Before we start, let me assure that I have not embedded any weirdo fake April Fool’s stories in today’s Morning File.

News

1.   10 new COVID-19 deaths in Nova Scotia

COVID-19 rapid antigen test photo illustration. Photo: Yvette d’Entremont

This item is written by Tim Bousquet and Philip Moscovitch.

Tim:

Ten people died from COVID in the week ending March 29. Additionally, 51 people were in hospital Tuesday because of COVID who still have active cases, and 11 of those are in ICU.

There were 4,188 lab-confirmed (PCR tests) new cases during that week, which is an average of 598 per day. The previous week there were an average of 493 per day.

Public Health’s COVID reporting is being migrated from the dashboard to a new “Nova Scotia Weekly COVID-19 Epidemiologic Summary.” The Summary relates these stats:

The percentage of COVID-19 cases that have been hospitalized are lower in Wave 5 (1.5%) compared to previous waves, particularly the first wave (5.3%) when vaccines were not yet available. The percentage of COVID-19 cases that resulted in death are also lower in Wave 5 (0.3%) compared the first wave (5.9%).

That’s a 20-fold reduction in the rate of death among cases, but there’s been a much greater increase in the number of cases, so the absolute number of deaths is larger in Wave 5 — in fact, more people have died during Wave 5 (143) than through all previous Waves combined (112).

If the deaths per cases rate of 0.3% maintains, we can expect 12 or 13 of the people who tested positive last week to die.

Philip:

I am endlessly, endlessly, fascinated by the positives and negatives of human ability to adapt to just about anything. Often we adapt to the wrong thing. So, for instance, instead of working on fixing ventilation and continuing to wear masks, we’ve decided we just want to go out.

As Saahil Desai wrote in the Atlantic last month, instead of better ventilation in restaurants, we get QR codes:

This return to whatever “normal” is now hasn’t brought out many improvements that would make restaurants safer—against the inevitable next COVID variant, against a future virus that might strike down the line, against everything. Restaurants could be making better decisions, but so could the rest of us. At every turn, Americans have failed to grasp just how much indoor air matters for this pandemic. HEPA filters would be in every restaurant already if that’s what customers truly wanted, or if governments required them. “It’s business as usual until national codes dictate that you have to have HEPA filters, that you’ve got to make these changes,” [Clive] Samuels, [president of the HVAC company CoolSys Energy Design], said.

The quicker we move away from COVID’s crisis phase, the less appetite restaurants—and grocery stores, offices, convention centers, and all other indoor spaces—will have to make the fundamental changes that are necessary to help stop people from getting sick.

So now we’ve gotten used to reporting — week in, week out — that 10 or 15, or 20 deaths a week is just the price we need to pay, instead of adopting any meaningful prevention techniques. As American writer PE Moskowitz put it (more on them later):

We just go on with the “low hum of death,” as I’ve called it, because we are conditioned to not demand a better response to Covid, or any other health crisis in this country.

Maybe I should have given you an April Fool’s joke here instead.

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2. Tories not keen on Liberal MLA’s bill to help first-time homebuyers

A for sale sign on a property in Dartmouth on Thursday, March 31, 2022. — Photo: Zane Woodford

Zane Woodford reports on the failure of an attempt to make houses slightly more affordable for first-time homebuyers:

Cole Harbour-Dartmouth MLA Lorelei Nicoll introduced Bill 100, an act to amend the Municipal Government Act, last week, and it received second reading in the house on Wednesday…

The bill would waive deed transfer tax for first-time homebuyers. That tax is levied on the buyer of any property, residential or commercial. The Municipal Government Act allows municipalities to charge up to 1.5%. In Halifax Regional Municipality, the tax is the full 1.5% — $7,500 on a $500,000 home, for example.

But second reading is probably as far as it will get.

NDP and PC MLAs spoke against the bill, including housing minister John Lohr. He said the bill would reduce revenue for municipalities while creating more work for them, as they would have to determine eligibility. Lohr said:

We realize we’re in a housing crisis and we’re moving to address it in a number of different ways. But as I said, I think that our municipalities would be rather shocked at this bill, because this bill is telling them what to do. And it’s my goal as minister not to do that.”

This is Morning File, not a news story, so I get to editorialize. Waiving the deed transfer tax in this circumstance makes no sense, and the other parties are right to oppose it. Housing prices are out of control. If the (up to) 1.5% of the deed transfer tax is going to break your ability to buy a house, you probably can’t afford the house. It’s like waiving the cost of oil changes on a vehicle. Sure, it’s nice if your dealer will cover them for two years or whatever (Do they do that? I’ve bought one new car in my life), but if you’re counting on that, maybe don’t buy the car.

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3. Lucky to be alive

Carole and Adam Fisher. Photo: ditchdoctor.ca

A year before the mass murders of April 18 and 19 2020, Adam Fisher was invited to the unmarked warehouse in Portapique belonging to an acquaintance he knew as Gabe. What he saw and heard disturbed him, Jennifer Henderson reports.

Gabe showed him two unmarked police cruisers and boasted about his plans to transform one into a replica vehicle. “Why would you want to do that?” Adam recalled asking him. Gabe shrugged. “Because I can,” he said.

On the morning of April 19, the Fishers saw what they thought was an RCMP car pulling into their driveway:

As they saw the car come up the driveway, both Adam and Carole ran upstairs to get dressed. Each watched curiously from an upstairs window as they saw a man in a black ballcap and reflective vest reach for something on the passenger side — apparently a gun — get out of the car and walk to the back of their house. Both Carole and Adam realized this was not an RCMP officer.

It was Gabe.

He rang the doorbell.

“He’s here to kill us,” Adam thought. “It’s like fucking watching a Terminator movie. When he got out of the car, he was stone cold and collected. He was in no hurry,” he told Cst. Townsend.

Henderson recounts the next chilling half hour, as Adam loaded shells into a shotgun and Carole huddled in the bathtub, convinced she was about to die. As Henderson writes:

It’s possible the killer turned up their driveway as a precaution against being followed. It doesn’t explain why he didn’t force his way in and shoot them as he had others. The Fishers know they are very lucky to be alive.

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4. We’re really in the money now

Public art by Tom Otterness in the NYC subway system. Photo: Philip Moscovitch.

Minimum wage goes up in Nova Scotia today. All the way up to… wait for it… $13.35 an hour. This increase is part of a “path” to get us to $15 per hour in two years.

In a Saltwire story, Stuart Peddle writes:

[NDP leader Gary] Burrill said the time for following a path to $15 is past.

“What we need to do is establish a path from $15 to an actual living wage,” he said. “And the thing that highlights this and heightens it is the intense escalation of prices over the last six, 12 months, with the dramatic increases in food prices and the equally dramatic increases in prices for furnace oil, and gas.”

Burrill said the cost of living has risen in such an “intensified” way that $13.35 an hour is not something feasible for Nova Scotians looking to afford the basic necessities of life.

The inexperienced worker minimum wage, which is even lower, was previously eliminated. I remember the first time one of my kids got a job that paid below minimum wage, because they were inexperienced, and I figured there was no way that could be legal, and that the employer must be taking advantage. Nope! Welcome to labour standards in Nova Scotia, I guess. I’m glad it’s gone.

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5. The endless forms that fraud can take

Yale University in spring. Photo: yale.edu

I am fascinated by fraud. Especially fraud in small organizations with few controls. Church parishes, amateur sports organizations, non-profits, and so on. And I’m fascinated by the inventiveness of the fraudsters.

Yesterday I came across a story from Yale that is inventive, but definitely not small-scale.

Hannah Qu writes for the Yale News that an administrator at the university’s medical school pleaded guilty to defrauding the university of $40 million. The fraud was perpetrated over a decade, and the perpetrator, Jamie Petrone-Codrington, was the department of emergency medicine’s director of finance and administration for part of that time.

How did she do it? Well, she had the authority to buy up to $10,000 worth of computer hardware and software at a time for the department. So she did that — over and over and over again, reselling the equipment.

Qu writes:

She broke up the fraudulent purchases into orders below the $10,000 threshold that would necessitate additional approval. An out-of-state business, which resold the electronic equipment to customers, paid Petrone-Codrington by wiring funds into an account of a company in which she is a principal, Maziv Entertainment LLC.

According to the government court filing, Yale received an anonymous tip that Petrone-Codrington was “ordering suspiciously high volumes of computer equipment, some of which was placed into her personal vehicle.”

Petrone-Codrington used the proceeds of the sales of the stolen equipment for various personal expenses, including expensive cars, real estate and travel.

She has agreed to forfeit $560,421.14 that was seized from the Maziv Entertainment LLC bank account as well as a litany of expensive cars: a 2014 Mercedes-Benz G550, a 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sv Autobiography, a 2015 Cadillac Escalade Premium, a 2020 Mercedes Benz Model E450A, a 2016 Cadillac Escalade and a 2018 Dodge Charger. She also has agreed to liquidate three Connecticut properties that she owns or co-owns to help satisfy her restitution obligation. A property she owns in Georgia is also subject to seizure and liquidation.

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Views

1. The “shared madness” of driving

The notorious Cogswell interchange, via Google satelitte view, 2017.

You know that disconcerting feeling when someone new comes into your family, or friends (or kids’ friends) stay with you for a while and you realize that things you thought were perfectly normal family stuff may actually be quite weird?

That’s the sensation I had reading British journalist Chris Wheatley’s recent story Driving Ourselves Mad.

At 45, Wheatley had never driven a car. While some may object to driving on environmental or other grounds, Wheatley says driving was something he simply never thought about:

In fact, until recently, the idea never entered my head. This might be partially due to my life-long struggle with anxiety and depression—dealing with day-to-day life is often enough of a challenge, without adding further stress…

My personal unease… stems from a deeper place [than concerns about safety or the environment]—an almost primal feeling which overwhelms me at the thought of racing traffic and endless stretches of concrete.

I mean, you grow up and driving seems perfectly normal, right? Like Wheatley, I grew up in a “leafy suburb.” I was lucky enough that it had been built before the age of sprawling acre lots and cul-de-sacs, so I could easily walk or bike to school, the library and rec centre, a cluster of nearby shops, and my friends’ houses. But going farther than that? We had no transit, so you needed a drive. (This was on Montreal’s West Island, and we did eventually get buses that could take us downtown or to the mall.)

But if you’ve never driven — if you’ve reached middle age and have never been behind the wheel of a moving car, I can see how it could feel not only bewildering, but like some kind of entry into a collective delusion.

Wheatley’s piece offers a lot of hard information on downsides of cars, but what makes it stand out for me is his sense of “what the hell are we doing” when it comes to driving:

I started driving lessons despite all of my reservations. Aside from the practical benefits, I wanted to challenge myself and my preconceptions. But sometime around my fifth or sixth outing, my driving came to a literal standstill. I found myself, at the urging of my instructor, facing off against a large bus, at the other end of a narrow gap. “He should come through first,” determined my instructor. I sat behind the wheel as the bus-driver gestured angrily. When he did, at last, steer his vehicle through the gap, my instructor got out of our car to shout and argue as he passed. I was left thinking how ridiculous this all was.

Wheatley’s story appears in PE Moskowitz’s newsletter Mental Hellth. (Tagline: “You’re not crazy, the world is.”) Moskowitz is one of those people who I’m happy to read, pretty much no matter what they are writing about. Their recent story for The Nation on anti-depressants was widely shared, and deservedly so.

That story combines reportage with Moskowitz’s own experience with panic attacks, depression, taking SSRIs and trying to get off them:

Since the release of Prozac in 1986, nearly every year has seen an increase in the number of prescriptions for antidepressants. Between 2015 and 2019, the use of antidepressants in the United States jumped by 15 percent—and by nearly 40 percent in teenagers. In 2018, 13 percent of Americans were on some kind of antidepressant, and the anxiety and depression caused by the pandemic has created another surge. They constitute some of the world’s most popular drugs—there were more Prozac prescriptions in 2019 than prescriptions for the antibiotic amoxicillin.

And yet we don’t know much about how they work, or even if they work for many of the people who take them. The theory that antidepressants correct a chemical imbalance of neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine is not a proven fact. Their basic functioning has not been definitively established. The story we all know is more marketing than science. And the incentive to find out whether they are indeed the best way to treat depression does not exist. In a world where so much scientific research is conducted by pharmaceutical companies and the entities they back, if drugs are making a profit, there’s little reason to question them.

I’ll wrap this up by going back to Wheatley. He writes:

My driving friends are quick to acknowledge their environmental concerns, and their desire to switch to electric vehicles, but the problem with cars runs much deeper: cars, and the infrastructure needed to sustain them, quite literally represent a separation between humankind and the natural environment. Our reliance on vehicles, highways and concrete strips us of our innate connection to our environs.

This touches on the idea that replacing all our internal combustion cars with electric cars will somehow solve a lot of our ills. It will solve some, but we need a broader rethink. Personally, I’m banking on the e-bike revolution having a much more dramatic effect than electric cars.

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2. “Writing is stupid”

Photo: Catherine Heath/Unsplash

About a year and a half ago, I interviewed Jeff Pearlman about his podcast. Pearlman’s written a bunch of New York Times bestsellers, and the HBO series Winning Time is based on his book Showtime. He told me he loved writing, and I thought, that’s weird; he’s probably the first writer I’ve ever talked to who’s said he loves writing. Then, Pearlman clarified: “I truly love talking about writing… I love/hate writing. I love being a writer.”

People ask me how long I’ve been a writer. I don’t know. My first appearance in a book came in 1993. I’d already been freelancing before that. I quite my job to freelance full-time in 1998. Whenever you date it from, it’s a long time.

For most of that time I’ve loathed writing. Sometimes I’ve outright hated it. Many times I’ve considered doing something else. But really? What?

It’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve realized I actually mostly like writing now. Feels strange.

So a recent post on the blog of publisher Run Amok Books caught my eye. (Disclosure: A story of mine appears in an anthology they are publishing later this year.) Written by novelist Yuvi Zalkow, the post is called, “Writing is stupid.” (Zalkow also describes himself as a developer of “neurotic apps.”)

He writes that he never wanted to write, and thought it was a stupid waste of time. Then…

I was struggling emotionally during those college years and my therapist had me write some of my feelings down in a journal, especially the part about why I was cutting myself each night, these small little razor blade cuts around my arms and chest. Most of them not even bad enough to scar, but my therapist still thought it was a problematic way to express myself. So I wrote in the journal about my stupid feelings so my therapist would stop bugging me about it.

Unfortunately, I loved writing about my stupid feelings and I kept writing in journal after journal. Even after I worked through the trickiest parts of my depression and sadness, even after I stopped cutting myself and stopped working with my therapist, I kept writing. Pretty soon, I wanted to turn my feelings into a stupid story that other people could read.

He wrote stories, then a couple of novels.

I kept writing. I couldn’t stop writing even though I thought about stopping every damn day.

His new novel, I Only Cry with Emoticons, is out this year. After 30 years of writing, he says he still finds it “stupid” and “exhausting,” but “it’s a lot less stupid than most of the other options.”

In a reddit AMA eight years ago, Jerry Seinfeld wrote, “Writer’s block is a phony, made up, BS excuse for not doing your work.” I mean, he’s kind of right, right? “Writing is so hard.” I mean, sure it can be hard. Cry me a river. Nobody is forcing you to do it. Lots of people have hard jobs. Lots of people have jobs they hate.

But I like Zukow’s short piece. Writers can get really precious about how hard it is to write. He doesn’t do that. Instead, he gives us a bit of a glimpse into how he went from that kid cutting himself to embracing a new way to express what he felt.

Perhaps paradoxically (or perhaps not) I’ve found that ever since I stopped being precious about writing, looking for inspiration or whatever, and just treated it like a job I’ve come to enjoy it more.

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Noticed

Photo shared on Twitter from Greek Independence Day celebrations on March 25, 2022

I grew up attending Greek Orthodox church services. For a while, a Black woman attended. I remember hearing snickers in the pews. Greeks, apparently, were not Black, and Black people were not Greek.

White nationalists love to drawn on a mythical view of ancient Greece and Rome to bolster their toxic stew of warriorship, race, and masculinity. But the truth is these places were involved in trade and migration on a massive scale, and were never populated just by white people. In a 2019 episode of the Citations Needed podcast, University of Iowa history professor Sarah E. Bond talks about how wrong views of the whiteness of classical antiquity are:

The reality of the Mediterranean is that there were Syrians, there were thousands and thousands of people within the area of Egypt and the area that we call North Africa, Mauritania, all the way to the straits of Gibraltar. It included parts of modern-day Ethiopia. And there were even African emperors like Septimius Severus, who was married to a woman who was of Syrian origin. So the reality would have been that there were lots and lots of different skin tones…

So there would have been lots and lots of different skin tones and not an idea of white people. It’s not as though people in antiquity, the writers in antiquity, didn’t refer to skin color. They absolutely did. But there was no idea of whiteness or white people as a monolithic race because race had not yet been invented as a constructed social category.

Bond had previously noted that marble statues used to be covered in paint, and the only reason they are white now is that the paint has come off. She wrote:

The equation of white marble with beauty is not an inherent truth of the universe. Where this standard came from and how it continues to influence white supremacist ideas today are often ignored.

Bond was invited to argue the point on Fox News with Tucker Carlson (she declined), but nonetheless became a target of anti-Semitic hatred and threats of violence for her piece.

I was thinking about all this recently when I came across the story of James Jakob Williams, shared in time for Greek Independence Day last week.

Williams was a Black American from Baltimore, who fought in the Greek war of independence. His story is told in an article on the website of the Philhellenism Museum, which is in Athens.

James Jakob Williams. Illustration from the collection of the Philhellenism Museum

From the story:

Williams arrived in Greece in January 1827 and was appointed assistant to the British Philhellene Admiral Thomas Cochrane. Williams followed Cochrane everywhere, in all his military campaigns, until the latter left Greece in December 1827. Williams remained in Greece and took part in various battles and naval battles. In many cases, he secretly infiltrated the enemy ranks to collect and convey to the Greeks valuable information, risking his life.

During military operations to liberate Nafpaktos, Williams was seriously injured by a cannon fracture in his arm and leg and was taken to the hospital in Poros. At a critical moment of the conflict, he led a group of Greek fighters and took control of the Greek ship Sotir (Savior), which was unmanned. In fact, he took over the tiller himself, attracting enemy fire. This saved the boat from being captured.

Williams died in Greece, in 1829.

The article says some Black Americans felt an affinity with Greeks during the War of Independence:

The impact that the Greek Revolution had, arises from the articles published by the first newspaper of emancipated Black Americans in the United States, the Freedom’s Journal, published since March 1827 in New York. That newspaper, interested mainly in the anti-slavery movement, saw in the Greek Revolution a struggle of slaves against oppressive masters. It attached to the news from Greece an importance, comparable to the news from Haiti, Africa and the West Indies.

I would love to learn more about Williams.

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Government

No meetings


On campus

Dalhousie

The Crucible (Friday, 7:30pm, Dunn theatre, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — also Saturday, April 2, at 2pm; directed by Nigel Shawn Williams; masks required, $10/$15, info here

Double Date: A Reading Series of Writing Couples (Friday, 7pm, Room 101, Rowe Building) — featuring Truth Is… and Beth Anne Ellipsis, spoken word artists visiting from Guelph, Ontario


In the harbour

Halifax
09:30: Acadian, oil tanker, arrives at Irving Oil from Saint John
13:00: Algoterra, oil tanker, sails from Imperial Oil for sea
16:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, sails from Fairview Cove for Saint-Pierre
23:00: Oceanex Connaigra, ro-ro container, sails from Pier 41 for St. John’s

Cape Breton
14:15: Algoma Victory, bulker, arrives at Coal Pier (Sydney) from Point Tupper
18:00: CSL Tarantau, bulker, sails from Aulds Cove quarry for sea


Footnotes

There is a replica of the Peggy’s Cove lighthouse in Alberta. It has stood on the shores of Sylvan Lake, near Red Deer, since 1988:

Funding was initiated with a $125,000 provincial grant, and the Rotary Club of Sylvan Lake and committee launched a campaign to offer sponsorship of commemorative bricks in the lighthouse base and on the surrounding apron to raise remaining monies towards project completion…

To date thousands of visitors view the lighthouse annually, and it’s featured frequently in photographs by locals and tourists alike – if you search Sylvan Lake online, the lighthouse is a dominant image featured. At night, Sylvan’s shoreline is lit up by this icon’s changing colours and sunset gives it a golden glow each evening.

Take that, Crystal City naysayers. Nova Scotia could have had replicas of the Eiffel Tower and the leaning tower of Pisa. Meanwhile, Sylvan Lake has a replica of the Peggy’s Cove lighthouse.


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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:...

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  1. That picture of James Jakob Williams is so impressive. So many blades! He was a few years too late to meet Lord Byron while in Greece, but for whatever it’s worth Admiral Cochrane was the inspiration for Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey.

  2. Imagine biking to the Popeye’s, getting off your bike entering, ordering your greasy chicken sandwich at the counter, going outside and eating said sandwich in front of the frustrated auto queue.

    Of course it wouldn’t happen. I’m sure Popeye’s would service the cars first. Our deranged world in a microcosm.

    1. Or just walking over from one of the nearby buildings. 🙂 I’m a walker (from another part of the HRM); and I’ve gotten service inside faster than cars lined up outside at both McDonald’s and Tim Horton’s, so it could possibly happen at Popeye’s, couldn’t it?

  3. A perfect example of the “Shared Madness of Driving”: Lining up in traffic for two hours to eat at the first Popeye’s restaurant inAtlantic Canada. Insanity.

    Also, regarding the multi-ethnicity of Greeks: American basketball commentators have had to learn how to pronounce Giannis Anthetokoumpo’s lovely greek name.