1. Snoopy

Snoopy, Mike Smaggus’ white poodle Credit: Mike Smaggus

“Months after a Halifax-area realtor had her knuckles rapped for stealing a poodle, Snoopy the dog still hasn’t been returned to his rightful owner,” reports Zane Woodford.

Even though the Nova Scotia Real Estate Commission ruled that Snoopy, a poodle, was stolen from rightful owner Mike Smaggus by real estate agent Sarah Sullivan, the dog hasn’t been returned to Smaggus.

It’s a maddening tale of a guy who just wants his dog back. Sullivan seems to have muddied the water with allegations that somehow Snoopy wasn’t living in the best of conditions and so, apparently, Snoopy shouldn’t be returned to Smaggus. But that’s not how this works. You can’t just take someone’s dog. There are proper channels for addressing animal welfare, starting with the SPCA and escalating from there, and the motives of someone who avoids those channels and goes vigilante dog-napping should be questioned.

Anyway, as I say, it’s maddening. Give Smaggus his dog back.

Click here to read “Where’s Snoopy?”

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2. COVID-19

The new daily case count and seven-day rolling average in Nova Scotia since March 28, the last day the province saw zero new cases.

The pandemic situation is looking more positive every day. Daily case numbers overall in Nova Scotia are plummeting and it appears the third wave is mostly contained. And the number of people being vaccinated is soaring, with over 21,000 doses administered on Wednesday alone; now over half the entire population has received at least one dose of vaccine, and if the current rate can be maintained, the province will hit the 75% mark around June 15 or so.

There are some qualifiers. First, let’s not ignore the enormous suffering of the sick and the pain of the families of the 13 people who have died from the disease since April 1.

Second, even though the province’s overall numbers are declining, new case numbers in Nova Scotia Health’s Eastern Zone (Cape Breton and the Antigonish area) are not decreasing. In fact, yesterday was the the first time the Eastern Zone saw more new cases (18) than the Central Zone (the Halifax area, with 14).

Daily new cases and the seven-day rolling average for Nova Scotia Health’s Central Zone during the third wave.
Daily new cases and the seven-day rolling average for Nova Scotia Health’s Eastern Zone during the third wave.

Third, while we’re — or least I’m — beginning to envision a summer of something like normalcy, with over 75% of Nova Scotians partly inoculated and on the path towards full inoculation, loosening restrictions, and the lifting of the unshakeable dread that has been hanging over my head for the past 14 months, there’s a nagging feeling that something could still go sideways.

Maybe other provinces are lifting their restrictions too quickly and will have continued outbreaks and so we’ll have to maintain the travel restrictions.

Worse still, I worry that the pace of vaccination in the rest of the world is so slow — largely through no fault of their own — that the virus will have time to continue to evolve and may hit on some variant that can elude the current vaccines, and we’ll be forever in a whack-a-mole game of new variants and new vaccines, with continued illness and death, restrictions, and that dark cloud of dread all the while. It’s imperative, I think, that we address the lagging pace of vaccination globally not just as a social justice issue (although of course it’s that) but also simply out of self-interest.

Still, in the short run, I’m taking it. Premier Iain Rankin and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang have (re)scheduled a COVID briefing for 3pm today. It’s expected they’ll announce the lifting of some restrictions and a plan for lifting others soon. I’ll be following along on my Twitter account.

I don’t know if the school bureaucracy can or even wants to move so quickly, but it would be odd if I’ll be able to go to the tavern and see all the under-motivated ne’er-do-wells my friends, but kids won’t be able to end their school year with a week or two of in-person classes and good-byes.

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3. COVID research and blood donations

Photo by Nguyễn Hiệp on Unsplash

“Samples from blood donors across the country are providing significant information about the infection rate of COVID-19, as well as who is most likely to get it,” reports Jennifer Henderson. “Spoiler Alert: racialized groups, the poor, and young adults 17-24 years old are the most vulnerable.”

Click here to read “What COVID researchers have learned from blood donations: the young, the poor, and racialized groups are most vulnerable.”

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4. Buying groceries post-pandemic

A new report released on Thursday suggests the grocery industry of the future is going to look very different from its pre-COVID-19 days. Photo: Yvette d’Entremont

“Mask wearing, cashiers behind transparent barriers, arrows on the floor, limits on how many people can enter a store, and enhanced cleaning protocols,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:

The pandemic has undeniably changed the way consumers shop for their groceries, and a new report released on Thursday suggests the Canadian grocery industry of the future is going to look very different from its pre-COVID-19 days.

“Things are moving and frankly, grocery chains will have to adapt,” the report’s lead author and Dalhousie University professor Sylvain Charlebois said in an interview Thursday. “The grocery industry won’t look how it used to look before the pandemic.”

The report, a collaboration between Dalhousie University’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab and Ontario-based research firm Caddle, focused on how the pandemic will impact the future of the grocery sector. It involved a nationwide survey of 10,024 Canadians conducted this month.

Click here to read “Report: Pandemic reshaping Canadian grocery industry.”

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A decade or so ago I learned about Joseph Tainter’s book, The Collapse of Complex Societies

Without going too much into it, it’s arguable whether societies in fact “collapse,” a term loaded with all sorts of preconceptions and biases. (The Maya, for example, who are one of Tainter’s case studies, are still very much with us, despite the common lore that they somehow disappeared off the face of the Earth some hundreds of years ago. While this or that city state from the classical era may have been abandoned, the people and their culture carried on, and there are now more Mayan speakers than ever. Just ask the Zapatistas.)

Still, that caveat aside (and acknowledging I’ve never actually read the book), Tainter’s premise makes intuitive sense to me. Here’s the wiki shorthand:

According to Tainter’s Collapse of Complex Societies, societies become more complex as they try to solve problems. Social complexity can be recognized by numerous differentiated and specialised social and economic roles and many mechanisms through which they are coordinated, and by reliance on symbolic and abstract communication, and the existence of a class of information producers and analysts who are not involved in primary resource production. Such complexity requires a substantial “energy” subsidy (meaning the consumption of resources, or other forms of wealth).

When a society confronts a “problem,” such as a shortage of energy, or difficulty in gaining access to it, it tends to create new layers of bureaucracy, infrastructure, or social class to address the challenge. Tainter, who first identifies seventeen examples of rapid collapse of societies, applies his model to three case studies: The Western Roman Empire, the Maya civilization, and the Chaco culture.

For example, as Roman agricultural output slowly declined and population increased, per-capita energy availability dropped. The Romans “solved” this problem by conquering their neighbours to appropriate their energy surpluses (as metals, grain, slaves, other materials of value). However, as the Empire grew, the cost of maintaining communications, garrisons, civil government, etc. grew with it. Eventually, this cost grew so great that any new challenges such as invasions and crop failures could not be solved by the acquisition of more territory.

Intense, authoritarian efforts to maintain cohesion by Domitian and Constantine the Great only led to an ever greater strain on the population. The empire was split into two halves, of which the western soon fragmented into smaller units. The eastern half, being wealthier, was able to survive longer, and did not collapse but instead succumbed slowly and piecemeal, because unlike the western empire it had powerful neighbors able to take advantage of its weakness.

It is often assumed that the collapse of the western Roman Empire was a catastrophe for everyone involved. Tainter points out that it can be seen as a very rational preference of individuals at the time, many of whom were actually better off. Tainter notes that in the west, local populations in many cases greeted the barbarians as liberators.

I’ve been returning to the idea lately, because as a business owner I have a deeper understanding of both the need for and the costs of complexity.

Revenue and time are not unlimited. I’m one person, who works too much already. I can (and do) hire other people to take over tasks, but it of course costs money to pay them, which comes out of the limited revenue pool.

The main job — the purpose — of the Examiner is to report and write articles. But to that end there are other necessary or desirable job chores, or things that are worth at least considering.

Two examples (of many). First, is increasing accessibility of the website. Obviously, this is important and necessary. People who are blind, for example, should not be some sub-category of potential reader who we can ignore. So it’s imperative that we learn how to better serve that reader. I’m realizing that we need to put processes in place for adding photos to our library, such that they have descriptive explanations in the metadata that are accessible to the web readers that blind people use. And, the site as a whole should be assessed for accessibility. There are likely all sorts of things I don’t even know about that could be addressed. I should also hire someone to go through the existing library and update the photos with descriptions. How much will all this cost? I have no idea. I could hire a consultant, I suppose, to come up with a plan. But that too will take some of my attention and time.

The accessibility issue came up a few days ago when, in reaction to the many charts I produce to track the pandemic, someone pointed out that people who are colourblind can’t distinguish between the blue and green lines on the graphs, and those people would be better served if one of the lines was dashed. I’m not opposed to this, it’s just I have no idea how to do it. I make the graphs quick and dirty in my Numbers program (the Mac equivalent of Excel), and I’m only now just realizing that they do nothing at all for blind people (should they have descriptive text?). Maybe there’s software that converts Numbers graphs into graphs that are more friendly for the colourblind? If so, what does that cost, and do I have the time to learn how to use it?

Understand that increasing accessibility is, from my perspective, not just a desirable goal, but a necessary one. It just adds orders of complexity that come at a cost. Likely, we can manage through that cost as revenues increase.

The second example is the comment section. When I started the Examiner, I made it such that the only people who could make comments are those who are paid subscribers. That eliminated the spam, and almost all of those who merely want to be disruptive. I also said that we’d moderate comments for reasons of libel — I wasn’t going to open the Examiner up to legal threats — but otherwise, people can say what they want; heck, they’re paying for the privilege. With the pandemic, I’ve added another filter: I won’t allow misinformation that endangers public health. The person who repeatedly comments that Listerine prevents COVID? Nope, that’s not going to be approved. Concern about public health trumps even the libel concern.

But now we’re in the moderation game, and so people are wanting us to moderate for tone of comments: “I’m going to cancel my subscription because that other person is rude” is the gist of it. So I think about it: how would we even manage that? We can’t just say because Reader A doesn’t like Reader B’s comment we should just take it down, so should we convene a committee to establish criteria for approved tone and then to review each and every comment to see if it meets those criteria? And if so, what would be the renumeration of the committee members? Which articles should we not write (and not pay writers for) such that we have the revenue, which of course undermines the main purpose of the Examiner? In Tainter’s terms, increased complexity and bureaucracy to address challenges will eventually pass a tipping point such that the whole Examiner empire collapses.

I’m not at all being flippant. Every day is full of a hundred challenges, some more significant than others, but each one of which comes with at least some mental cost to me, and many of which come at actual financial cost to the organization. Before I know it, this place is going to be overrun by Huns.

Maybe I just need a day off.

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No meetings

On campus

No events

In the harbour

05:15: Bilbao Bridge, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Rotterdam
05:30: Atlantic Star, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
06:00: Federal Kibune, bulker, arrives at anchorage from Taicang, China
06:00: ZIM Qingdao, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Valencia, Spain
06:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Fairview Cove from Saint-Pierre
11:30: Federal Kibune sails for sea
16:30: ZIM Qingdao sails for New York
16:30: Nolhanava sails for Saint-Pierre
16:30: Atlantic Star sails for New York

Cape Breton
07:30: CSL Tarantau, bulker, arrives at Aulds Cove from Rio Haina, Dominican Republic
14:00: Rt Hon Paul E Martin, bulker, sails from Aulds Cove Quarry for sea
19:00: Algoma Integrity, bulker, arrives at Aulds Cove Quarry from Baltimore


I’ve got nothing.

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

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  1. Regarding “complexity issues” caused by the comments’ section, maybe just shutting down the comments option when it seems a debate has run its useful course,- as soon as it degrades to ad hominem attacks?

  2. Tim, as great as I find all your continuing Covid coverage, I look forward to the day when you will be able to spend your time crafting informative, balanced articles on other subjects. I’m an optimist by nature; I think now that we are turning the tide on the present wave, that day may come before school goes back in September.

  3. Civilizations collapse, cultures change. The Roman civilization doesn’t exist anymore, but here we are speaking a language largely derived from Latin and the languages of the barbarians that sacked Rome, governed by institutions partially modelled on Roman ones, who govern from buildings with architecture that can be traced back to Rome.

    I personally find run-on sentences to be offensive and anyone who uses them should be banned immediately.

    1. I often write in run-on sentences as well. Sometimes I manage to edit them before others can be offended. 🙂

  4. Tim,

    I figured out how to change the lines in Numbers to dash or dots if you’re plotting a line graph:

    1) at the top of the program, right hand side, is an option called ‘Format’; click that.
    2) click on a data series in the plot
    3) back in the ‘Format’ section, you’ll see a choice called ‘Style’; click that.
    4) there you’ll have the option to change the line style (colour, size, type of line, etc).

    Hope that helps. And seriously, if you have any questions with things like that, I’d be glad to help (i like figuring out how to do things in software).


    1. I like figuring out how to do things in software as well. Hardware still baffles me, but let me play around in a software package and I can usually figure out how to do what I want. It may not be the most efficient way, but eventually I’ll find the quicker way(s).

      At least now-a-days plotting a graph can be done without learning unending DOS commands, which is how I first learned. My brain back then could remember those endless commands, now I find I can barely remember a 10-digit phone number

      Thanks for sharing the tips, Chris.

  5. Though undoubtedly the Examiner will one day be said to be an extinct or collapsed society as we know it, here’s hoping that like the Zapatistas, its ideas and traditions will evolve and survive and perhaps even thrive in some robust form or another.

    Viva Zapata!

  6. RE:
    ‘Things Are Looking Up But…….’
    I think you have summed it up perfectly Tim. In particular the slow world-wide pace of vaccination and the social justice perspective and the potential for the evolution of tough-to-kill variants. It’s like the whole world needs to be vaccinated on the same day……..

  7. A short comment about Tim’s item on the pandemic: I full agree that the pace and equity of global vaccinations has to increase dramatically in order to protect us all, especially the most vulnerable in the global South. I am definitely on side with that — yet the challenge is that for some regions like Africa (where vaccinations are really lagging behind), the biggest threat for further spread may well be northern aid workers, business people, tourists and international development bureaucrats traveling there. Full vaccination coverage in the global North is also essential to ‘protecting’ other parts of the world, because we are the privileged ones who get to continent-hop!

  8. Am I the only one who finds the comment on the Snoopy story offensive? At least I don’t have to hide my identity.