News

1. Latest COVID-19 numbers

Tim Bousquet has the latest COVID-19 numbers for the province:

Four new cases of COVID-19 are announced in Nova Scotia today (Monday, Jan. 4). All four cases are in Nova Scotia Health’s Central Zone; one is a close contact of a previously announced case; one is related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada; and the other two cases are still under investigation, meaning (if history is any guide) we’ll never hear an explanation about them.

Bousquet’s comment on the “under investigation” thing has become almost a throwaway joke at this point, but it would be great to actually find out what the results of some of these investigations are.

See all of Bousquet’s piece, including updated advisories and map, here.

One of the standard phrases in the “get tested if you were at this place” notices is “out of an abundance of caution” — a phrase I cannot hear without thinking about Sheldon MacLeod, who was the first person I heard using it. (He was quoting from some corporate weaselly non-apology-type press release and had fun saying “an abundance of caution” in an exaggerated way, dragging it out.) I always find it interesting how these phrases come out of nowhere.

Look at those spikes.

The Google Trends graph for interest in “an abundance of caution” seems to quite nicely mirror the waves of COVID-19 infection.

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2. Promises…. promises, the Randy Delorey edition

I found this pic in the Examiner media library with this caption and no context: “Randy Delorey: bullshit factory”

Jennifer Henderson unpacks some of the many, many promises made by Randy Delorey, one of the three underwhelming candidates for the provincial Liberal leadership.

If you’re looking for big ideas, you aren’t going to find a lot of them here. Delorey wants to cap delivery fees charged by companies like Uber Eats and Skip the Dishes, and defer or waive some business taxes.

There is a lot of vague stuff here. For example, from Henderson’s story:

Fund technology training for small businesses to increase productivity, efficiency, and competitiveness.

The language is vague but as an example, Delorey says it could include a payment to small business such as a diner or Mom-and-Pop operation which needs to move their products and services online so people can order and arrange pickup remotely. Tax credits and programs are already available for medium and large businesses.

One of Delorey’s proposals is to implement a tax holiday in 2021 for hospitality and food service businesses. I have to say I’m kind of shocked to see that small businesses in these sectors contribute only $2 million or so a year in provincial taxes. I would have imagined the number to be higher.

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3. Nova Scotia MLAs stick relatively close to home

The Halifax airport is nearly deserted Monday morning. Photo courtesy Kent Martin

While cabinet ministers in Ontario, Alberta, and elsewhere have been flying off to Hawaii, Mexico, and the UK for vacations, Nova Scotia MLAs have stayed closer to home, Zane Woodford reports.

He writes:

Some of the Liberals have travelled inside Canada:

  • Ben Jessome travelled to British Columbia in June.
  • Rafah DiCostanzo travelled to Ontario in July, a trip which Tobin described as “compassionate.”
  • Keith Irving travelled to Prince Edward Island in July and Ontario in August.
  • Randy Delorey, another leadership candidate, travelled to Prince Edward Island in August.

Among cabinet ministers:

  • Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Minister Lloyd Hines travelled within the Atlantic Bubble, to Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, in August.
  • African Nova Scotian Affairs Minister Tony Ince travelled within the Atlantic Bubble, to Newfoundland and Labrador, in November.
  • Community Services Minister Kelly Regan travelled to Ontario in September.

Reporters across the country are looking into politicians’ travels, and anyone who is trying to cover up a trip they should not have taken is a fool.

Yesterday, a caller on the Rick Howe show suggested that the stories of politicians going on Hawaiian holidays and whatnot should spur us to civil war. (Howe told her she’d made some good points, but honestly, I think he was pretty much done listening at that point and was just trying to dump the call and move on.) I think there is more going on here than the idea that politicians should set good examples. All the travel we have seen elsewhere really speaks to a culture of entitlement and to people getting and doing what they want, generally with few or no consequences. It’s not about politics; it’s about power.

I always keep these kinds of stories in mind when people go on about entitled millennials.

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4. Addiction and mental health services moving out of downtown Dartmouth

The current home of Connections Dartmouth. Note the ramp. Photo: Google Street View.

In a move that maybe makes some kind of bureaucratic sense but otherwise seems completely wrong-headed, the Nova Scotia Health Authority is planning to move three addictions and mental health clinics out of downtown Dartmouth.

In a CBC story on the move, Emma Smith and Robyn Simon write:

Connections Dartmouth on Portland Street, Belmont House on Alderney Drive and a clinic on Wyse Road are moving into a new building in the Dartmouth suburb of Portland Hills, which is about six kilometres from downtown…

The Nova Scotia Health Authority says it’s been eyeing a move for years, in part because Connections Dartmouth isn’t accessible and the building isn’t in good condition.

Note the image above of the front of the “non-accessible” building housing Connections. (A tip of the hat to @knittingbybicycle for pointing this out on Twitter.)

Simon and Smith also quote NSHA Central Zone mental health and addictions head Rachel Boehm:

When NSHA sent out a request for proposals to lease a new space, it got just one response, she said.

“There’s some stigma around leasing to mental health and addictions, and it limits our choice, really when we’re looking for new locations,” she said.

All this is infuriating on a number of levels.

We need to make mental health and addiction services as easy to access as possible. And that means being closest to the most vulnerable people who need them. The NSHA points out that their new location is accessible by transit. Well, so is downtown Dartmouth. When services move to the suburbs, we often hear the argument that they are more accessible because of easier parking. Nobody seems to be making that case here, thankfully. (Plus, have you ever had trouble parking in downtown Dartmouth? I have not.)

I don’t know what to say about the argument that choice is limited because landlords don’t want mental health and addictions services in their building. I don’t know, does the health authority own any buildings? (Yes.) Is there a reason why they couldn’t purchase a building that suits their purpose? Are our health services going to be at the mercy of what landlords want?

As Matthew Bonn of the Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs says in the story, “I just couldn’t even imagine what … some of the people I see down on Alderney, what they’re going to do.”

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5. Halibut: Putting the big ones back

Atlantic Halibut. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Still at CBC, Paul Withers continues his reporting on the fisheries beat, this time with a story on a proposal for a maximum allowable size for halibut caught by fishers.

He writes:

“It is worth considering whether a maximum size would also be of benefit to make sure that those very large animals that are spawners could continue to contribute to the population,” said Nell den Heyer, a research scientist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

But one of the key questions is whether those large fish will survive in the ocean after having been caught.

Withers says:

Right now, the fishery has a minimum size only. Discarding halibut over 81 centimetres is prohibited by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The research will help decide if the rules should change.

“We would be interested in their survival when being returned because they’re such big fish, they might not have the same response to being handled or brought to the surface as the smaller fish,” said den Heyer. “So we’re interested in their survivability because we are considering changing our management.”

There is precedent for maximum sizes. Maine’s lobster fishing regulations for instance, require that the largest females (who carry exponentially more eggs than smaller ones) be put back in the water, as Linda Pannozzo and Joan Baxter have written. And there is some thought that taking the largest cod was one of the causes of the collapse of that fishery.

In his piece, Withers also gets into the history of the halibut fishery, which is now thriving, after having been in danger in the 1990s due to overfishing.

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Views

1.  Critical examinations of nursing and its history

A group of English nurses in France, 1918. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Back in November, an article called “The Racist Lady with the Lamp” caught my eye. The piece, by registered nurse and Université de Montréal doctoral student Natalie Stake-Doucet, takes a look at Florence Nightingale’s racist and colonial views.

If you have heard of Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), you probably have an image of a saintly figure attending to those wounded in battle. She was also an educator and reformer. Here is a description of her taking charge with the corps of nurses she led to treat sick and wounded soldiers during the Crimean War:

Although they had been warned of the horrid conditions there, nothing could have prepared Nightingale and her nurses for what they saw when they arrived at Scutari, the British base hospital in Constantinople. The hospital sat on top of a large cesspool, which contaminated the water and the building itself. Patients lay in their own excrement on stretchers strewn throughout the hallways. Rodents and bugs scurried past them. The most basic supplies, such as bandages and soap, grew increasingly scarce as the number of ill and wounded steadily increased. Even water needed to be rationed. More soldiers were dying from infectious diseases like typhoid and cholera than from injuries incurred in battle.

The no-nonsense Nightingale quickly set to work. She procured hundreds of scrub brushes and asked the least infirm patients to scrub the inside of the hospital from floor to ceiling. Nightingale herself spent every waking minute caring for the soldiers. In the evenings she moved through the dark hallways carrying a lamp while making her rounds, ministering to patient after patient. The soldiers, who were both moved and comforted by her endless supply of compassion, took to calling her “the Lady with the Lamp.” Others simply called her “the Angel of the Crimea.” Her work reduced the hospital’s death rate by two-thirds.

In addition to vastly improving the sanitary conditions of the hospital, Nightingale instituted an “invalid’s kitchen” where appealing food for patients with special dietary requirements was prepared. She also established a laundry so that patients would have clean linens, as well as a classroom and library for intellectual stimulation and entertainment.

In her piece, Stake-Doucet looks at some of Nightingale’s own writings to show that her focus on cleanliness went beyond sanitation, to a view that many Indigenous practices were inherently unclean, and that they were responsible for ill-health. She quotes from Nightingale’s report, Sanitary Statistics: Native Colonial Schools and Hospitals, published in 1863:

In the report, Nightingale defended the deaths of Indigenous children in the Canadian precursors to residential schools: “There is nothing in the school education as described in the returns, sufficient to account for the special prevalence of tubercular diseases in these schools. The causes must probably be looked for in the close foul atmosphere of the native dwelling.” Her comments on the Canadian situation were indicative of her larger position: that the deaths of Indigenous people was due to habits of Indigenous people themselves, and that British rule catalyzed a process of “decay” already in motion.

People are complex, and lionizing anyone uncritically is usually a recipe for trouble. I always appreciate the opportunity to revisit and reconsider.

Stake-Doucet’s piece appears on the website Nursing Clio, a collaborative blog that describes itself as linking

historical scholarship to present-day issues related to gender and medicine. Bodies, reproductive rights, and health care are often at the center of social, cultural, and political debates. We believe the issues that dominate today’s headlines and affect our daily lives reach far back into the past — that the personal is historical.

During a conversation last summer, Halifax nurse and advocate Martha Paynter said to me, “Nursing is not innocent. Nursing has a whole history of complicity in racism and policing, in its own ways.”

Exploring that complicity is part of Nursing Clio’s mandate, but certainly not all of it. One recent story looks at Black nurses at British naval bases in the Caribbean in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In “Black Before Florence: Black Nurses, Enslaved Labor, and the British Royal Navy, 1790–1820”, University of Lethbridge lecturer and researcher Erin Spinney examines naval pay records and other evidence to learn about these women. She writes:

The Bermuda Naval Hospital employed four nurses in the first quarter of 1821. All were enslaved, and the wages for their labor went to enslaver John Gibson, who signed for their pay. These women worked directly for the British state caring for sick and injured seamen. The hospital agent, responsible for payment, had to swear an attestation to absolve the Navy of the association with slavery.[14] This attestation indicates that the navy was aware of and sanctioned the employment of enslaved individuals in naval hospitals even following the Abolition Act in 1807…

When paired with slavery registers, we can catch glimpses of these women’s lives and labor. Diana, listed above, started as a nurse at the naval hospital at age eighteen in 1816. She was listed as being born in Bermuda and described as a “House Servant.” Although the Gibson family hired out other enslaved women to the naval hospital, Diana worked most frequently as a nurse between 1816 and 1822, after which she vanished from the records. For the labor of these women as nurses and washerwomen at the hospital, the Gibson family received over £500, of which nearly £140 was on account of Diana’s labor. Over the same period, purchasing an enslaved person cost £64 on average… Hiring out enslaved women to the naval hospital as nurses was a good return on planters’ investments; this process also allowed the Royal Navy to provide care for sick sailors within the framework of how medical practitioners understood immunity to tropical diseases. [Black men and women were believed to be immune to many of them.]

The historiography of nursing has ignored women like Diana. But the labor of Black women, whether enslaved or free, was central to the functioning of naval hospitals in the Greater Caribbean and has wide-ranging implications for how we understand the history of nursing.

Another recent piece, this one by Amanda L. Mahoney, chief curator of the Dittrick Museum of Medical History at Case Western Reserve University, looks at the history of nurses improvising clinical supplies out of garbage. The story was prompted by images of nurses wearing garbage bags as PPE early in the pandemic. She focuses particularly on what was known as the China Burma India theater (CBI) during the Second World War. Nurses at the time shared their innovations in publications including the American Journal of Nursing. Mahoney writes:

Lt. Helen Poulson of the U.S. Army 20th General Hospital in Assam, India, wrote one such letter to the AJN in 1944, full of cheerful quips and exclamation marks and titled “Sterile Dressings in Tomato Cans.” Poulson employed tomato cans to contain wound dressings inside an autoclave during sterilization and baked bean cans as surgical tray components. Poulson noted that the obsolete autoclave “runs by gasoline, drinks water like a fish, and is very temperamental. Several times an hour we pump air into it like an old tire – very good for the figure!” To create sterile culture plates – a critical tool in the diagnosis of infectious disease – she developed a system using grape juice bottles, tablet cans, and an incubator built from a discarded ice chest. Similar articles written by U.S. Army nurses in the CBI described adapting packing crates for use as furniture and creating patient charts from a combination of scrap paper, spent x-ray film, and locally purchased office supplies. None of these accounts question the scarcity of supplies.

Interestingly, Mahoney notes that Black nurses, who often toiled under far worse circumstances, were less likely to share their stories of scarcity.

Black and white U.S. Army nurses crafted different stories of scarcity and hardship while serving in the same undersupplied theater of World War II for both official, confidential reports and the American public. White nurses felt free to complain publicly, though in an upbeat manner about clever trash-based solutions, while Black nurses, at least in the sources shared here, refrained from commenting on the lack of supplies available to their unit. Nurses at the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic are similarly sharing their experiences through consciously shaped social media posts, newspaper op-eds, and professional journal articles. Some are stories of patient care victories and technical ingenuity despite scarce supplies, inadequate facilities, and personal hardship very similar to those shared by nurses of the 20th and 335th. I suspect that the racist disparities in the distribution of resources during the current COVID-19 crisis are reflected in these nurses’ narratives and that there are many nurses who aren’t sharing their need to use garbage as equipment publicly for fear of reprisal.

Fascinating stuff.

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Noticed

Screenshot from ElectroCity.

Yesterday, Berkeley-based architect Arthur Twu wrote a Twitter thread exploring the assumptions underlying several city-building games.

Zoning, parking, tax rates, all affect your outcome when you are playing SimCity or other similar games. I went on an early-2000s SimCity binge, and I remember being surprised that (at the time at least) industrial areas correlated with an increase in crime. It’s just a small example of how political and social views affect game design. Industrial areas equal crime if the crime you are thinking of is people being lured into areas largely abandoned after dark, I guess. Financial fraud is a crime too, but having too many skyscrapers downtown wasn’t going to increase crime in my city.

Twu notes that SimCity still does not allowed for mixed-use zoning. Areas are residential, commercial, or industrial. SimCity also solves the problem of where to park cars downtown by making all parking underground. In contrast, Twu writes, in the game Workers & Resources: Soviet Republic, “parking lots are realistically sized and something the player has to build if they decide to let people own personal cars.”

Similarly, the role of public transit varies in different games. Twu writes: “While Cities Skylines has a lot in common with SimCity, it has more focus on transportation. The company that made it, @ColossalOrder in Finland, got its start with the game Cities in Motion, which involved building transit systems in existing cities.”

My kids used to play a simple city-building game developed by a power company in New Zealand called  Electro City. It’s underlying assumptions were more upfront than most. From the game description:

ElectroCity is a strategic city building game that raises awareness about the importance of renewable energy and environmental conservation. In the game, players take on the role of mayor and are challenged with building a virtual city that balances growth, economic and environmental considerations. Players gain knowledge about the pros and cons of different energy technologies such as gas, coal, wind, solar and even nuclear. Listen to your citizens, grow your city, care for the environment and maintain a healthy cash flow — you just may end up on the game’s competitive leadership board.

ElectroCity was funded by Genesis Energy – a leading generator and retailer of energy in New Zealand with the aim of raising awareness around the importance of energy efficiency and sustainability and how economic and environmental factors come into play.

At a certain point in the game, you run into a conundrum: You can’t produce enough energy from renewables to power your city, but coal plants piss people off and gas may be unaffordable. It’s hard to succeed without going nuclear. (Though people dislike that too.)

Ideally, game design doesn’t lead us to think too deeply about the economics or mechanics of the game we are playing. If the game just works, it works. If you are playing a game where you have to grind and grind and grind, performing boring repetitive tasks in order to get anywhere, you’ll definitely notice the game design. But a key and not-often-talked-about part of design is economics. I first thought about this way back in 2004, when Clive Thompson wrote about it for The Walrus:

Within months of Ultima Online’s launch, in 1997, the game spiralled into a currency crisis. The developers woke up one morning to discover that the value of their gold currency was plummeting. Why? A handful of sneaky players had discovered a bug in the code that allowed them to artificially duplicate gold pieces (called “duping”). The economy had been hit by a counterfeiting ring. Inflation soared, and for weeks, players would log in each day to find their assets worth less and less.

Ultima programmers soon fixed the bug. But then they had a new problem: How do you drain all the excess gold out of the economy and bring prices back to normal? They hit upon the idea of creating a rare type of red hair dye and offering it for sale in small quantities. It had no real use, but, because it was rare, it became instantly popular and commanded an enormous price—which leached so much gold out of the system that inflation subsided. But the programmers had to meditate for hours on what possible side effects their “fix” might have…

In Ultima Online, players pick jobs and produce goods: blacksmiths make iron tools; tailors make shirts. In the early days, the players were forced to find other players to buy the stuff. They had to act like entrepreneurs and, as it turned out, few people really wanted to do that; they just wanted to do their jobs and get paid. So the game designers created “shopkeepers,” robot characters that would automatically buy whatever goods the players made. This forced the designers to behave like Soviet central planners, micromanaging every aspect of the marketplace with arcane algorithms of supply and demand. How much would a chair be worth, compared to a rabbit skin? If horseshoes were suddenly in low supply, how would that affect the price of magical healing potions? How much inflation is too little, or too much?

Citizens, too, began to complain that the economic system was bafflingly arbitrary. One irate player pointed out that a spool of thread could be bought for two gold pieces, then instantly transformed by a tailor into a shirt worth twenty gold pieces—a profit margin that massively overshot any other activity, for no apparent reason. Eventually the game designers mostly gave up, and built a system in which players could trade more easily among themselves. The Berlin Wall fell, and capitalism rushed in.

The card game Magic: The Gathering also faced problems related to value, as NPR’s Planet Money podcast outlined in a 2018 episode.  One card, the Black Lotus, had become so valuable it led to a bubble. The game company had a choice: embrace the bubble, make ton of money and then go down in flames when the bubble burst, or tweak the game in hopes that it would continue to be viable for years. They chose the latter, and the way they did it was fairly ingenious. Listen to the podcast for the whole story.

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Government

City

Tuesday

No meetings.

Wednesday

North West Planning Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 7pm) — virtual meeting

Province

Tuesday

Community Services (Tuesday, 10am) — Video conference. Pamela Magee from the Nova Scotia Division of the Canadian Mental Health Association will talk about “Impacts of COVID-19 on the Mental Health of Vulnerable Nova Scotians Who Utilize Community Services Supports.”

On campus

No public events.


In the harbour

11:00: Boheme, car carrier, moves from Autoport to Pier 31
15:30: Budapest Bridge, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Rotterdam
18:00: Boheme sails for sea


Footnotes

My new phone counts my steps, which seems like a brilliant way to ensure I keep it on me at all times.

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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. Why must we tear down every figure from the past? We know that racist views were pretty much the norm back then. Move on and stop digging up bones. This has become a cottage industry for all the SJW’s. Focus on the problems in today’s society…including racism.

    1. Because current racism is built from past racism.

      It’s got nothing to do with being a SJW and everything to do with understanding the roots of racism and see how the ideas and attitudes of the past formed the present.

      We talk about systemic racism for a reason. It doesn’t arise overnight. It’s built from the past and baked into the present.

      1. Exactly. I’d add that our lionizing of individuals of the past leads to a similar dehumanizing worldview, one of angels and demons, so stories that humanize are welcome. By me anyway.

  2. I am not someone who has accessed any of the addiction services currently housed in downtown Dartmouth, but I am someone who has used Metro Transit. The bottom of Baker Drive is close to more than one bus stop, so multiple routes can be used; but once you start up the street (and it is a one long, steep hill), there is only one bus route available – and (based only on my experience from more than a year ago) it doesn’t connect well with anything of the other routes. Housing services under a common roof is a good idea but not if people that may need them cannot/will not be able to get to them.

    1. Learned that the new location is actually fairly close to the Portland Hills bus terminal, which is much better served than the full length of Baker Drive. Still not the best location, in my opinion, but I don’t have much say in the matter, do I? 🙂

  3. Maybe it is just my age, but it would be really cool to play a city builder game where you have to balance making the city nice to live in and affordable. Of course as Philip mentioned, the assumptions of the game developer would determine the right course of action. So if you bought a city builder made by communists you would have to implement communism and put people in giant drab tower blocks, and if the game were made by libertarians you would have to encourage some Amazon analogue to build giant drab tower blocks that the not-Amazon workers could afford to live in.