News

1. Clearcuts no more

“Nova Scotians who signed up to receive proposed harvest plans on Crown land might have noticed some disturbing changes recently,” reports Linda Pannozzo:

As of a few days ago the maps no longer specify whether a proposed cut is a “clearcut” or not. The word was removed from the legend and the list of harvest prescription types. This change immediately caught the attention of Ecological Forestry of Southwest Nova, who posted this on its FB page:  

Click here to read “By Any Other Name: Nova Scotia’s Department of Lands and Forestry just made ‘Clearcuts’ disappear.”

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2. Alex Richman

“While researching Flight 111, my book about the 1998 Swissair crash off Nova Scotia, I first stumbled across the story of Alex Richman,” writes Stephen Kimber:

At first blush, there wasn’t much to connect Richman with the tragic events of Sept. 2, 1998. At the time, Richman was a respected psychiatrist and professor of epidemiology at Dalhousie University who specialized in applying epidemiology to planning and evaluating mental health services.

But it turned out his life — and that of his wife Shifra — had “dramatically changed” the day their son David, a brilliant young mathematician, “did not survive” the 1991 crash of US Air Flight 1493 in Los Angeles. Their grief turned to frustration, then anger and finally resolve as they set out to make flight safer, in part by applying Richman’s epidemiological expertise to the airline industry.

I became so fascinated with Richman’s story that, when I wrote the first draft of my book, it began with his story and that of another parent, Hans Ephraimson-Abt, an American whose 23-year-old daughter was killed when Soviet jets shot down Korean Airlines Flight 007 in 1983. Ephraimson-Abt went on to become one of the world’s leading lobbyists on behalf of those who lose their loved ones in plane crashes.

My editor gently, firmly, correctly made the point that readers of a book about a 1998 plane crash off Nova Scotia might not be willing to first read 11,000 words on two men who — though they each played peripheral roles in the Swissair aftermath — were not central to the story I was writing. Their contributions mostly ended up on the cutting room floor.

Alex Richman

I was reminded of Alex Richman’s story again last week when I read his obituary in the Chronicle Herald. He had died in Halifax in late January at the age of 90, and is now buried beside his son in Winnipeg, the city where Alex and Shifra first met as graduate students in the early 1950s.

I was struck, not only by the obituary’s reminder of David Richman’s place of burial but also to a phrase in the text that referenced their son’s death: “did not survive,” a clear indication they still believed he could have, and should have survived.

As a tribute to Alex — and his widow Shifra — here is the story of how they turned their own personal tragedy into an important public service.

When I started reading this, I thought Kimber was messing with me and my well-known fear of flying. But then I read down, and saw that Alex Richman has validated much of my own admittedly seat-of-the-pants analysis:

One of the tricks to doing good epidemiological research is to begin with the “appropriate denominator.” When he looked at the way in which the airline industry reported its safety results, Richman could see right away that the figures made the skies seem safer than they really were. “If you base your calculations, as the industry prefers, on the number of crashes per millions of miles flown, flying seems very safe. But if you look more closely, you’ll find that most accidents happen within six minutes of takeoff or landing, and you’ll discover that the newer, bigger aircraft usually fly greater distances per flight, so then you realize that crashes per million miles is the wrong denominator to use.” Just as counting the number of crashes a particular type of aircraft is involved in is not the most logical way to predict how dangerous flying on such a plane might be.

Save your emails. I know flying is basically safe, and I know that there’s a culture of safety in aviation and that many other fields could learn from the always-learning practices in place. But allow me my personal phobia, and more important, let’s honour the legacy of Richman, who helped build that culture of safety.

Click here to read “Alex Richman: R.I.P.”

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3. Mipham Mukpo

Mipham Mukpo

Six former members of the inner circle of Mipham Mukpo — the spiritual leader of the Shambhala community, also known as Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche — have written a 35-page open letter detailing their knowledge and experiences of physical and sexual abuse by Mukpo.

The six are Craig Morman, Ben Medrano, Laura Leslie, Louis Fitch, David Ellerton, and Allya Canepa. They were members of the “Dorje Kasung” — which they describe as a “quasi-military group in Shambhala tasked with protecting the teachings and the community. The Kusung, meaning ‘body protectors,’ are a subset of the Dorje Kasung who are tasked with the direct care of Mr. Mukpo’s body, on all levels. Accordingly, the Kusung are witness to Mr. Mukpo’s private life.”

They write:

We can confirm that Mr. Mukpo has a long history of sexual misconduct including those Claimants in the final Wickwire Holm report. While some of us did talk to the investigators about these allegations we feel that much was not fully addressed.

Mr. Mukpo has a long-standing history of questionable behavior towards his students, ranging from crude harmful speech to physical and psychological abuse.

Most of us have been subjected to his abuse. At times we have also been inadvertent enablers of Mr. Mukpo’s behavior.

Each of the six gave individualized statements, some more detailed than others.

Ben Medrano writes that he was in the inner circle from 2000 to 2002. He says he was tasked with making sure Mukpo did not drink to excess, a difficult if not impossible task, as students and others around Mukpo would provide him with more drinks and ignore or circumvent Medrano’s attempts to prevent Mukpo from drinking still more.

Medrano relates many instances of Mukpo’s abusive behaviour, including this:

When I stopped in his living room I found most of our guests standing in a circle exposed. Mr. Mukpo was marching around and ordering each of them to do various things. Evidently he had demanded that everyone get completely naked, all but one woman halted this task at underwear. Some were crying and many appeared to be nervous… I heard that after my departure one guest took it upon himself/herself to dispose of all alcohol. This was after Mr. Mukpo began forcefully biting people, as he was known to do in the past. Those who likely consented to such assaults remarked to me that he had left bruises, which had been documented in photos.

Craig Morman, who was a Kusung from 1997 to 2015, relates his experience during an alleged sexual assault at the Northwest Arm house in Halifax:

I looked up and saw Mr. Mukpo and the young woman from the [Project Sunshine] report walking into what I believed to be a bedroom. Another guest closed the door behind them. That guest is currently an Acharya. My anger toward him in that moment was physical. I couldn’t believe he would do that. I was just learning that it was normal.

I had met this woman earlier and I did not think she would find it appropriate. I felt that the Acharya was encouraging her to sleep with him by closing the door. I cannot say for certain what happened behind closed doors so I defer to the account given by the victim. I have no reason to doubt.

The woman came out of the room very upset. Somehow I wound up talking to her for a while on a balcony. She told me some of what had happened. I got the impression that Mr. Mukpo had forcefully tried to get her to have sex with him. I was not told that she had been locked-in, or that he had forced her to touch him. What she told me was bad enough, but she did not tell me that part.

I only remember pieces of the conversation, mostly of me trying to rationalize the behavior in some tantric sense while still trying to be supportive. Again, I feel shame.

Morman also has a biting story, this one in Colorado, after the group left a bar where Mukpo had acted inappropriately with a woman:

After the bar closed we went back to SMC. As I drove up the mountain road, Mr. Mukpo sat with his feet out the windows and talked to my companion about how wonderful the woman from the bar was. My companion made a joke that I seconded. Mr. Mukpo lept from the back seat, screamed “who’s talking to you asshole?!” and bit me so hard that I lost clarity in my vision for a moment due to the pain. I could have killed us all. He bit me two or three times more.

The accounts also include descriptions of lavish spending and wasteful financial decisions. Medrano writes:

Of note, during this era we were paid a modest monthly stipend of around $750 dollars for our 24/7 duties. Although this low wage was concerning to most, we felt fortunate to be able to serve in this way since Shambhala International was in a major financial crisis and running on a skeleton staff after multiple layoffs. As I understand it, Mr. Mukpo’s “support” income was priority as I hear it continues to be. This alludes to a broader topic on Mr. Mukpo and family’s relationship to money, which many find disturbing. Repeatedly I was amazed by the opulence, frequency, and duration of his luxury vacations. Long after my Continuity Kusung term I gathered that he and his wife’s toiletry/cosmetic budget rivaled my own annual salary as a resident physician. For as long as I have known him, this standard of living has never been enough. I recall a sober midday call demanding me to push for the unfeasible purchase of an Audi A8. I vividly remember his infuriated words being: “I want my FUCKING Audi!”

The above is just a small portion of the accounts. You can read the entire open letter here.

Mukpo has recently skedaddled off to India, and it seems doubtful he’ll return any time soon.

4. Fatal Fire

At 7:16am this morning, Halifax police issued the following release:

Police are on scene of a fatal fire that occurred overnight in Halifax.
 
Shortly before 1 a.m. this morning, police and Halifax Fire and Emergency were called to a residence fire on Quartz Drive in Halifax. 
 
A man who has life-threatening injuries and woman with non-life-threatening injuries have been taken to hospital. Police believe there are fatalities related to other individuals who were in the residence at the time of the incident.
 
Further details are not available at this time.

5. Muskrat Falls

A Nalcor Energy schematic of the Muskrat Falls project.

“An audit has found executives overseeing the Muskrat Falls megaproject should have been aware that it would be almost impossible to meet cost and schedule targets,” reports Holly McKenzie-Sutter for the Canadian Press:

The forensic audit into Muskrat Falls construction was presented to the inquiry into cost overruns Monday by accounting firm Grant Thornton.

The cost of the Muskrat Falls dam has essentially doubled to more than $12.7 billion since it was sanctioned in 2012, with first power expected later this year.

The report found that Nalcor Energy, the provincial Crown corporation overseeing the project, should have known months after Muskrat Falls was sanctioned – when there was still time to back out – that work was six months behind schedule and project contingency was already exhausted.

Among many other details, the audit looked at the decision to hire the Italian project management firm Astaldi, which the audit blames for $1.2 billion of the cost overrun. McKenzie-Sutter continues:

An email from a high-ranking Nalcor risk assessment officer cited in the report shows a hesitancy among Nalcor’s own staff to award Astaldi the contract.

Rob Hull’s email suggests he considered Astaldi the lesser of two risky options that were mostly being considered for their proposed cost-effectiveness.

“While I am not overly enthusiastic about the outlook for Italy … and hence exposure to an Italian firm for such a substantial contract, I understand there are commercial reasons as to why these two players comprise the shortlist,” Rob Hull wrote in August 2013.

“Astaldi is better (less risk) but risks above should be communicated to the decision makers.

While reading this, I was reminded of economic geographer Bent Flyvbjerg’s 2014 paper, “What You Should Know About Megaprojects, and Why: An Overview.”

Expert Bent Flyvbjerg, who studies megaprojects, says they almost always fail. Photo: http://south-heath.co.uk

Flyvbjerg defined megaprojects as “large-scale, complex ventures that typically cost a billion dollars or more, take many years to develop and build, involve multiple public and private stakeholders, are transformational, and impact millions of people.” Muskrat Falls fits that definition to a T, and anyone who read the paper would have predicted the cost overruns and delays at Muskrat Falls.

For instance, Flyvbjerg wrote: “preliminary results from a study undertaken at Oxford University, based on the largest database of its kind, suggest that delays on dams are 45 percent on average. Thus if a dam was planned to take 10 years to execute, from the decision to build until the dam became operational, then it actually took 14.5 years on average.”

Flyvbjerg gave a 10-point list for why megaprojects are so problem-plagued:

  1. Megaprojects are inherently risky due to long planning horizons and complex interfaces.
  2. Often projects are led by planners and managers without deep domain experience who keep changing throughout the long project cycles that apply to megaprojects, leaving leadership weak.
  3. Decision-making, planning, and management are typically multi-actor processes involving multiple stakeholders, public and private, with conflicting interests.
  4. Technology and designs are often non-standard, leading to “uniqueness bias” amongst planners and managers, who tend to see their projects as singular, which impedes learning from other projects.
  5. Frequently there is overcommitment to a certain project concept at an early stage, resulting in “lock-in” or “capture,” leaving alternatives analysis weak or absent, and leading to escalated commitment in later stages. “Fail fast” does not apply; “fail slow” does.
  6. Due to the large sums of money involved, principal-agent problems and rent-seeking behavior are common, as is optimism bias.
  7. The project scope or ambition level will typically change significantly over time.
  8. Delivery is a high-risk, stochastic activity, with overexposure to so-called “black swans,” i.e., extreme events with massively negative outcomes. Managers tend to ignore this, treating projects as if they exist largely in a deterministic Newtonian world of cause, effect, and control.
  9. Statistical evidence shows that such complexity and unplanned events are often unaccounted for, leaving budget and time contingencies inadequate.
  10. As a consequence, misinformation about costs, schedules, benefits, and risks is the norm throughout project development and decision-making. The result is cost overruns, delays, and benefit shortfalls that undermine project viability during project implementation and operations.

At least seven of those points apply to Muskrat Falls — all 10 if you consider the predictable but unpredicted lacklustre economy and resulting drop in power consumption as a black swan event.

Flyvbjerg is optimistic that politicians and planners will learn how to better manage megaprojects, but who are we kidding? The next megaproject in Atlantic Canada will likewise go off the rails, and those responsible will say “no one could have foreseen…”

6. Everyone will subscribe

Danish media analyst Thomas Baekdal has written a worthwhile essay, “Everyone Will Subscribe to Media in the Future. No, Really!” He writes:

In the past, we lived in a world where people were consuming and paying for just one or two newspapers. As such almost 100% of your audience were also paying customers.

This meant that the traffic that publishers got and the conversions were intricately linked.

Today, we don’t live in this type of world. Today, people read news from hundreds of different places, but they are not subscribing to hundreds of different sites because that would be insane (not to mention way too expensive).

So, in the future people will still only pick one or two sites to pay for, but they will also visit hundreds of different sites, often without even realizing it.

The result is that, per publication, only something like 2% of your audience pays, even though from the public’s perspective, everyone pays for something.

The fallacy here is that publishers think that all of their millions of random clicks are actually from interested people. They are not.

Baekdal’s analysis is spot-on, as is his prescription for being successful in the new media landscape:

Give people something worth choosing.

Er, click here to subscribe to the Halifax Examiner.


Government

City

Tuesday

Accessibility Advisory Committee (Tuesday , 4pm, City Hall) — a presentation on grandparents’ housing in backyards, and of the Spring Garden Road rebuild.

Wednesday

Audit and Finance Standing Committee (Wednesday, 11am, City Hall) — minor issues on the agenda.

Province

Tuesday

Veterans Affairs (Tuesday, 2pm, One Government Place) — the Paws Fur Thought people will be told to sit and roll over.

Wednesday

Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — Does anyone care anymore? Isn’t the whole point to make us not pay attention? In any event, they’ll be talking about some things IWK.


On campus

Dalhousie

Wednesday

Fungal Hydrophobin self-assembly has a basis in shared structural features (Wednesday, 4pm, Theatre A, Tupper Medical Building) — Calem Kenward will talk.


In the harbour

05:00: Mol Paramount, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Dubai
07:00: Skogafoss, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Portland
07:30: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
10:00: Isolde, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
11:30: Skogafoss, sails for Argentia, Newfoundland
15:30: Primrose Ace, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
15:30: Glorious Leader, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southampton, England

Where are the Canadian military ships?



Footnotes

Feels like Monday.


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Tim Bousquet

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

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6 Comments

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  1. Great story Tim! We can always count on the Halifax Examiner for true public interest stories told straight up with hard facts. I know it’s not easy or cheap! I appreciate the efforts and the results.

  2. Tim,

    This edition of the Examiner, including excellent pieces by Linda Pannozzo and Stephen Kimber, shows that news outlets which give people content worth choosing can succeed without relying on ads. In the last century, newspapers like the Chronicle-Herald thrived not because of their content, but because they dominated the advertising market. Now that the advertising model is broken, media will survive only if they provide reporting that subscribers will pay for. The Examiner gives me information, analysis and reporting I can’t get anywhere else and that’s why it’s worth choosing.

    1. I agree completely, and I hope more and more readers of the Morning File realize their lives aren’t complete without a subscription to all the content the Examiner provides.

  3. I’m willing to concede Cubanada ™️ was unlikely to succeed but I’m sure turning the railcut into a tunnel will not be more expensive than Muskrat falls.