1. Housing task force

Geoff MacLellan sits at a desk man smiling. Behind him are four Nova Scotia flags and the Nova Scotia government logo on a screen.
Former Liberal cabinet minister Geoff MacLellan has been named chair of the province’s HRM Housing Panel. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

Yesterday, Premier Tim Houston announced that former Liberal cabinet minister Geoff MacLellan will chair the newly created HRM Housing Panel, often referred to as the housing task force. Other members of the panel are:

• Kelly Denty, Executive Director of Planning and Development, HRM
• Peter Duncan, Director of Infrastructure Planning, HRM
• Stephen MacIsaac, CEO, Nova Scotia Lands
• Paul LaFleche, Deputy Minister, Department of Municipal Affairs and Housing

I attended the announcement yesterday, and so had some questions for Houston about the powers and (even more important) oversight of the panel. My questions with his responses, lightly edited for clarity:

Bousquet: Throughout this process and in the release, there’s mention of ‘roadblocks.’ Can you identify even one roadblock? I’ve been covering municipal politics for a dozen years, and it appears to me that most every development proposal gets approved. So what are we talking about?

Houston: I wouldn’t agree with your assessment. I mean, we have some developments that have been kind of on the books in discussion for about 10 years. And here’s what I would say about the task force. Obviously, there was a reaction to the task force. We heard some members of HRM council speaking out against what the province was planning here. We had others pointing the finger at the province, saying the province is the problem on housing. But when we announced the task force, we started to see some projects approved. We actually started to see some movement. But I think everything we’ve seen since the announcement of the task force just confirms the importance of the task force. And, you know, right now, if you look at the discussions around the city and in the last week or so you have a situation where everyone is working to keep things affordable — affordable housing, rent cap extension. And then you have HRM talking about a 6% property tax increase, and all that will flow down to tenants, will flow down to everyone. So I think it just shows the need for a task force that can really look at these things objectively and put people before everything. But are there roadblocks dealing with HRM? It may be the assessment of some that there’s not, but certainly everything I read in the media and from talking to people, not-for-profits included, they would tell you there are lots of roadblocks.

Bousquet: Can you identify one?

Houston: Sure. There’s a situation right now where the province is wanting to move people from a hospital to another building — more long-term care. And the inspectors are identifying little issues that I think don’t raise to the standard of keeping people in hospital. So there’s all kinds of little anecdotal things like that. There’s all kinds of real things like that. But here’s what I would say. The focus is we need more housing stock in this province, and we want to be absolutely respectful of the consultation process and all of the concerns of communities. 100 percent will follow that process. But there’s also a time for action, and we believe the crisis in housing necessitates more action. And that’s what we’re focused on.

Bousquet: Will the task force be able to change HRM’s zoning?

Houston: The task force will be able to. But these aren’t our intentions. But this is serious stuff. We are sending the message very clearly with this task force that we have one focus — that’s people; it’s not politics, it’s people. And we respect the process, but we need housing for people in this province. And that’s what our focus is.

Bousquet: As I understand it now, the growth patterns for HRM, approved building areas can accommodate three times the expected population growth. It sounds to me that there may be a move by this task force to increase those geographic areas and won’t that have effect on things like urban planning and transit and greenhouse gas goals and etc.? It sounds like you’re setting all that aside.

Houston: No, I don’t think so. I apologize if I’m having trouble articulating exactly what the intent of the task force is, but I would also remind that there’s a transportation task force to that we need to get to as well because transportation is a significant part of housing. So if you’re going to open up areas for housing stock, people need to be able to get to the places of employment and stuff. So let’s not forget about that. But right now, the immediate need in this province and certainly in HRM is for housing. And if we have general agreement on that, then we would have general agreement on the use of the task force, which is to look at those situations where housing stocks should be built and where there’s no good reason why it’s not, other than some delays. They can be addressed or can be focused in on and say, Well, how do we really get past this? What’s the solution? Here’s a  problem, how do we really get past this? And this would be the task force — if there are files where things are taking a long time and somebody says, ‘Look, I’ve been dealing with this for years, I want to build some housing, here’s what they’re telling me,’ then the task force would have the ability to get everyone in the room. We already have everyone in the room with HRM and with the province and say, What is the hurdle and is there a solution here or not? And we can just kind of cut through the noise. That’s all we’re trying to do is cut through the noise and get housing built. That’s all.

Bousquet: In the housing announcement from a few days ago, there was some money that went to non-profits, but primarily it was subsidies for large development companies and the affordable aspect translated into a household income of above $40,000 a year. There’s a huge segment of the population that makes less than that. Their needs are not being addressed. And there’s a criticism that this government is focusing on large development companies — perhaps through the task force as well — to approve these things when what really needs to be done is there needs to be more money spent on social housing and co-operative housing to create new units for that lower income. How do you respond to that?

Houston: Well, listen, I fundamentally believe that a solution to a housing crisis is more housing. You don’t build more housing, you’re not going to fix the housing crisis. The very reason for this task force is to make sure that those housing developments and that housing that should be built is built. When we build more housing, we create more opportunities for people that have a place to live. That has a shift on the market. For anyone to suggest that we’re not focused on affordable housing, I don’t accept that. I just think it’s wrong. Obviously, we want more housing stock across the spectrum and every time you build a housing unit that somebody can move into and vacate, you know, move upwardly mobile. Whatever the case may be, you’re talking more people with more income. That opens up a housing stock for somebody else. So we’re focused on more housing and more housing will have benefits across the spectrum. But particularly those that need affordable housing.

Bousquet: There’s an enormous amount of money — we’re talking hundreds of millions, probably billions of dollars worth of potential development. What safeguards are going to be in place to prevent corruption; is there an ethical review? Is there any oversight of this process?

Houston: You’re talking about government investment in housing?

Bousquet: I’m talking about the task force operations. When the city doesn’t allow a development, the task force says, ‘screw the city, we’re going to approve this.’ There’s a lot of money at stake there. Maybe the task force is doing the right thing, but the opportunity for bad actors is huge in that process. Will there be any safeguards to prevent that?

Houston: I think there’s law, legal situations. Look, we’re focused on building housing stock. We’ll take every safeguard we can, but when you look at the integrity of the individuals on the task force, I believe in people and Geoff is a person of incredible integrity. The task force members are people of incredible integrity and I still believe in the good of humans.

I just wanted that last question on the record, because I’ve seen too often how these things go. On the one hand, there are developers with tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, and on the other hand there are underpaid, under-appreciated, and unnoticed civil servants, and politicians looking for a leg up. It’s a recipe for corruption.

The thing about this is, the potential corruption that is at least possible through the usual development approval process is simply being institutionalized, making it completely legal. There’s a loophole being built into the system, and it will be exploited; developers will push the envelope as far as it can be pushed.

I would feel a little bit better about the process if there were regular reviews by an independent reviewer, something along the lines of an inspector general or auditor.

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2. Suete Chan

A photo of Suete Chan standing on the sidewalk of a bridge and making a funny face for the camera.
Suete Chan

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

Suete Chan would have turned 28 today. But shortly after 8am on Wednesday morning, Suete was killed after being struck by a motorist as she was crossing Pleasant Street in a marked crosswalk. 

The 41-year-old female driver was issued a ticket for a failing to yield to a pedestrian. HRM police say they are continuing to investigate yet another fatality as a result of a pedestrian-vehicle collision: there have been 12 deaths involving pedestrians in HRM since 2018, and hundreds of collisions that resulted in injuries to pedestrians.

Those who knew and worked with Suete (prounced Soo-tee) are mourning the loss of a talented colleague who immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong in June. Suete worked as the marketing manager for Fairechild Clothing Co located on Mount Hope Avenue in Dartmouth, not far from where she was killed. 

Tabitha Osler is the founder and owner of the small company that designs and manufactures children’s outerwear made from recycled plastic. Osler is deeply saddened by Suete’s death.

“She showed great passion for the business and was so keen to immigrate, I felt I wanted to support her with all the political changes happening in Hong Kong,” said Osler. “Suete was really proficient at everything she did. It’s very sad — she was an adventurous spirit who had travelled the world and was just starting to make some real friends here.”

Osler has set up a GoFundMe page to help Suete’s parents with their travel expenses to come to Canada to collect their daughter.

Meanwhile, HRM police continue to look into the circumstances around her death — the speed limit is 50 km/hr in that 300 block of Pleasant Street where she was killed and Wednesday was a dark, rainy morning. Sadder still, as reported yesterday in the Examiner, Pleasant Street is no stranger to pedestrian fatalities. By our count there have been four in recent years. 

In February 2019, 57-year-old Gary Harvey was killed crossing near Tim Horton’s by a hit-and-run driver on his way to the community college. The 24-year-old driver, Matthew Gerald Kennedy, was charged with negligence and sentenced to 6 months in jail.

Senseless Deaths

An examination of pedestrian fatalities in HRM over the past two years show charges have not been laid against drivers even though their victims were killed while crossing the street in a designated crosswalk. In three out of the four cases, the fatalities occurred between 8am and 9am as people rush to get to work. Here is a short synopsis of three other pedestrian deaths since 2020.

• 75-year-old Dr. David Gass, a respected and recently-retired family doctor, was killed by the driver of a pickup truck while walking in a marked crosswalk at the corner of Young Street and Kempt Road on March 16 of this year. The driver was ticketed.

• On March 31, 2020, Kathy Warren, a Dartmouth grandmother of three was killed while out on her morning walk as she crossed in a crosswalk at the intersection of Portland Street and Eisner Boulevard. The driver was ticketed.

• On February 18, 2020 a 74-year-old woman was struck and killed as she was crossing in a marked crosswalk at the intersection of Dunbrack Street and Clayton Park Road by a pickup truck. The 83-year-old driver was ticketed.

Perhaps it’s time to pressure those tasked with improving Traffic Safety to step up patrols or reduce speed limits in areas where the most frequent accidents occur. That data is all contained in HRM’s Open Data portal — although it is not user friendly navigate — and could and should be used to inform decisions to prevent more pedestrian deaths.

Even when they die, the last four pedestrian fatalities in HRM, including Suete, resulted in a ticket of $697.50 to the drivers who hit them in the crosswalk.

No, I do not understand.
Yes, pedestrians need to establish eye contact with drivers before they cross and at this very dark time of year, use the light from a cellphone, or reflective tape on their clothing so drivers can actually see them. Visibility IS a problem but people crossing in crosswalks have legal right of way. Please no more “statistics” called “pedestrian fatalities.”

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From our subscribers

A photo of Gabrielle Horne, who is a white woman with big brown eyes and dark chin length bob haircut. She's smiling, wearing a navy T-shirt, navy biker-style jacket, and white jeans with yellow and green floral pattern, standing in front of a white brick wall.
Gabrielle Horne. Photo:

Gabrielle Horne

Journalists saved my life. When I was one person facing the awesome power of a public institution gone bad, journalists told my story over and over, refusing to go away, refusing to move on, refusing to buy into PR lies, refusing to allow the hospital to get away with it, for 18 years. And they got me through it, and the light they shone made justice possible.

Today and every day, I send all my love to journalists everywhere, whether they are in war zones, or telling hard stories in national newspapers, or covering the local news — because all news begins as local.

There is a special place in my heart for my local news enterprise, the Halifax Examiner, reporting home to my heroes Stephen Kimber, Jennifer Henderson, and Tim Bousquet. Take a look. You might find your heroes there, too.

A photo of Chris Miller paddling in a canoe in a beautiful lake in the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Wilderness Area. It's a sunny day with blue skies and some wispy clouds. Miller is wearing a blue plaid shirt, dark ballcap, and a life jacket.
Chris Miller in the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness area. Photo @NSwilderness

Chris Miller

I have been a subscriber to the Halifax Examiner since Day 1. I am a subscriber because journalism is essential for our society, to shine light in dark corners and to hold people in power accountable.

I also subscribe to the Halifax Examiner because of its particular focus on key environmental issues in Nova Scotia, including clearcutting, species-at risk, open-pit gold mining, Northern Pulp, and the protection of Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes. These issues matter. And without the reporting by the Halifax Examiner, many would simply go unreported and the public would be non-the-wiser. That situation would be unacceptable. I hope you will subscribe, too.

3. East Preston Transit

Halifax Transit bus 401 at Portland Hill terminal on a sunny day.
Halifax Transit Route 401.

“This Saturday morning at 7:41am will mark the first time the city has offered weekend transit service to the Black community of East Preston,” reports Matthew Byard. “That service is offered through Halifax Transit route #401.”

Despite this and many other changes that took effect this week to the Halifax Transit system, one East Preston man says the changes are “definitely not an overall improvement” to the bus service in his community.

“Even when they get it half right, they get it wrong,” East Preston resident Marshall Williams said.

Click here to read “East Preston resident says his community is underserved by Halifax Transit: ‘Even when they get it half right, they get it wrong.’”

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A graphic of the coronavirus as a red ball with blue bits sticking out of it.
Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash

A man in his 70s who lived in Nova Scotia Health’s Central Zone has died from COVID-19. He is the 108th Nova Scotian to die from the disease. Additionally, the province announced 22 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday.

This morning, the province opened up vaccination appointments for children aged 5-11. Parents and guardians can go here to make an appointment.

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5. Protecting trans people, free speech, and amplifying reprehensibles

One of the first lies we tell children is that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words shall never hurt me.”

In fact, words can and do hurt, and we all have scars from hurtful things said to us. More, people use their words to organize like-minded people, recruit new people to the ugly cause, and these movements can become not just ugly but despicably violent and even culture-changing.

But how to respond? I’ve been thinking a lot about how we react to bad words through the pandemic, as I’ve watched people of ill-intent exploit our reasonably open and democratic processes to advance their goals. As I noted Monday, “there truly are such bad actors, and more of them than we often acknowledge  — and I’ve just ignored them for fear of amplifying their false rhetoric, which is their aim.”

Those bad actors are mostly people who just want to cause harm for its own sake, but some of them are people who are exploiting people’s fears for a straight money motive.

Ann Coulter is perhaps the uber troll, having learned how to make a lot of money by saying outrageous things, and then profiting even further by getting a reaction to her hateful speech. I wrote about this in 2018:

It goes like this: Some marginal student group invites an outrageous speaker and gets student union money to pay them. Students object to the outrageous speaker and to the use of their money to pay them. There are protests, people call for the speaker to be banned from campus. Then, the marginal student group and its marginal political cohorts in the wider world point to the protests as proof! that it is the students, not the outrageous speaker, who hate free speech and everything good. Not-very-intelligent “free speech advocates” jump on the cause, and the outrageous speaker gets a higher profile, is invited to appear on national TV, sells more books. Rinse, repeat, over and over again for 30 years and counting. Ann Coulter has made an entire career out of this. Now that Peterson dickhead is making millions of dollars with his YouTube vids, and evidently Mehta wants on the gravy train.

A word of advice to students: You’re being played. I don’t know what to do about that, but you should be aware of it.

A word of advice for “free speech advocates”: Hey, maybe look beyond the ivy on your campus walls, eh? Where were you when teachers were being told not to voice opinions about the Glaze Report? Your silence about the moves against BDS activists is deafening. What about free speech for prisoners and political detainees? When you advocate for the free speech rights of only a certain kind of right-wing asshole and ignore the free speech rights of people with progressive causes, you’re seen for what you are: a shill.

A word of advice to everyone else: Twenty-something college students don’t run the world, and what happens on college campuses is ultimately not very important. Worry not! Most of the students will soon enough graduate into jobs where they will fall in line with the banker and capitalist mafias that actually do run the world, and your desire to use the n-word or hate on transpeople or whatever will be forever protected by law in any case.

A couple of weeks ago, I changed my pinned Tweet (the first one people see when coming to my Twitter account), to this:

A reminder that you don’t have to amplify an obvious troll with a small number of followers by responding to their misinformation and bullshit: that’s exactly what they want you to do.

Still, while I caution against amplification, I honestly don’t know what to do about this. I only play an all-knowing wise guy on TV; I’m not one in reality.

So when earlier this year Philip Moscovitch pitched a story about a library book that demeaned transpeople, and that some transpeople wanted removed from the library, I was a bit trepidatious: were we going to amplify a stupid book such that we’d draw unneeded attention to it? But, as a not all-knowing wise guy, I respected Phil’s instincts, and he came back with a straight-forward piece of reporting, interviewing people with competing opinions, and exploring the meaning and purpose of libraries from those varied perspectives.

But then, as I feared, the article was picked up by TERFs and other people who hate transpeople and used as proof! that it is transpeople, and not the book’s author, who hate free speech and everything good. I haven’t checked the analytics recently, but as I recall the article is one of the top five ever published by the Examiner in terms of number of readers, at least so far as the headline went. And I feel kinda weird about that, as we have no doubt amplified the book, which people tell me is full of hateful and harmful shit (I haven’t read the book, but I have no reason to disbelieve them).

Evelyn White. Photo: Facebook

I was again a bit trepidatious when this week Evelyn White brought an opinion piece to the Examiner about the library acting as a conduit for bringing legal help to transpeople.

A word about Evelyn. She is hands-down the most stylistically excellent writer I know, and no offence to all the other excellent writers I work with. Just observing Evelyn has hopefully improved my own writing a tiny bit, but I’m the first to admit I am still by no means even a capable writer in the stylistic sense.

And Evelyn has a life story, which she’s written about in the Examiner and elsewhere. She was trained as a cub reporter by working alongside Randy Shilts, who changed the way we report on gay people and AIDS. Evelyn went on to write a biography of Alice Walker. When she and her partner moved to Halifax, she contacted me to have coffee, I think to school me, which was necessary.

All of which to say, I have immense respect for her professionalism, and I consider her a friend.

As with Philip before her, I was trepidatious with Evelyn once again getting us into this territory, for a couple of reasons: I don’t want to needlessly offend people and I don’t want to again amplify that damn book. But again as with Philip, I simply deferred to her as a writer and trusted her judgment.

I will say this: the role of libraries is complex, especially for those of us who came of age before the internet. As a child, the library was the one place where I, a nerdy kid with zero social skills, could find refuge from the teasing and ridicule that constituted everyday life for me. I both lost myself in books I discovered at the library, and found myself in books I discovered at the library.

I had no idea — I still have no idea — how library collections are, er, collected, and how they’re maintained. I know there were lots of truly dangerous books at my local library (we’re talking about a library in a deeply racist southern community). Probably, if my parents knew what I was potentially exposed to, they might have been a bit worried, but I think in the end part of the “finding myself” aspect of going to the library was learning how to navigate through the barrage of competing views represented in the collection and coming out the other end as a somewhat rational and ethical person.

But WTFDIK? Maybe it’s all just damned dumb luck. I once noted that:

It occurs to me now that at least in terms of teenage boys, Ursula Le Guin is the anti-Ayn Rand. Give a teenage boy a copy of Atlas Shrugged and there’s a good chance he’ll grow up to be one of those horrible people who thinks he’s a superman void of any sense of social responsibility and that he’s benefitted not at all from a world constructed precisely to enrich men like him at the expense of everyone else. But give a teenage boy a copy of The Dispossessed and there’s a good chance he’ll, well, he won’t grow up to be that other guy.

Anyway, in her opinion piece, Evelyn defends the library’s interactions with transpeople, including by highlighting the legal work. She wants to set aside the book issue:

Reflecting on the library’s indisputable support of transgender people, I was perplexed by those who, earlier this year, initiated a boycott against its scheduled Pride events. Their gripe? The refusal of library staff to remove from the collection a single title that some decried as transphobic. Reasonable people can disagree.

…As for the contested transgender book, I’m riding with a renown mantra that has held wide sway in the 2SLGBTQIA+ community: “Take what you need and leave the rest.”

These lines are generating a great deal of negative response from transpeople and others, and now my Twitter feed is full of people calling it, and me, out.

I don’t have strong opinions one way or the other about removing the book from the library. I don’t think it’s any great affront to free speech to limit what’s in the library by having an ethical filter that excludes this one particular book — hell, anyone can find ways to obtain the book on the internet, and probably read the whole thing for free. And while I’m not trans, so I can’t truly know, I can’t see how one piece of ugly shit on a shelf somewhere is going to irreparably harm someone, especially when there are other resources in the same building that can help them.

I worry more about amplifying the shit book, which will cause ugly people to organize and feed off each other to make the world that much more ugly. And once again, I feel like the Examiner has inadvertently served as the vehicle to amplify the book, as people opposed to it are not considering the ramifications of making it a cause célèbre for the reprehensibles.

So, at the risk of further amplification of the shit book, I’ll accept pitches from transpeople who want to write about this, select the best, and we’ll pay our usual rate.

I have no doubt, none at all, that this is not a satisfactory response to those now attacking me. So it goes.

This all deeply saddens me.

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The sun was risen upon the earth when Lot entered into Zoar.

Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven;

And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground.

But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.

And Abraham got up early in the morning to the place where he stood before the Lord.

And he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain, and beheld, and, lo, the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace.

— Genesis 19: 23-28

Last Friday, I noted that “I have a fascination with celestial bodies slamming into each other, and should the pandemic ever wind down, I intend to pursue that interest in a major way.” I then went on a sort of whimsical rumination about the Moon.

Realistically, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do that major way pursuit, and even if I do, there’s no harm in telling you what I’m thinking about, so I’ll give you bits and pieces of it.

Today, I want to talk about another instance of celestial bodies slamming into each other.

A graphic showing a cosmic airburst at Tunguska, Siberia. The burst is represented as an orange and red explosion with arrows pointing to cities on the map.
The extent of the cosmic airburst at Tunguska, Siberia (1908), superimposed on the Dead Sea area.

We need to go back in time, to the Bronze Age in what we now call the Middle East. Specifically, in the Jordan Valley, which is where the Jordan River forms a plain before flowing into the Dead Sea.

At the time, there was more rainfall than there is today, and the plain was a fecund agriculture area. And so a long-lasting, heavily populated civilization arose and apparently prospered, for as long as 3,000 years. There were at least 16 cities and towns, and over 100 villages across the plain.

The largest three cities were Tall el-Hammam, Jericho (also known as Tell Es-Sultan), and Tall Nimrin. (“Tall” is the Arabic word for ancient ruins, which in Hebrew is “Tell.”) Tall el-Hammam, which is refered to in the literature as “TeH,” was the largest.

These cities had complex economies with extensive fields of wheat and barley, long-distance trade, and industries. There was occasional warfare, but peaceful coexistence seemed the norm. Then, one day, it all suddenly was destroyed, and the entire region was abandoned for centuries afterward.

What happened?

Since 2006, a team of archeologists from Veritas International University, Santa Ana, CA and Trinity Southwest University, Albuquerque, NM, working with the approval of the Jordanian government, has been studying TeH.

Explains a recent scientific article about the dig:

In addition to the usual debris patterns typical of ancient cities destroyed by warfare and earthquakes, the excavations of the final phase of [TeH’s existence] revealed highly unusual materials: pottery sherds with outer surfaces melted into glass, some bubbled as if ‘boiled’; melted and ‘bubbled’ mudbrick fragments; partially-melted roofing clay (with wattle impressions); and melted building plaster. These suggest that the city’s destruction was associated with some unknown high-temperature event.

Through 15 years of digging, the archeologists came to a stunning theory: the city was destroyed by a meteorite. But archeologists don’t have the expertise to determine that, so they invited in a team of 21 experts in geology, metallurology, biochemistry, comet research, and more, to have an independent look at the evidence.

Earlier this year, that group published a remarkable paper in the journal Nature, “A Tunguska sized airburst destroyed Tall el-Hammam a Middle Bronze Age city in the Jordan Valley near the Dead Sea.”

“Tunguska” refers to the 1908 explosion over Tunguska, Russia, when a 50-metre-wide meteorite blew up, causing wide-spread destruction of the underlying forest.

It’s an academic paper, and a difficult slog through a lot of technical jargon, but the gist of it is that the evidence shows that the city of TeH was destroyed almost instantaneously by a very high-temperature event — much hotter than a fire or a volcano, or the technology available at that time could produce — which was followed moments later by an air blast, all coming from the southwest, near or above the Dead Sea.

There’s one section of the paper that particularly moves me. It discusses the fact that in this city of 8,000 people, not one complete skeleton was found to have survived the final moments whole. It continues:

Two osteologists examined the bones of two adults and one child. Disarticulation of the skeletons was generally severe, and for the adult skeletons, only leg bones were preserved. For one skeleton, ~ 10 cm of the ends of both femurs showed evidence of charring. The remaining skeleton was represented by many fragmented bones found in the surrounding matrix. Metatarsal bones were abnormally hyper-extended (i.e., joints were over-stretched) and the proximal phalanges were hyper-flexed at almost 90 degrees to the metatarsals. The right knee joint of one skeleton also was hyper-extended. In a nearby child’s skeleton, the legs were hyper-flexed backward and the knee joints were disarticulated. Another skeleton was found buried in a crouching position with the hands raised to the face, a posture commonly adopted for protecting the head, as occurred during the volcanic eruption at Pompeii.

We propose that the individuals represented by the bones were violently torn apart by a powerful airburst/impact, leaving only a few hand and foot bones still articulated and unbroken… Current evidence suggests that the human mortality rate at TeH was very high, so that most likely none of the ~ 8000 inhabitants survived.

Based on the distribution of human bones on the upper and lower tall, we propose that the force of a high-temperature, debris-laden, high-velocity blast wave from an airburst/impact (i) incinerated and flayed their exposed flesh, (ii) decapitated and dismembered some individuals, (iii) shattered many bones into mostly cm-sized fragments, (iv) scattered their bones across several meters, (v) buried the bones in the destruction layer, and (vi) charred or disintegrated any bones that were still exposed.

Here was someone who saw a blast of light, and by the time they raised their hands in front of their face in some hope of protection, was burned to a crisp, their body ripped apart.

TeH was utterly destroyed, as were the other cities, towns, and villages in the area. But while Jericho, about 22 kilometres away, was destroyed, it wasn’t vaporized by heat like TeH was; rather, the air burst felled its famous walls and the buildings within.

That air burst was so substantial that it brought “high-salinity surface sediments” — salt — in or next to the Dead Sea onto the plain, making it impossible to grow crops. The paper explains:

The destruction was so remarkable and so pervasive that the ensuing name of the area became Abel, the ‘mourning grounds’ (specifically, to mourn because of a calamity). This does not appear to have been some typical disaster that occasionally occurred due to warfare and earthquakes. Instead, it appears to have been a regional civilization-ending catastrophe that depopulated more than 500 km2 of the southern Jordan Valley for between 3 and 7 centuries.

It’s outside the expertise of the researchers, but they speculate that the destruction of TeH was recorded in the Bible:

It is worth speculating that a remarkable catastrophe, such as the destruction of Tall el-Hammam by a cosmic object, may have generated an oral tradition that, after being passed down through many generations, became the source of the written story of biblical Sodom in Genesis. The description in Genesis of the destruction of an urban center in the Dead Sea area is consistent with having been an eyewitness account of a cosmic airburst, e.g., (i) stones fell from the sky; (ii) fire came down from the sky; (iii) thick smoke rose from the fires; (iv) a major city was devastated; (v) city inhabitants were killed; and (vi) area crops were destroyed.

In astronomical terms, the destruction of Tall el-Hammam around the year 1,600 BCE was a blink of an eye ago. There is no appreciable difference between the risk of meteorite impact on Earth then than there is today.

It could happen again.

Have a nice day.

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No meetings

On campus


Cover Stories and Undercover Stories: Apartheid South Africa, 1969-1984 (Friday, 3:30pm) — Billy Keniston from the University of Illinois will talk.

Saint Mary’s

Dissent or Democracy? The Fragility of American Politics, Then and Now (Friday, 12pm, LA 173) — Shira Lurie will talk

In the harbour

06:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from anchorage to Pier 36
06:00: ZIM Tarragona, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Valencia, Spain
08:00: Glovertown Spirit, barge, and Beverly M I, tug, sail from Cherubini dock for sea
09:30: MSC Meline, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for sea
11:30: Augusta Sun, cargo ship, sails from Pier 31 for Bilboa, Spain
14:00: Radcliffe R. Latimer, bulker, arrives at Pier 26 from Montreal
16:30: ZIM Tarragona sails for New York

Cape Breton
06:00: CSL Tacoma, bulker, sails from Point Tupper coal dock for Sydney
06:30: Eagle Kuantan, oil tanker, sails from Point Tupper for sea
08:00: Front Clipper, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper from Odudu Terminal, Nigeria
15:30: Ionic Anax, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper from Mongstad, Norway
19:30: CSL Tacoma arrives at Coal Pier (Sydney) from Point Tupper


I need personal time. I’ll be getting the weekly COVID recaps out this afternoon, and then I’m unplugging. I don’t know when I’ll be back.

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

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  1. I am appalled at the number of deaths of pedestrians on crosswalks. Crosswalks should be protected by green light on each of four while red on all directions of cartraffic. I think visibility is a red herring, both pedestrians and drivers should slow down enough to have the time to inspect the crosswalks. I don’t live in Hfx but each time I visit I find the traffic intolerable with little grace for others cars plow on. Dick Groot

  2. Re Crosswalks – When I lived in St. John’s, NL, there were huge Xs painted on the roads a certain distance before reaching the crosswalk. As a driver, I found them to be very noticeable, even more so than the flashing amber directly above the crosswalk (if there was even one there, or if the pedestrian bothered to activate them). Those Xs were low tech and low cost, but certainly visible and helped make drivers aware of the fact that they are approaching a crosswalk.

  3. We have all been dealing with the increase in traffic volumes, aggressive driving, and excessive speed on our roads as our community swells with new residents. The death of this young lady as well as the others killed while legally crossing the street in HRM is beyond tragic. For the driver(s) to receive only a ticket is unacceptable. But sadly statistics show that it is the norm. Why not a charge of vehicular manslaughter? The question is: as a community, what are we going to do about it? Better lighting on crosswalks? Yes. Stronger penalties for offenders? Yes. But what really needs to happen is for leadership to have the guts to tackle this issue head on. Send a strong message to careless or reckless drivers by providing police with the resources needed to patrol our streets, catch more of the offenders, and impose penalties that are appropriate to the crime. Do whatever it takes to make our beautiful city a safer place for all.

  4. Re: Housing Task Force:

    The premier’s lack of knowledge about housing is not surprising; but to be fair, he and his government are not in a position to provide satisfactory answers. This interview is a symptom of a larger structural flaw: Housing is a long-term effort, not a short-term task between elections. Assigning it to a task force or even a government department trivializes it. It needs thorough research over many years to understand its interdisciplinary factors: social, economic, architectural, and environmental. (We have the right people in Nova Scotia, but aren’t using them effectively.) It needs a deep knowledge of local history. (Tents in parks are just the tip of the iceberg.) It needs a broad awareness of best practices elsewhere. (Think globally, act locally.)

    Housing efforts need direction from an institutional structure with arm’s-length independence from short-term governments, both municipal and provincial. They also need arm’s-length protection from developers, whose criteria for success are different. If the right people are assembled, the research is done properly, the long-term problems are understood, and long-term solutions are devised, we could act intelligently on this wicked problem. We could also respond promptly if a pot of money arrives from elsewhere.

  5. Death of Ms Chan . . .
    Perhaps a driver’s license suspension for and re-evaluation after five years might incline people, more than being issued traffic tickets, to be more cautious. It might at least keep them off the roads long enough to find another way to get around so that they will eventually just give up doing what they are not skilled enough to do.

    1. You are right. Stronger penalties need to be applied. Why are these drivers not being charged with manslaughter or aggravated assault? Although there is no doubt that roads built for speed and the lack of safeguards for pedestrians the situation, nothing excuses carelessness, speeding, distracted driving. I like the idea of loss of license for a significant time .

      1. Jail time should be mandatory but this tragic event points to the issue that pedestrians have become second class to keeping commuters happy. The fact that at many major intersections pedestrians have to press a button to get the walking light is an important cultural shift. I can stop all traffic at a crosswalk but not an intersection. Montreal’s solution, where pedestrians were test every time and don’t have crosswalks, instituted their four way pedestrian light and all traffic is held up people crossing anyway they want…we need to rethink our.priorities

  6. Re Housing Task Force:  In justifying establishment of an executive panel on housing, the Premier states: “The focus is we need more housing stock in this province, and we want to be absolutely respectful of the consultation process and all of the concerns of communities. 100 percent will follow that process.”  Really? The legislation specifically states that the panel “may, in it’s own discretion, invite submissions from the public”. Public consultation on planning approvals  is mandatory for Regional Council.  I can’t help but to think that the whole purpose of the Panel is to avoid the time required for public consultations.

    The Premier also seems to be justifying the Panel based on the 6% residential property tax increase recently proposed by staff for the upcoming fiscal year and suggests that the Panel could look into this matter.  So the Panel would have authority over municipal budgetary processes? 
    I’m also curious how Kelly Denty and Peter Duncan got selected as municipal representatives to the Panel.  The legislation states that, if the Municipality fails to  put forward 2 nominees within 14 days of the effective date, the Minister of Housing will make the  appointments.  I would have presumed that this matter would first have to be brought to Regional Council for a determination if it wanted to have representation on this Panel and who the reps. would be.   I didn’t see this item on any recent agendas but maybe I missed it.I would not recommend that HRM participate on this Panel.  Too many bad things can happen when decisions regarding development approvals are made behind closed doors by bureaucrats being pressured by developers.  I suspect that the whole concept of this Panel was made behind closed doors with some of our bigger developers in attendance.

    1. The proposed HRM tax hike includes the possibility of a stadium in the future. Dealing with climate change requires capital funds and Savage and some of his colleagues want to establish a slush fund to save money for capital expenditures some time in the future for a garage/charging point for electric buses. Such an expenditure should be funded by debt and federal & provincial grants. Nobody saves up $400,000 to buy a house.

  7. The notion of getting blasted out of existence makes a lot of other events and concerns seem tremendously insignificant – a case for living the best life one can, once “best” is defined.

  8. How much would it cost the province and the city to get together and build a safe and affordable set of buildings for the rest of its citizens who can’t afford $1500 for a shoebox apartment?

    Free market ideology seems to be at the heart of the Liberal and Conservative approach to housing.

    Housing task force?

    How many Milton Friedmanites are there on this esteemed panel? How many in our new provincial government?

    Private developers build housing to make money not to better society. Free money from the taxpayers makes the pot even sweeter..

  9. Tim’s interview with the Premier pretty much ends any hope that the NS government is capable or willing to deal with the issue of affordable housing. The Premier doesn’t even understand what that means.

    “Obviously, we want more housing stock across the spectrum and every time you build a housing unit that somebody can move into and vacate, you know, move upwardly mobile. Whatever the case may be, you’re talking more people with more income.”

    How are those in need of affordable housing going to get that “more income” and become “upwardly mobile”? Hard to believe someone can be this thick.

  10. I’ve never read the Bhagavad Gita and related texts, but some speculate that the text describes a nuclear weapon. I don’t know how the civilization that produced the Bhagavad Gita could have made a nuclear weapon without leaving archaeological evidence of an industrial civilization. But I made the connection between the Bhagavad Gita’s description of something like a nuclear bomb and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. A giant meteor is less interesting than an ancient nuclear bomb, but makes more sense.

  11. Re “The largest three cities were Tall el-Hammam, Jericho (also known as Tell Es-Sultan), and Tall Nimrin. (“Tall” is the Arabic word for ancient ruins, which in Hebrew is “Tell.”) Tall el-Hammam, which is refereed to in the literature as “TeH,” was the largest.”
    I have seen yrs ago .. that the destruction was caused by ‘ natural gas explosion ‘