NEWS

1. Speakers urge police board to deny budget increase

A Halifax Regional Police bicycle officer with his name tag covered forms part of a chain to allow a wagon full of arrested protesters to leave on Aug. 18, 2021. — Photo: Zane Woodford

At a special public meeting held by the Board of Police Commissioners last night, speaker after speaker came out against proposed increases to Halifax Regional Police and RCMP budgets for policing in Halifax.

Zane Woodford was at the meeting. He writes:

Only one person at Monday’s meeting spoke explicitly in favour of the budget increase. Dave Wilson told the board he’s a “fan” of the police.

Other speakers raised concerns about over-policing and the lack of funding for projects and infrastructure that benefits communities.

This is not the first time the board has held a public meeting on the budget. Woodford writes:

Kate MacDonald reminded the board it’s not the first time people have spoken out. At last year’s public meeting on the budget, two dozen people said no to an increase, and the board voted yes.

“How many more times are we going to meet like this?” MacDonald asked.

Click here to read Woodford’s full story: “Speakers tell Halifax police board to vote down budget increase.”

Last fall, WGBH in Boston revealed the police overtime costs associated with surveillance and harassment of unhoused people in an encampment at Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard — a spot reporter Tori Bedford writes is, “an area marked by a seemingly unending cycle of homelessness, crime, substance use and poverty.”

From 2019 to 2020, the overtime costs of policing the area (including a “sweep” of the encampment, was US$ 4 million. The money was logged under “special events” policing in city records.)

I am pointing to this mostly as an opportunity to work in a couple of great quotes from Bedford’s story, that do a nice job of framing the issue of where we choose to spend our public money.

First up, Maggie Sullivan, who works at Boston Health Care for the Homeless as a nurse practitioner. Sullivan says:

“That much money could make a really significant dent at Mass. and Cass. Who should ever wait for a detox bed if there’s $4 million to spare?”…

“If you’re getting paid $15 an hour to try to connect people to services while somebody else is standing there getting paid $66 an hour to maybe — or maybe not — intervene when there’s a safety issue happening is just … it demonstrates what our society values,” Sullivan said. “It’s heartbreaking.”

And then there’s Natalia Linos, executive director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University. Linos says:

“Sometimes it’s a shocking price tag when it comes to public health. People will say, ‘are you really going to spend $3 million on 200 people?’” she said. “But we’re already spending it. We just lost the opportunity to have a conversation about the best use of that money.”

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2. Taxi driver who failed to disclose impaired driving conviction appeals loss of licence

Two taxis are seen at night, with blurry lights in the background.
Taxis Credit: Lexi Ruskell/Unsplash

Zane Woodford reports on the case of former Halifax taxi driver Alexander Sarukhanov, who was convicted of impaired driving in 2021, lost his taxi licence, and now would like it back:

Sarukhanov applied in October 2022 for a new taxi driver’s licence. According to a report by licence administrator Lois Beaton McNamara, he previously held one from September 2019 to September 2021.

As part of the application process, Sarukhanov submitted a driver’s abstract and criminal record check. Those showed Sarukhanov was convicted of impaired driving in 2021.

One of Sarukhanov’s lawyers arguments on behalf of his client is kind of a head-scratcher. It is in the full story, which is for subscribers. Click here to read “Halifax taxi driver convicted of impaired driving appeals licence denial.”

You can subscribe here to get access to all of the Examiner’s reporting.

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3. December COVID report

A positive COVID test result
Photo by Min An on Pexels.com Credit: Tim Bousquet

This item was written by Tim Bousquet and Philip Moscovitch

Tim:

The monthly COVID epidemiological summary for December was released yesterday.

Before getting into the December numbers, a note about November: the November summary reported 24 deaths in that month, but because the reporting of deaths lags, sometimes considerably, that figure has now been revised upwards to 37.

So with that very important caveat, the new reports says there were 11 COVID deaths in December. That is undoubtedly an undercount, and the count will be revised upward, probably considerably, at a later date.

But of those 11 deaths in December, 91% (10) were people aged 70 years and older and 36% (4) were people residing in a long-term care facility. The 11th death was someone aged 50-69.

A graph representing the date of death of people who had COVID

The graph shows the number and seven-day moving average of COVID deaths by date of death, Mar. 1 to Dec 31, 2022 (441 people died through that period). Purple is December, and again, expect those death numbers to be revised upward next month.

Note: the above graph is incorrectly labeled in the monthly summary, because evidently no one copyedits this stuff.

In December, 165 people were hospitalized because of COVID, up slightly from 158 in November, but still markedly lower than the 234 hospitalized in October.

The table above shows the hospitalization and death rates by age group, March 1 to December 31, 2022. Note that the hospitalization data in the table is incomplete because, remarkably, a small number of people were hospitalized but no one seems to know how old they were.

The table above shows the age-adjusted hospitalization (with the above caveat) and death rates by vaccine status, March 1 to December 31, 2022.

In the above tables, “person-years” is the number of people over a set period of time. So, if you study 100 people over one year, there are 100 person-years; if you study 10 people over 10 years, there are also 100 person years. In this case, the people are studied over 10 months.

The “crude rate” is the number of people who were hospitalized or died in each category, per 100,000 in each vaccination status.

“Age-adjusted” recognizes that Nova Scotia’s population skews elderly and is better vaccinated than other jurisdictions in Canada, so to make meaningful comparisons, the data reflect what the rate would be if Nova Scotia reflected the “standard” Canadian age and vaccination distribution.

In general, people aged 70 and older in Nova Scotia have been hospitalized at almost 19 times the rate of those 18-49 years old, and their rate of death is 280 times higher compared to those under 50 years of age.

And unvaccinated people in Nova Scotian were hospitalized and died at almost three times the rate as those with three or more doses (hospitalized = 2.7; died=2.5).

Besides at hospitals and nursing homes, there is no statistically relevant (for our purposes) PCR testing, and even rapid testing is rare and results rarely reported, so I no longer report new case numbers.

The takeaway: on average, there’s slightly more than one COVID death a day, and about five or six people are hospitalized daily because of COVID. But they’re mostly old people, so there’s widespread indifference to it.

Philip:

You may have missed it, but the World Health Organization updated its guidance on masks and COVID-19 the other day. (I would have been happier if the pic they chose to illustrate the article had shown people in N95 masks instead of surgical paper masks.)

Anyway, the updated guidance is that you should wear masks in the following situations, regardless of the local epidemiological situation. (In other words, whether or not there is a surge in COVID where you live — something that’s hard to figure out, given the paucity of data.) From the guidance:

WHO continues to recommend the use of masks by the public in specific situations, and this update recommends their use irrespective of the local epidemiological situation, given the current spread of the COVID-19 globally. Masks are recommended following a recent exposure to COVID-19, when someone has or suspects they have COVID-19, when someone is at high-risk of severe COVID-19, and for anyone in a crowded, enclosed, or poorly ventilated space. Previously, WHO recommendations were based on the epidemiological situation.

How are you supposed to know if you are in a poorly ventilated space? Well, as I’ve written before, an inexpensive CO2 monitor provides some guidance. In December I attended a small holiday market at a local restaurant/coffee shop, selling copies of my book. The vendors were all masked; most customers were not. The space is not large, and the building is old. Plus it was December so, you know, no open windows. It was interesting watching the CO2 levels creep up slowly, then shoot up as more people arrived, and then stay high even after the crowding was over.

Back to the World Health Organization. They are also recommending a reduced isolation period. We in Nova Scotia, of course, have no mandated isolation period. This means people can just be assholes and go about their business like normal, infecting others, or that they can be forced by economic circumstances into situations where they will infect others because they don’t have the option of staying home.

I guess I’m in an editorializing mood this morning. Here is the WHO recommended guidance on isolation, which, even reduced, is way longer than what you’ll find in many jurisdictions:

WHO advises that a COVID-19 patient can be discharged from isolation early if they test negative on an antigen-based rapid test.

Without testing, for patients with symptoms, the new guidelines suggest 10 days of isolation from the date of symptom onset. Previously, WHO advised that patients be discharged 10 days after symptom onset, plus at least three additional days since their symptoms had resolved.

For those who test positive for COVID-19 but do not have any signs or symptoms, WHO now suggests 5 days of isolation in the absence of testing, compared to 10 days previously.

Environmental engineer Richard Corsi, dean of engineering at UC Davis and co-creator of the Corsi-Rosenthal box, summed up our depressing approach to the pandemic on Twitter the other day:

“The pandemic is far from over.” Of course not. Why would it be over when doing the simple things that could substantially suppress suffering and death have largely been abandoned? It was never rocket science, folks. Just a lack of will.

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4. I guarantee you this is a fully artisanal human-written Morning File

person using typewriter
Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

Last month, the Examiner published my story on AI writing tools and what they might mean for the future of journalism. The story was for subscribers, but is now out from behind the paywall and available for everyone. It is called, “Could a robot write this? Lessons on using AI writing tools, and what they mean for journalism” and you can read it here.

I take a fairly comprehensive approach in the story (it’s not a quick read, but hopefully a lively one) looking at everything from asking AI to write restaurant reviews and news stories, to looking at the systemic bias and racism built into the system. In terms of journalism, I’m not super-optimistic:

Considering how brief the period was between the time decent iPhone cameras appeared and the time newspapers decided they mostly didn’t need photojournalists any more, I have little doubt media organizations will be looking at how to use AI.

Best-case scenario: the robots write the “cops say a gas station was robbed” stories and journalists have more time to dig into and investigate the really important stories. More likely scenario: more journalists lose their jobs.

When the story was first published, Tim Bousquet wrote:

One of the most rewarding parts of my job is letting a writer run off with some idea I either hadn’t much thought about or had no great interest in, and they come back with an article that leaves me gobsmacked.

This is what happened when Philip Moscovitch said he’d like to write something about AI writing, and I said, sure, have at it, thinking he’d write a quirky piece making fun of the process. Instead, he came back with a tour de force.

Well, that’s nice. The funny thing though, is my feeling about this was almost exactly the same, but from the opposite perspective. I asked Bousquet if he wanted something on AI writing tools, he said sure, I asked if he wanted a more detailed pitch and he said something like, “No, have at it.”

There’s a lesson here for freelancers and editors that applies beyond the Examiner: there are benefits to working with people you trust and letting them do their thing.

Click here to read “Could a robot write this? Lessons on using AI writing tools, and what they mean for journalism.”

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5. Starlink agrees to stop ruining the night sky (sort of)

Night sky with evenly spaced streaks of light moving across it in a line.
Starlink satellites. Credit: Forest Katsch on Unsplash

Maybe you’ve seen them. Streaks of light in the night sky. Sometimes we can spot them here over St. Margaret’s Bay. They’re Starlink satellites, operated by Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

You may think the satellites look kind of cool. Or you may think they represent a kind of vandalism of the night sky. Either way, they wreak havoc on the work of astronomers, and after years of complaints about it the company has agreed to try and mitigate some of the effects.

Starlink plans to launch 30,000 satellites into low orbit. So far, the US Federal Communications Commission has only approved 7,500 with the rest conditional on SpaceX coming to an agreement with the US National Science Foundation (NSF) on dealing with the effects of the devices.

From a story in the Register:

The problem with satellite constellations such as Starlink is that there are a lot of them, and they are positioned in low-Earth orbit a few hundred kilometers up, placing them much closer to the Earth’s surface than satellites in geostationary orbits sitting at about 35,000 kilometers…

With this new coordination agreement, NSF and SpaceX continue to explore methods to “further protect ground-based astronomy,” the pair said in a statement issued by the NSF.

These include mitigations SpaceX has developed for its second-generation satellites such as a dielectric mirror film, solar array changes, and new black paint that minimizes brightness and glints, as well as adopting best practices during flight operations.

SpaceX has also committed to work towards recommendations from NSF’s NOIRLab, the American Astronomical Society’s SATCON workshops and the International Astronomical Union’s Dark and Quiet Skies best practices guidance.

The “sort of” part is that the agreement is “effectively voluntary,” so we will see.

One of the things I very much value about where I live is the dark skies.

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VIEWS

Hélène Tanguay

An older white woman with white hair and thick-framed artsy glasses looks into the camera. She holds a small toy box incorporating a cat poking its head out the top and paw prints on the front.
Hélène Tanguay Credit: Jody Kramer/Facebook

Hélène Tanguay died just over a week ago. Now, it’s unlikely you have heard of Hélène, unless you are part of the very small world of auteur animation. But I want to say a few words about her.

Hélène was for many years a marketing manager at the National Film Board in Montreal. That’s where I met her, during my brief tenure with the board. I was marketing manager for English-language documentaries out of the Montreal and Halifax studios. Hélène was responsible for English animation.

Here’s the thing about Hélène: she loved her job. She loved animation, and animators, and she worked her ass off to promote her films: going to the festivals, talking them up, doing whatever she could to get them nominated for awards, including Oscars. And people loved her. The filmmakers loved her, her colleagues loved her, the animation world respected her.

Marketing managers are not people who get a lot of love. My job as a documentary marketing manager involved figuring out who the audience was, packaging films appropriately, coming up with appropriate partnerships, organizing screenings, writing (or hiring someone to write) copy, and defending sometimes boneheaded decisions made by people higher up than me. It’s not glamorous work, but it’s stuff that’s got to get done. It also often puts you at odds with the people who actually make the films, who may disagree with you on who the audience is, the choice of artwork (in those days for DVD covers), and whether you should be spending money to send the filmmakers to festivals.

At one point, I was reading Raymond Chandler’s correspondence, and Chandler was full of complaints about the marketing of his novels: the price point was too high (he believed a mystery novel should not cost more than a movie), he didn’t like the cover designs, and so on. Oh, I thought, he feels the same way about the marketers as some of the filmmakers feel about me. Not much changes in the relationships between creators and marketers, I guess.

All this to say, a beloved marketing manager is a rare thing indeed. And yet, that’s exactly what Hélène was.

In December, I wrote about the animated film The Flying Sailor, by Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis.This is how the film’s credits end:

Black background with the word for Hélène Tanguay in white.
From the credits for The Flying Sailor. Credit: National Film Board of Canada.

When Hélène retired from the NFB in 2007, the Cinémathèque québécoise hosted an evening celebrating her. Many of the country’s greatest animators showed up. The late Emru Townsend wrote about it for the animation magazine FPS:

Thirty-seven years after starting at the Board — her first and only place of employment — she’ll be retiring from her position as marketing manager for the NFB’s English Animation Studio, and about a hundred of her friends and colleagues showed up to wish her well.

“Marketing manager” sounds like a dull title, perilously close to the “suits” that are reviled by many animation artists and fans. Hélène, however, is no self-important suit. More than once, the words “passionate” and “devoted” were used to describe her love of animation, and she counts many of its most prodigious practitioners as friends. It’s not her fault that other marketing managers don’t live up to her gold standard.

The magazine Animation noted that Hélène joined the Film Board at 17. From the magazine:

Across social media, Tanguay is being remembered by both the Canadian and international animation communities. The Annecy festival, which Tanguay attended every year from 1975 to 2008 (serving on the short film jury that year), described her as “the finest ambassador the NFB ever had. She was charming, funny, playful, colorful, and strong willed. She loved animation, films, directors, Annecy and other festivals, and in return she too was much loved and appreciated worldwide.”

Julie Roy, who is now the head of production and marketing for the NFB, said Hélène was “driven by one desire: to spread the word about these artists and their work.” (Roy was one of my fellow marketing managers when I was at the Board. She seems to have made some better career choices than me.)

Hélène spent her last days in a hospice in Montreal, as a steady stream of animators from across the country dropped in to visit her and tell her how much she meant to them. The photo at the top of this segment is from one of these animators, Jody Kramer.

Since Hélène died, I’ve been thinking about her personally, but also about all the other Hélène Tanguays out there: people who are instrumental in making shit happen, who care deeply about their jobs and the people they work with, and who are not widely celebrated.

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NOTICED

The exciting, high-stakes world of reporting

Vintage board game box. The game is called Newsdesk and the tagline is All the excitement of international reporting... competitive.. fast-moving. Artwork shows a white man on the phone, a map of the world, and a toy telex machine.
The box for Newsdesk / Reporter Credit: boardgamegeek.com

I recently learned about a 1976 board game called Newsdesk, or, alternately, Reporter. (In French: Envoyé Spécial). Here’s the description from Board Game Geek:

The players take the position as reporters from a newspaper. Four news stories are missing on each newspaper front page and it is up to the players to get them.

The game board, which is divided into 10×16 squares, shows a map of the world. Each player has four reporters that he can move around the world searching for news stories.

Central in the game mechanics is a telex, which tells the players where to go finding stories. The player rolls the die and then turns the telex as many messages back or forth as the die roll shows. The telex will now show one or two messages from one or two cities, for example: “Jalta – Crime”. The player then rolls the die once more and tries to get one of his reporters to Jalta. If he succeeds in this then he might draw a news card and if the card has a news report of the same category as the message on the telex (i.e, crime), then he might place this card on one of the blank spaces on his front page.

Winner is the player who first fills up all the blank spaces on his front page.

Box for the board game Newsdesk, along with the playing board (a map of the world), newspapers from the game, and the game's toy telex machine.
Inside the fast-paced world of Newsdesk/Reporter Credit: boardgamegeek.com

Here is a better view of that telex machine:

A small plastic toy Telex machine, with two spools and a keyboard.
What could be more fun than sending a Telex? From the game Reporter/Newsdesk. Credit: boardgamegeek.com

The game has a rating of 4.1 (out of 10) and is ranked number 22,787 in popularity, but I don’t care. I now want one.

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Government

City

Today

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

Tomorrow

Budget Committee (Wednesday, 9:30am, City Hall) — and online

License Appeal Committee (Wednesday, 4:30pm, City Hall) — agenda

Province

Veterans Affairs (Tuesday, 2pm, One Government Place) — Last Post Fund, with Robert Carter and Steve St. Amant


On campus

Dalhousie

Today

No events

Tomorrow

Launch: HealthcareLCA database (Wednesday, 4pm, online) — a new open-access, interactive database of healthcare’s environmental impacts; more info here

Life in the fast Lane – a day in the Emergency Department (Wednesday, 7pm) — this week’s free online Mini Medical School event


In the harbour

Halifax
08:00: Nord Superior, oil tanker, sails from Imperial Oil for sea
08:00: AlgoNorth, oil tanker, moves from anchorage to Imperial Oil
15:00: NYK Remus, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Caucedo, Dominican Republic
16:30: Atlantic Sky, ro-ro container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York

Cape Breton
12:00: Nordic Harrier, oil tanker, arrives at EverWind from Allan Offshore Terminal (Nigeria)


Footnotes

I think this might be my 250th contribution to the Examiner, which seems like some kind of milestone, even though it pales by comparison next to my colleagues’ output.

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Philip Moscovitch

Philip Moscovitch is a writer and audio producer, and the author of the book Adventures in Bubbles and Brine; Website:...

Tim Bousquet

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

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3 Comments

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  1. Tim or Philip, can you find out how well the current rapid tests work at detecting the newest variant? (And why a scary name like “Kraken” instead of “Rosebud” or “Fluffy”)

    1. My understanding is that because XBB.1.5 is a sub-variant of Omicron, the rapid tests are as effective in detecting it as the previously dominant Omicron variants. The technical explanation is that the mutations are mostly on the spike protein, but this isn’t what the tests are looking for.

      1. I heard or read, but don’t remember where, that they are much less accurate because of where this particular strain settles in the respiratory tract when (if) one catches it.