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1. Wait, we’re getting physician assistants? Er, not quite

A stethoscope sits on a wooden desk beside a laptop. We see what appear to be a woman's hands resting on the keys of the laptop.
We don’t have physician assistants in Nova Scotia, so we are reduced to stock photos. Photo: National Cancer Institute / Unsplash

In his column this week, Stephen Kimber looks at physician assistants. More specifically: Why aren’t we using them in Nova Scotia, and what the heck was up with the Canadian Association of Physician Assistants (CAPA) issuing a press release welcoming the “move by the Nova Scotia government today to introduce legislation that, once passed, will formalize the introduction of PAs into Nova Scotia” — when the government has done no such thing.

NDP MLA Susan LeBlanc has introduced a private members’ bill “to establish the framework for the creation of an allied health profession of physician assistants” and the province is in year two of a three-year pilot project. But beyond that? There’s no plan to formalize the use of physician assistants.

Physician assistants can take on some of the roles currently played by doctors, such as writing prescriptions, monitoring patients after surgery, and doing routine assessments. They are widely used in other jurisdictions. Kimber writes:

Given that physician assistants have been accepted elsewhere as integral players in the health care system, and given that — as I wrote then and could still write, perhaps even more starkly today — “we have a five-alarm health care emergency in Nova Scotia… a shortage of doctors and nurses… emergency rooms keep closing. It’s a mess. It’s a crisis…” why did we even have to bother with a three-year pilot project? Why not just get on with it?

The answer, I suspect, had/has more to do with bureaucracy and professional protectionism than with health care or the needs of Nova Scotians.

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2. On The Golden Girls, the “butterscotch palace” and Grandmother

A photo of Elizabeth MacDonald, an older white lady with short light brown hair and a high necked pale blue dress, taken outside in front of some pine trees. Beside it is a studio photo of the actress Betty White wearing a mauve dress against a cloudy lavender background.
Suzanne Rent’s grandmother, Elizabeth MacDonald, left, and Golden Girls star Betty White, right.

Suzanne Rent has a delightful commentary for you this morning. It’s a reflection on her grandmother, the Golden Girls TV show, and the pleasures of aging.

Rent introduces us to Elizabeth MacDonald, known simply as “Grandmother” to her 22 grandchildren:

Grandmother didn’t get married until she was 28, in what I consider an act of rebellion for the 1940s.

The couple moved to Sydney River and had nine children, including my mother, Jean. For about 18 years, Grandmother worked as a nursing attendant at the Cape Breton Hospital, known on the island as the Butterscotch Palace because of the caramel colour of its exterior paint. You could see the hospital from my grandmother’s living room window.

I remember my grandmother loving game shows like the Price is Right, Jeopardy, and Wheel of Fortune. She also watched the news and Golden Girls, of course. She always had Werther’s Originals butterscotch candies or Scotch mints tucked next to her rocking chair in front of the TV. She made the best chowder, Nanaimo bars, and sweet rolls with tops she shined up with melted butter.

Rent reflects on how her grandmother “didn’t take any crap” from anyone — and that leads her into thinking about the Golden Girls and herself:

I got thinking about all of this recently when I realized I am now the age Rue McClanahan was when she started on Golden Girls in 1984. I have to say it took the wind out of me when I did the math on that. Where did the time go?

I often joked that when I was older I would start a Golden Girls compound where women my age could live, hang out on the lanai or in the kitchen, eat cheesecake, and talk about the dates we went on.

But the biggest revelation was that I’d never want to go back to those years when I first started watching the Golden Girls. This age is so much better. I get paid to write, I ride horses every week, I have a fantastic kid, and I’m getting much better at not taking crap from people. 

It’s a lovely piece. Please read the whole thing.

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From our subscribers

Jeremy Wellard

Jeremy Wellard is a youngish white man with salt-and-pepper grey hair and a tiny goatee. He's smiling slightly at the camera, wearing a teal and black striped Tshirt, standing in front of some leafy birch trees.
Jeremy Wellard. Photo contributed

I started to take notice of the Halifax Examiner during the provincial government’s pandemic press conferences. We were all looking for information and answers but the lines of questioning from most of the press present were frustratingly mild. Whenever it was Tim’s turn, though, one could be guaranteed a stronger, more investigative approach. You could see the Premier and Dr. Strang visibly stiffen when the Halifax Examiner’s name was read out for the next question. That is how news reporting should be. The tough questions need to be asked and too few reporters do that these days. When Tim called out the premier for his cozy story about a doctor climbing Mount Everest whilst we were all stuck at home under COVID restrictions was the tipping point and sent me straight to the Halifax Examiner website to subscribe and donate.

Cathy McKelvey

Since forever the Halifax Examiner has been my source for local news about important local issues. I appreciate the quality of the writing as well as the lack of fluff and advertising.

3. “Education without action is miseducation”

Lynn Jones at left is wearing a two-tone blue graduation gown and a black, red, yellow, and green sash that says Black Lives Matter. Her hair is wrapped in a red and blue scarf. El Jones at right is wearing a black graduation gown with a red, black, yellow, and green sash.
Lynn Jones (left) was introduced by El Jones (right) as she spoke to the 2021 graduating class at Mount Saint Vincent University last week. Photo: El Jones.

Matthew Byard reports on Lynn Jones’ address to graduating students at last week’s Mount Saint Vincent convocation.

Introduced by Examiner contributor El Jones — who was recently awarded her doctorate from Queen’s — Jones spoke about the complexity of institutional legacies and the responsibilities that new educators face towards their students and their communities. Bayard writes:

Mount Saint Vincent University (MSVU)  was established in 1873 as one of only a handful of institutions in Canada where women could attend to seek higher learning. At the time women were still not allowed to vote. The Mount went on to develop a convent, schools, an orphanage, and health care facilities throughout Halifax, as well as North America.

“I also know that recently, your president, Dr. Ramona Lumpkin apologized for the role of Mount Saint Vincent University in residential schools,” said Jones. “It is a stark reminder that often the places that are progressive for some are built off the backs — off the very lives — of others.”

Lynn Jones was awarded an honorary doctorate by MSVU last year, but was not able to address graduates in person, of course, because of pandemic restrictions.

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4. Chinese land developers and “come from awayers”

Screenshot of a split=screen video showing an aerial view of Nova Scotia coastline, gleaming skyscrapers lit up at night, and an animated monochromatic architectural rendering of a street.
DDI’s vision for Crystal City, which it says it will build up somewhere around Ecum Secum, looks like a Chinese city of five million people.

The Globe and Mail and The New York Times both noticed Nova Scotia in features over the weekend, and whoa boy.

Let’s start with the Globe.

A feature on the turmoil in the Chinese real estate market opens with the infamous Crystal City plan. Crystal City, in case you need a refresher, was an elaborate plan to build movie studios and replicas of famous landmarks like the Eiffel Tower on the Eastern Shore, thereby making everyone rich forever.

Shockingly, none of this has happened. The Globe story takes us to the Crystal City site:

The path to Crystal City is a muddy all-terrain-vehicle trail that leads away from the ocean and deep into the woods. But Neil Partington, who keeps the key to unlock the chain at the entrance, doesn’t understand why anyone would want to go up there.

In his view, this 2,850-acre plot isn’t good for much; it’s difficult to access, soggy and remote. When Chinese developer DongDu International (DDI) began buying this land on Nova Scotia’s eastern shore in 2014, announcing a grand vision for a resort called Crystal City, he and many other locals wondered why.

“It’s just a huge chunk of useless bogland. Who would want to put a resort on that?” said Mr. Partington, whose vegetable farm backs onto the property, which can only be accessed through his family’s land. “They didn’t even bother to build a road to get in there.”

The failure of Crystal City, we are told, “was an early warning sign for the problems now facing other large Chinese real estate companies and their holdings around the world.”

Or not?

Maybe it failed because the plan was completely unhinged and probably existed solely to suck up money from credulous politicians in hopes of a big economic development pay off.

If you have never seen the deranged DDI promotional video for the project, you really must. It’s here.

The voiceover for the video explains the project using a whole lot of assumptions and skating over major issues:

Nova Scotia’s stunning natural landscape makes it an ideal location for developing film themed tourism. The combination of these two elements has the potential to turn it into a leading global travel destination in the future. The site will incorporate cultures from various parts of the world and showcase civilizations from different time periods, allowing visitors to Nova Scotia to feel as if they had travelled to different parts of the world.

As Tim Bousquet wrote back in 2015:

It’s not explained why people would travel all the way from China to Nova Scotia to see a fake Leaning Tower of Pisa when they could go half the distance to see the real thing in better weather.

The video continues:

To all this end, we will commit ourselves to investing in the branding of Nova Scotia by organizing film, TV and music festivals and events to promote Nova Scotia globally as a film production centre. We hope to use movies as a means to increase the popularity of Nova Scotia. We can emulate such success by inviting well-known film groups to visit Nova Scotia on fact-finding tours.

DDI Group has plans to purchase cruise ships, which will be docked at the Halifax Harbour. These ships have close to 1,000 rooms that are specially fitted for film crews, combining the comforts of a luxurious beachfront hotel in beautiful natural scenery, friendly staff and a film production centre that is in the pipeline.

Yeah, this sounds like something that definitely was going to happen. Too bad about the collapse of the Chinese real estate market though.

We envisage all these will be incentives that are strong enough to catch the interests of players from the film industry. North America has an abundance of skilled talent and possesses technological advantages in many key industries. DDI Group plans to create a turnkey mechanism to build and develop office buildings, research centres and other supporting infrastructure in Nova Scotia, in exchange for shares in the SMEs at market prices.

Oh, OK. They will develop “a mechanism” to build and develop office buildings. DDI did actually buy an office building in Halifax, but, the Globe story notes:

Tenant businesses soon complained to local media about neglected repairs, and said DDI allowed the building to deteriorate. The company sold it in June, 2020.

Back to the video:

This is our vision of Crystal City over the 10-year period: cutting edge science and technology will be introduced, while tourism and high-end residential areas in Crystal City will be fully integrated and a new coastal fisherman’s wharf will be established.

I love it. Technology “will be introduced” along with a new fisherman’s wharf. Just dump the whole duffel bag on the counter, why dontcha?

At the end of the video, we get a text summary of this vision. I have added punctuation to make it somewhat more readable than the original:

Our vision is a system where factors mutually influence one another. For example: cruise ships bring film crews, movies attract tourists, tourism promotes land development, investors promote high-tech parks, finally leading to a drive in employment and regional development.

When we consider all of these factors as an integrated whole, the city leaders can make more rational planning decisions such as creating more comfortable living accommodations for residents or higher profits for potential investors. Only companies with vision and the right resources are capable of executing the necessary changes. We have taken your needs into account and are capable of implementing the necessary solutions using our in-depth insight and vast network of resources.

Cruise ships bring film crews? Movies attract tourists? This somehow leads to high-tech business parks? Whole lot of assumptions going on.

If you believe any of this had any shot in hell of ever happening, I have some boggy land on the Eastern Shore to sell you.

Now onto The New York Times piece, titled “Urbanites flock to Atlantic Canada as pandemic blunts cities’ appeal.

You know you are in trouble early on when the phrase “plucky hospitality” is used. The story trots out a bunch of tropes you have heard over and over and over again: Atlantic Canada is picturesque, housing is more affordable, newcomers are changing the face of small communities.

This is the style of writing that I presume led the late PEI poet Milton Acorn to push back against quaintness, saying Toronto was the quaintest place he’d ever been.

The piece focuses primarily on Bonavista, Newfoundland and Labrador (although the word Labrador isn’t used at all):

Bonavista, graced with a scenic harbor and a lighthouse sitting on a noirish stretch of rocky cliffs, is about a three-and-a-half hour drive from St. John’s…

“Some have referred to Bonavista as the real Schitt’s Creek,” mused [mayor John]  Norman, referring to the name of the fictional town in the wildly popular, Emmy-award winning Canadian series “Schitt’s Creek.” The show features a rich couple and their bisexual son and socialite daughter who have fallen on hard times and find an unexpected sense of community in a tiny rural town.

We meet a couple, communications manager Sam Yuen and architect Derek McCallum, who recently moved to the town from Toronto.

Here’s the bit that really got me:

The social fabric of the town has also been changing. Traditional craft shops and restaurants offering fish and brewis, a starchy local dish of cod and bread, have been gradually giving way to designer sea salt companies and to purveyors of cumin kombucha and iceberg-infused soap.

Bonavista, influenced historically by its churches, now hosts a growing L.G.B.T.Q. community, including a bisexual mayor and a lesbian police chief, stoking some resentment among a minority about the town’s tilt toward social liberalism.

Do you kind of get the sense here that outsiders are bringing all this gentrifying change to the community? All this social change! But wait, the mayor is gay, and he was born in Bonavista.

We meet another couple, Stefan Palios and Marty Butler, who have moved to Windsor, NS from Toronto:

This year, at least 20 come from awayers have settled and invested in Windsor, a former shipbuilding town of about 5,000 that claims to be the birthplace of ice hockey. A Vancouver transplant opened a sign language interpretation business. A data analyst from Montreal is analyzing sports team performances. And Mr. Butler got a job as an organ transplant nurse in nearby Halifax, Nova Scotia’s capital.

Writer Matthew Halliday has been posting on Twitter for years about misconceptions about migration to Nova Scotia. Six years ago, he was trying to counter the notion that people are fleeing the province. It was a persistent idea at the time.

In 2016, he looked at Statistics Canada data and noted that Nova Scotia gains more 18-34-year-olds from other provinces than it loses, and that we are ahead of Toronto, Montreal, and many other cities on youth retention.

Now, he’s busy pointing out that yes, people are moving here from other provinces, but it’s a trend that’s been going on for years, and is not particularly related to the pandemic. (Plus, if the increase in housing prices is due to those coming from other provinces, how does that explain the explosion in house prices across the country?)

In September of this year, Halliday wrote:

NS has had five consecutive years of high in-migration. Stories about overpaying Ontarians made it look like a pandemic phenomenon, but it’s not really.

Then two days ago, citing intraprovincial migration figures:

Saying it again: Canada’s big-city out-migration is not a new, pandemic-driven thing, it’s a housing-cost thing that’s been happening for some time.

See also: the Atlantic Canada population influx, which has been happening for six years and is emphatically not a pandemic thing, for the most part.

Even the New York Times story essentially says as much:

Carrie Freestone, an economist at Royal Bank of Canada, who wrote a recent report on the migration phenomenon, said it began about five years ago and had been “supercharged” by the pandemic.

According to Statistics Canada, about 33,000 people from other provinces migrated to the region of 2.5 million people in the first half of this year alone, compared with about 18,500 in the same period in 2005.

OK. But 2005 was 16 years ago.

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1. The romance of the typewriter

A portable blue typewriter in excellent shape.
The Olympia Traveller de Luxe typewriter. Photo: Mr & Mrs Vintage Typewriters Facebook page

In the early 1980s, after Tim Covell finished high school, he decided maybe he ought to learn how to type. So he went to night school to take a typing class. “I figured if I was gong to write and have some useful skill it should be typing.”  The bare minimum typing speed for an entry-level job, he remembers, was 40 words per minute. By the end of the course, that’s what he could type. “I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I figured if it involved typing I would be OK,” said Covell, a Halifax-based writer, editor, and romance novelist.

Like a lot of us, Covell ditched his typewriters as soon as computers came along. “When I discarded my last one in favour of a used computer there was no sentiment,” he told me. “I was upgrading to a computer.” The typewriter was a tool that had outlived its purpose.

Years later, someone left an old Underwood manual typewriter out in the basement hallway of Covell’s apartment building. “It was just sitting there, waiting to be claimed,” he said. So he claimed it.

Covell writes about the Underwood and the other typewriters he now owns, in an ongoing series on his blog called “Tim’s Museum of Obsolete Tech.” He describes the typewriters themselves — their strengths, foibles and design — and the sometimes complicated corporate history of the companies that produced them.

Like this, from Covell’s post on the Olympia Traveller de Luxe:

The earliest models were made in West Germany, but production soon moved to what was then Yugoslavia, where they were built by a company called UNIS (Udružena Metalna Industrija Sarajevo). UNIS sold these typewriters under other brand names, and with various character sets, for eastern European markets… By the late 1980s, reflecting corporate changes, the typewriters were branded AEG Oympia.

Olivetti licensed this design to make similar typewriters (the Tropical and the Roma) in Brazil, and Olympia used the same case (but with simpler and cheaper mechanisms on the inside) to make Olympiette models. The Olympiette was manufactured by the Nakajima company of Japan, which built typewriters for various brands. In other words, there are a lot of typewriters out there that look like the Traveller, but are not quite the same.

Nakajima, he notes, was making 100,000 typewriters a month in 1983 (and they still make a few today).

Covell had no intention of actually using his typewriters to do any substantial amount of writing. He picked up the Underwood to use as a prop for a photo shoot he was planning to promote his services.

On his blog, he writes:

A picture of a laptop is vague — it could mean anything — while a picture of typewriter says ‘writing.’

But over the years, he’s also come to appreciate the typewriters in other ways. They are mechanical marvels that can also serve as low-energy, distraction-free tools. He told me:

They are so well made. The newest typewriter I have is around 40 years old and it works fine… The Olympia Traveller has a gorgeous design and an interesting history. It’s incredibly compact, incredibly featured for the size…

The other thing with the typewriters — I’m not the rugged outdoorsy type, but you know how pickups are shown in commercials doing all this rough stuff? It’s a little bit like that when you have a manual typewriter. Even if you never take it out of your room, there is the possibility of taking it out of your room and going to that cabin in the woods and writing that novel. People like having those possibilities.

In a piece published in The New Yorker earlier this year, Ann Patchett describes the excitement an eight-year-old named Charlotte — the daughter of a friend — feels on seeing one of Patchett’s typewriters:

The child walked into my office and immediately clapped her hands over her masked mouth to keep from screaming. I switched on the light. She was staring at my typewriter, a cheap electric Brother I used for envelopes and short notes.

You have a typewriter! ” Charlotte started hopping up and down.

“What she really wants is a manual,” Megan said. “We’ve looked at a bunch of them but they never work. Once they get old, the keys stick.”

There were two manual typewriters in the closet right behind us. One was my grandmother’s little Adler, a Tippa 7 that typed in cursive. She’d used it for everything, so much so that if I were to type a note on it now I’d feel as if I were reading her handwriting. I wasn’t giving the Adler away. I also owned a Hermes 3000 that my mother and my stepfather had bought for me when I was in college, the most gorgeous typewriter I could have imagined. I wrote every college paper on it, every story. In graduate school, I typed at my kitchen table in a straight-backed chair that my friend Lucy had bought at the Tuesday-night auction in Iowa City. Draft after draft, I banged away until my back seized, then I would lie flat on the living-room rug for days. A luggage tag was still attached to the Hermes’s handle—Piedmont Airlines. I’d brought the typewriter home with me every Christmas, even though it weighed seventeen pounds. Such was my love for that machine that I hadn’t been able to imagine being separated from it for an entire holiday vacation.

Patchett is in the process of Swedish death cleaning (although she doesn’t use the term) — going through possessions and getting rid of those that are unnecessary, in part so they are not a burden on those left behind. Should she give Charlotte one of the typewriters?

When my daughter, Phoebe Lamb, was about the same age as Charlotte, she too had a fascination with typewriters. A neighbour brought us a small manual, and she typed on it endlessly. I asked her about it. She wrote back:

The typewriter felt like a mystery, it was left on our doorstep by the next-door neighbour but it was easy for me to pretend I didn’t know that, and that it was left there by someone, specifically for me. I was the only one with any real interest in it anyway. Setting it up felt like a game we had to figure out how to play without any instructions.

I loved the delicateness of the ribbon compared to the chunkiness of the machine itself. I tried my hardest never to mistype anything, because I hated how the backspace key messily covered up any mistakes with what looked like a smear of whiteout. The font was beautiful.

But really my fixation on the typewriter stemmed from my fixation on Bob Dylan: sitting in front of that typewriter copying from memory the lyrics to Desire’s lengthiest ballads, I could pretend I was Dylan, tapping them out for the first time.

I also remember really liking the weight of the buttons when you pushed on them… I liked the little extra push you had to do. Loved that thing so much.

Like Covell, I learned to type on an IBM Selectric. I did not want to learn how to type. There was a computer lab just down the hall full of brand new Apple computers for God’s sake! But my dad insisted I take typing, because it was a skill that would serve me well. He was right, of course, though his view was in part motivated by his own life: During the Second World War, his ability to type meant that he worked as a clerk for the RAF in London. One of his jobs was keeping track of the names of the airmen killed each night.

Old print newspaper ad. Text reads: "Slightly used typewriters, including such well-known makes as the REmington, Underwood and Smith Premier may be had from us at a discount of ten per cent for cash only. This offer holds good until January 1st, 1914. They may also be secured by easy monthly instalments. Every machine is guaranteed against defects of any kind. Write for Descriptive Price List. Soulis Typewriter Co., Limited. Halifax, NS - St. John, NB
Slightly used typewriters on an instalment plan. Ad from the Maritime Merchant and Commercial Review, 1913. Photo: Google News Archive

The Selectric, Covell notes, is not a machine with much romantic appeal. He doesn’t have one, and doesn’t intend to get one. He writes:

I’ve asked myself if a typewriter collection can truly be complete if it lacks an IBM Selectric, but the proprietary ribbon and my inability to repair it with simple hand tools make it less desirable. It is essentially an electronic typewriter, and that’s not really an obsolete technology.

For sheer romance — the pleasure of that extra push, as Phoebe says, you can’t beat the manual machines. In our interview, Covell said:

The romantic appeal is with the manuals. When you go to a manual typewriter, you are completely disconnected from anything out there. You could argue that a manual typewriter is the ultimate distraction-free writing machine — until you run out of ribbon or paper, both of which are easy to come by.

Toronto-based writer David Hayes is a lifelong typewriter enthusiast who still owns his mother’s 1928 Remington No.2  portable typewriter — the machine on which he learned to type. (The image at the top left of his website is… guess what? A typewriter.) In a December 2015 book review, written for The Globe and Mail, Hayes writes:

In his 2005 book, The Iron Whim: A Fragmented History of Typewriting, Canadian writer and cultural critic Darren Wershler-Henry talks about the lingering appeal of typewriters in popular culture. “…the typewriter has become the symbol of a nonexistent sepia-toned era when people typed passionately late into the night under the flickering light of a single naked bulb, sleeves rolled up, suspenders hanging down, lighting each new cigarette off the smouldering butt of the last, occasionally taking a pull from the bottle of bourbon in the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet.”

Yes, true, although typewriters are closer to the boundary separating nostalgia from utility than most long-discarded products of the 20th century. There remains a direct connection to typewriters. On our computers, equipped with keyboards still using the roughly 140-year-old QWERTY arrangement of keys, we put words on what looks like a glowing facsimile of a page. It’s a quieter, more versatile and efficient version of a typewriter.

Covell doesn’t imagine a large-scale resurgence in the use of typewriters, but he does dream a little bit of their use as “a bit of a reaction to overconsumption.” He says:

Maybe I don’t need to use the computer every time I record my thoughts…. The fact that they would make the same model for a decade or more and people would buy them and use them for decades, and once they were manufactured they didn’t use any energy — I’m not saying we are going back to typewriters, but we may look and say does this really need to be electronic? Does it need to be new? And maybe there is a place for these older devices.

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2. Thank you for the gift of your body’s moisture

Close-up of the lower half of a baby's face, with a bit of spittle between the lips of the baby's closed mouth.
Spit can be cute if it’s being produced by babies. Photo: Pereru / Wikimedia Commons

There is a moment in Dune — in both the book and the new film — in which a character named Stilgar comes to meet the new rulers of his planet, Arrakis. Arrakis, aka Dune, is an arid desert world. Stilgar leads a group of Fremen (largely inspired by Bedouins) who have lived on Arrakis for centuries and have developed ingenious ways to adapt to the environment.

Here is how the book describes the moments after Stilgar meets Duke Leto Atreides:

The Fremen stared at the Duke, then slowly pulled aside his veil, revealing a thin nose and full-lipped mouth in a glistening black beard. Deliberately he bent over the end of the table, spat on its polished surface.

A terrible affront, right? But wait. As the duke’s men leap to their feet, the Duke’s ridiculously named swordsman Duncan Idaho calls out, “Hold!”

Into the sudden charged stillness, Idaho said: “We thank you, Stilgar, for the gift of your body’s moisture. We accept it in the spirit with which it is given.”

Suddenly, spitting on the table takes on a whole different meaning. It is an act of profound respect to waste water in a world in which every last drop is carefully hoarded. (Frank Herbert, by the way, wrote the million or so words of his six Dune books exclusively on a typewriter.)

I was thinking about this scene while reading an excerpt on saliva from the book The Body Fantastic, by Frank Gonzalez-Crussi, a retired professor of pathology.

Spit, he writes, has been seen as a cure for blindness, a poison that kills venomous creatures, and according to a 19th-century text, it “dissolves all manner of viscous humors and fabulous concretions.”

In the Greek culture I partly grew up in, spitting is a way to ward off the evil eye. Complimenting someone (usually a child) could draw the evil eye, with potentially disastrous results. The solution? Spit immediately after the compliment, thereby providing a distraction. I’ve never seen anyone actually spit when they do this. It’s a ritualized spitting sound and motion, done three times.

The 1895 book The Evil Eye has a chapter on spitting, and describes this practice:

Among the ancient Greeks and Romans “the most common remedy against an invidious look was spitting… Old women were accustomed to avert the evil eye from children by spitting into their bosoms: this was done three times — three being a sacred number.

Today, we mostly think of spit as gross, or dirty. A vector of disease. The Baseball Nova Scotia back-to-play plan for the summer of 2020 included a prohibition of spitting. During the first wave, I seem to recall Tim Bousquet asking Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang if spitting was a concern with respect to COVID-19 transmission (Strang said it wasn’t).

Gonzalez-Crussi writes:

In striking contrast to the wonders that the ancients fancied in the salivary fluid, and the high esteem with which medical science presently views it, the general public’s recent attitude in the West has been one of neglect, if not outright disdain. Saliva is joined to ideas of offense, vulgarity, or impudence. Spitting in somebody’s face is universally considered a serious affront, an expression of hatred and disdain. Spitting on the floor in public is generally viewed as ill-mannered, although it was not always so. The fact that saliva is being constantly produced must have engendered in some people the feeling that they needed to rid themselves of some of it by ejecting it forcefully, wherever they chanced to be…

In the West, hygienic and biomedical considerations were the chief factors that put a stop to the habit of spitting on the floor. Tuberculosis was a scourge that devastated European populations throughout the 19th century and beginning of the 20th. Weighty scientific studies and international meetings of experts concluded that the abolition of floor-spitting, and of public spitting in general, by reducing the risk of spreading the airborne bacilli, would stave off the progress of tuberculosis. In the United States, the American Lung Association undertook a veritable “crusade” against spitting. Children in schools were given a list of 19 rules to observe, all of which hammered, in various tones, the injunction to avoid spitting: “1.—Do not spit. 2.—Do not let others spit. . . . 19.—Last, as well as first, DO NOT SPIT.” Brigades of boy scouts distributed notices and fixed posters with anti-spitting slogans. This campaign was still active in the 1940s.

I don’t have any deep conclusion to draw from this. I just appreciate it when people like Gonzalez-Crussi look at mundane phenomena like spitting and dig deeper into their history and the cultural assumptions that surround them.

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A couple take selfies on a deck, with ocean in the background.
Selfies on the Peggy’s Cove viewing deck. Photo: Philip Moscovitch

Most of the time, my Google Alert for “Peggy’s Cove” sends me American horse-racing results. (There’s a horse called Peggy’s Cove.) But once in awhile it turns up something interesting and relevant, like this piece from Architecture Daily on the new Peggy’s Cove viewing platform.

It’s essentially a presentation of the project from architect Omar Gandhi, explaining its scope and materials, along with some of the thinking underlying the design. It addresses a few of the concerns people have raised about the platform (yes, the plans did take sea level rise and powerful waves into account).

Gandhi writes:

Building a structure of any kind in these environments has its challenges. To minimize the risk to the new infrastructure, extensive wave modeling was undertaken to ensure we placed the primary components at an elevation that provides protection from the strong waves striking the coastline. The placement also takes into consideration the effects sea level rise will have on the future of Peggy’s Cove.

One thing I had not noticed when I was there:

Guard rails are a mixture of open netting allowing wind to pass through and uninterrupted views, while solid sections provide relief from the wind at specific sections along the way.

A criticism I’ve read (I can’t remember where — it may have been in an Examiner comment) is that while the deck is accessible, it doesn’t offer anywhere to sit down. This has an impact on its accessibility. But it seems seating is on the way:

The viewing platform presents an opportunity for everyone to experience the lighthouse and the unique topography from an elevated and protected zone, opening the use of the site up to a much broader audience. Seating will be available to support those who may move at a different pace or wish to enjoy the vista for an extended period.

I had an interesting conversation the other night with someone who grew up in Peggy’s Cove and still lives there. He said he realized that most of his neighbours who dislike the deck don’t actually have a problem with the platform itself — it’s the disruption of construction and change. Construction is over now, and before long the platform won’t represent change anymore, so he figures people who don’t like it now will probably come around.

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Board of Police Commissioners (Monday, 12:30pm, City Hall) — live broadcast not available


Halifax and West Community Council (Tuesday, 6pm, City Hall) — also livestreamed



No meetings


Veterans Affairs (Tuesday, 2pm, One Government Place) —

On campus



A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words (Monday, 12:30pm) — Pantelis Andreou will talk via Teams

Statistical methods are used in abundance in Health Sciences to interpret health-related data. Usually, results are presented as tables with p-values attached to them.

In contrast, statistical methods are usually developed and best understood using illustrations of the data in a k-dimensional space. For example, a simple least squares linear regression is the line through the scatter plot of the outcome vs explanatory variable that minimizes the sum of the squared residuals. Looking at the scatter plot overlayed with the regression line can tell us additional information not captured in the ANOVA summary statistics of the regression.

Statistical software packages have made advances that help illustrate data, interpret results, assess goodness-of-fit, select a “better” model, as well as help with knowledge translation of the results.

In this seminar, a clinical trial to improve labour analgesia using epidural pump settings with programmed intermittent epidural bolus delivery is presented. The aide of visual illustration of the analysis results makes the complex response surface methodology statistical procedure easy to understand. Applications of similar techniques to surveys is explored.

Monomial ideals with simple free resolutions (Monday, 3:30pm, Room 319, Chase Building) — Suresh Eswarathasan will explain

Minimal free resolutions of graded modules have been attractive objects of interest in Commutative Algebra for more than a hundred years. The idea of associating a free resolution to a finitely generated module is due to David Hilbert (1890), with the aim to study the properties of the module through the structure of its free resolution. However, in most cases, determining minimal free resolutions is sophisticated, and actually not feasible even using algebraic computer programs. Therefore, predicting the general shape of a resolution plays an important role as it reveals some nice information about the module itself.

In this talk we focus on the resolution of quadratic monomial ideals, and using some combinatorial tools, we characterize those ideals with the property that most of the steps of their resolution are of the simplest possible form.



No events


Waves of Change Training: Basic Bystander Intervention (Tuesday, 3pm, Seminar 7, Arts and Administrative Building) — Hosted by Jordan Roberts, King’s Sexualized Violence Prevention and Response Officer, this training module introduces participants to the issue of sexualized violence on campus. Participants will learn about the law and sexualized violence in Nova Scotia. Participants will also be introduced to the concept of bystander intervention and will be taught various intervention techniques.This training is free, open to all members of the King’s community, and will have snacks! 

Positive Change for Public Good: Michener Awards Laureates Live (Tuesday, 6:30pm, Alumni Hall, New Academic Building) — also livestreamed on YouTube.

The Michener Awards, Canada’s highest award for Public Service Journalism, and the University of King’s College, Halifax, are pleased to co-host an intimate conversation with recent Michener laureates to hear about the real and immediate change their stories have made. In a world of wrongful accusations, systemic racism, online predators and injustices against our most vulnerable, these journalists have gotten to the heart of the story and made positive change for public good. Join Canada’s top journalists for a behind the scenes glimpse into how they made it happen. Featuring:

Kenneth Jackson and Cullen Crozier – APTN

Kathy Tomlinson – The Globe and Mail

Gabrielle Ducharme and Caroline Touzin – La Presse

Tim Bousquet – Halifax Examiner

Ethan Cox – Ricochet Media

Mask and proof of vaccination required.

In the harbour

06:00: Tropic Hope, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Saint Croix, Virgin Islands
06:00: MOL Emissary, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Antwerp, Belgium
12:30: East Coast, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
13:00: Contship Leo, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from New York
15:00: MOL Maestro, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Colombo, Sri Lanka
16:00: MOL Emissary sails for Port Everglades, Florida
16:30: Tropic Hope sails for Palm Beach, Florida
20:00: Thunder Bay, bulker, arrives at Gold Bond from Charlottetown, PEI
22:30: Contship Leo sails for Kingston, Jamaica

Cape Breton
07:00: Thunder Bay, bulker, sails through the causeway north to south from Charlottetown en route to Halifax
13:00: Paul A. Desgagnes, oil tanker, sails from Government Wharf (Sydney) for sea
19:00: Baie St.Paul, bulker, sails through the causeway south to north en route from Halifax to Montreal


Reading the New York Times story reminded me of the classic Codco bit “Outport Lesbian,” which I first saw projected on film in a small bar.

YouTube video

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Philip Moscovitch is a freelance writer, audio producer, fiction writer, and editor of Write Magazine.

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  1. Many years ago I gave my old Brother manual typewriter to a South American medical mission – because I never could type well and mistakes are much easier to fix on a computer keyboard.
    On spitting: 1. In the early 60s, the local health unit (where we used to go for our jabs) had uber-polished floors and signs prohibiting spitting on them. My thought at the time – who would want to? 2. 30 years later my essay on spitting was a runner-up in a writing competiton. Those signs left a lasting impression!

  2. Great issue Phil – Milton Acorn, Chinese bullshit, Bonavista, and I still look at my old Underwood for inspiration, and because it’s so beautiful.