developments Inc, whose president is Joseph Sadek, a Psychiatry prof at Dal, wants to build a seven-storey, 50-unit apartment building at the corner of Pleasant Street and Chadwick Street in Dartmouth, just up from the courthouse and the community college. Judging by the architectural renderings of the proposal (above), Sadek is proposing to bury the electrical wires and rent to only super, super white people.



Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — Auditor General Michael Pickup will appear.

House of Assembly Management Commission (Wednesday, 11am, One Government Place) — the commission doesn’t meet that often; it sets finances for the operation of the legislature, including MLA salaries and the like.


No public meetings.

On campus



Modeling Term Associations for Searching and Analyzing LargeScale Text Data (Wednesday, 10am, Room 430, Goldberg Computer Science Building) — Jimmy Huang from York University will talk.

A novel model of increased mitochondrial cholesterol (Wednesday, 4pm, Theatre B, Tupper Medical Building) — Luke Hattie will talk.

An Honourable Life (Wednesday, 6:30pm, Dalhousie Art Gallery) — launch of Mayanne Francis’ memoir.


Thesis Defence, Computer Science (Thursday, 9am, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Behrouz Haji Soleimani will defend “Learning Embeddings for Text and Images from Structure of the Data.”

Who Shot the Elephant in Their Pajamas? Commonsense Reasoning for Natural Language Processing Systems (Thursday, 1:30pm, Room 430, Goldberg Computer Science Building) — Jackie Chi Kit Cheung from McGill University will talk. His abstract:

How do we know that elephants do not generally wear pajamas? Knowledge about possible, plausible, and likely events-or the lack thereof-is one of the main bottlenecks in developing intelligent natural language processing systems capable of fluid interactions with human users. In this talk, I will present our work on discovering and using such knowledge from the web for so-called commonsense reasoning tasks. I will describe an approach based on information retrieval applied to the entire indexed web to tackle the Winograd Schema Challenge (WSC), a difficult commonsense reasoning task that involves resolving pronominal anaphora. I will also discuss challenges in the evaluation of commonsense reasoning, examining claims about recent improvements on WSC benchmark results. Finally, I will describe our new KnowRef corpus, a set of pronoun disambiguation questions inspired by WSC which is an order of magnitude larger yet maintains much of the difficulty of WSC.

“Change Your World”: The Science of Resilience and the True Path to Success (Thursday, 6:30pm, Halifax Central Library) — public lecture and book launch by Michael Ungar. From the listing:

​Will the latest self-help book, new diet or a few minutes of meditation really change your life? Finally, a book that explains why self-help mostly fails, and what really works.

More info here.

Or, you could just watch this George Carlin clip:

YouTube video

In the harbour

07:45: Adventure of the Seas, cruise ship with up to 4,058 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Saint John, on a a six-day, roundtrip cruise out of New York
10:00: Grande Halifax, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Valencia, Spain
15:30: Grande Halifax sails for sea
17:30: Adventure of the Seas sails for New York


I’ll be on The Sheldon MacLeod Show, News 95.7, at 2pm.

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  1. In Canada, as in the UK, places like Dal are universities. College usually refers to a community college, although confusingly, universities can have what they call colleges within them. I don’t see it as any big class distinction issue. It is just a difference in terminology. It isn’t even accurate in the US to say college, because the schools are specifically named universities, not colleges.

    In the US having gone to certain universities is a big deal in certain jobs. I have heard it explained (on podcasts, so not any peer-reviewed study) that this is because there is a huge difference in quality between the big-name US universities and the others which largely isn’t the case in Canada. In fact the podcasters specifically mentioned Canada in this context.

    This is a bit of a stretch for Canada when it comes to certain professions and careers though – if you have a law degree from Dal or U of T you are generally seen as being on the high end as opposed to, say, the University of Windsor. As a practical matter this is bullshit – some of the best, most practical courtroom and deal-making lawyers I’ve worked with were from University of Windsor, possibly succeeding partly because other lawyers expected so little from them.

    But on the whole, what university you went to in Canada to get your degree isn’t as big a deal as in the United States. My nephew had a job in Washington DC for a while, and he couldn’t get over the obsession his coworkers had with what university a person had attended. He said the only Canadian university they had heard of was McGill.

  2. Tales of the meritocracy.

    Amy “Tiger Mom” Chua and husband Jeb Rubenfeld – both teaching at Yale Law – write letters of support for abuser Kavanaugh for the US Supreme court.

    Brett Kavanaugh just hired as his clerk Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld (whose parentage you can easily figure out).

    Chua the mom was accused of advising women at Yale Law that physical attractiveness and femininity were important in being hired by Kavanaugh. She denied this and claimed that all that mattered to Kavanaugh was “excellence”.

    Excellence in the mertocratic world = child of someone who will suck up to me

  3. The college / university thing is different in different provinces. Not necessarily interchangeable, but in BC the distinction between them is less than in some other provinces. When I moved from BC to Ontario, no one believed I took first-year university courses at a college (especially since I only had grade 12 – not considered graduation in Ontario where, at the time, they had grade 13).

    In BC, a flashing green light is a pedestrian-controlled light for crosswalks. Don’t expect oncoming traffic to stop for your left turn.