A virtual parade of moose at the Highland Links’ first fairway

No matter how wintry it is where you are, chances are it’s worse in Ingonish. You can test this proposition, any time, by checking the web cams at the Highland Links Golf Course in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Here are two views of the cam at hole 1, aka Ben Franey: on a fine July day at left, and on March 1 at right.

Highland Links - July Highland Link - Mooseless

The dude standing knee-deep in the snow is not actually a man, but a bronze statue of renowned Canadian gold course designer Stanley Thompson, who designed the Highland Links course, posed next to some National Park-style plaques.

My son Joshua was was watching the Ben Franey cam early on the afternoon of March 1, when he spotted a moose strolling in from the right side of the frame.

Highland Cam 1 moose

Joshua was watching the moose’s slow progress down the edge of the fairway, when a second moose appeared. Then another… and another… and another—until no fewer than 17 Moose were trekking the length of the course.

Highland Links Cam 18 Moose

OK, OK, there weren’t really 17 moose. It’s a composite of 17 shots Joshua saved as he watched the lone moose’s progress, and later photoshopped into a single image. You can’t believe everything you see on the internets. Neat image, though.

H/T: Joshua Barss Donham


Why President Underwood’s accent ain’ quayht rayht

Season three is out, and has Contrarian well and truly in the clutches of another House of Cards binge. Vox marks the event with a 3-1/2-minute video explaining the linguistic ins and outs of true southern accents—including a transAtlantic history of r-dropping, and an introduction to something called ay-ungliding. Good for word-lovers whether or not they are House of Cards addicts.

The short explanation is that Spacey’s from California, and he’s faking it.

A lesson in torture


The Washington Post has outed Jihadi John as former Briton Mohammed Emwazi. Way down in the depressing story, former hostages reveal that Emwazi “participated in the waterboarding of four Western hostages.”

Gee, I wonder where ISIS got that idea?

Even if the ethics of torture don’t trouble you, which they should, the unfathomable stupidity of stooping to war crimes is the near certainty those you subject them to will apply them to your own nationals when they inevitably fall into the adversary’s hands.

Because chickens roost.

Halifax’s long chain of excuses for discrimination


Ye Olde Discriminator

Accessibility activist Gus Reed has posted an extraordinary tale of bureaucratic evasion in the quest to achieve equal treatment for Haligonians in wheelchairs. The original is richer and wittier than the following summary, but in outline:

  • Nova Scotia Homebuilders’ Assoication offered its office to government advisory panel on accessibility legislation because it was free, and had an accessible washroom.
  • Washroom turned out to be dangerously deficient for wheelchair users.
  • Builders association produced copy of city plan it followed when building washroom.
  • City compliance bureaucrat acknowledged plan is based on pre-2006 standards and therefore “moot;” promised steps to ensure it is no longer used by inspectors.

Whenever I write about this topic, my old friend and Daily News college Shaune MacKinlay, now principal advisor to Mayor Mike Savage,  protests that:

  • The city’s hands are tied because the provincially mandated building code exempts all but brand new buildings, and those undergo a complete change of use, which changing from a surfing supply store to a candy shop is deemed not to be. (The Homebuilder’s building was new; newer than 2006.)
  • The Mayor of North America’s Most Inaccessible City has undertaken a host of initiatives to improve access.

Upon inspection, those initiatives consist mainly of happy talk resolutions, the formation of committees to pass more happy talk resolutions, and tentative steps grudgingly undertaken. For example, she boasts that henceforth, all newly purchased city buses will be fully accessible. Great, except it’s no longer possible to buy a bus that isn’t.

Gus Reed offers a couple of suggestions in case Mayor Savage ever decides to do more than talk about ending discrimination:

  • Take some of the money, time, and resources currently devoted to development and promulgation of happy talk, and use it instead to train all city building inspectors in the building code’s quite thorough accessibility standards. Let the inspectors know that enforcing these standards to the limits of the law is a key objective of the Savage administration.
  • Use the patio permitting process as a lever to encourage restaurants to make their establishments accessible.

Being the only restaurant on a downtown block not to have a patio might just put a restaurant out of business. Maybe ramping the steps into the restaurant interior and constructing a fully accessible washroom would suddenly seem like a worthwhile investment. To quote wheelchair user Gus:

Without such a provision, council would effectively be trading my interest in the public sidewalk for a facility that discriminates against me.

Finally, Gus comes to plans for a massive expansion of The Old Triangle, an extremely inaccessible, summertime-patio-equipped restaurant with two stepped entrances, three stepped levels, and washrooms that lie at the bottom of a long steep set of cellar stairs. The reno, to be completed in time for a May opening, will add at least one additional level with an entrance on Hollis Street.

Will this work trigger a requirement for compliance with building code provisions for accessibility?

MacKinlay can’t say. The city has received no application for the planned renovations. Compliance Manager Jim Donovan says he won’t know until the city sees more details about what’s planned (which it is now seeking).

Gus tells this story much more divertingly, including an enlightening discourse on the science of pee, and breaking the seal. Read it here.

Prediction: The Savage Administration will take no steps to train building inspectors on accessibility requirements, will not instruct them to make accessibility requirements a top priority, and will continue issuing patio permits to otherwise inaccessible restaurants. But, ooh, the happy talk will flow.

Is any social purpose served here? – updated

[See update below.] Maybe there are facts i’m unaware of, but barring something that diverges sharply from initial accounts, laying criminal charges against the boy whose horseplay led to the death of his friend and fellow student at Sydney Academy last week, seems harsh and inappropriate.

Condolences, of course, to the family and friends of Christopher Walter Chafe. The loss of any child is a horrible thing. For the loss to occur so suddenly and randomly, at 18 years of age, is an awful thing to bear.

But if this terrible event resulted from friendly rough-housing gone horribly awry, charges are unwarranted and cruel. As the Cape Breton Post pointed out:

At the time of the accident, witnesses and police said Chafe and others were “playing around” when the incident occurred.

This is no time for technicalities, or a vengefully literal-minded reading of the criminal code.  The police owe the public, the court, and the defendant a fuller account than they have so far provided.

[UPDATE] A reader who says she knows both families urges me to wait until I know all the facts before forming an opinion. tim Bousquet of the Halifax Examiner suggests that the information laid in connection with the charge “should come with some “all the reporting on this was done via the police press release and no one actually went down to the courthouse to read the charge.” That will be Job 1 for the Cape Breton Post, the Chronicle-Herald, and the CBC Monday morning.

Bill T. writes:

This is a serious matter for the community and deserves better than a striptease act from the police. There is no reason why they can’t explain their reason for laying the charge.

Sunny with excessive caution


It’s a gorgeous day at Contrarian world headquarters—crisp and sunny with a few fair-weather clouds and not a hint of precipitation. Here’s the official version, courtesy of Google:

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 10.35.16 AM

It’s the kind of day that puts Vitamin D back in our systems and makes us feel winter isn’t such an grim thing after all. Every business on the island is open.

And all schools are closed.

The Cape Breton-Victoria District School Board, known  for its hair trigger school closure protocols, has been rendered dysfunctional by the death of a high school student last week.

The accident was horrific. Two lads were engaged in horseplay when one of them slipped under the wheels of a school bus. It was the kind of event that makes every parent suck in their breath in realization that a random mishap could shatter their world in the most ghastly way imaginable.

It was horrible, but it was not weather-related. Short of closing schools at the first forecast of a snow, and reopening on Queen’s Birthday, no school closure policy, no matter how timorous, could have averted this mishap.

On the contrary, in tragic irony, this boy’s death provides the ultimate answer to uber-cautious bureaucrats who defend unnecessary school closures by reciting the mantra that, “If I can prevent one tragedy…” The fact is we cannot prevent every tragedy. We do not live in a zero-risk world, and we should not try to make our world risk free.

Although there is no school today, Cape Breton students are nevertheless receiving a powerful lesson. They are learning work is optional—it can be cancelled or skipped without consequences. No one will be downgraded. Everyone will be paid. They are learning winter is a season to be feared—a time to cower indoors and contemplate the paralyzing thought that Something Bad Might Happen.

In short, the Cape Breton-Victoria District School System is teaching exactly the wrong lesson for young Cape Bretoners in the 21st Century. And the rest of Nova Scotia’s school boards are no better.

I tried to contact School Superintendent Beth MacIsaac to get her rationale for closing school on this large day, but staff had been invited to come to work late, and the board’s phones went unanswered.

Meanwhile, at 9 a.m., just a few kilometres down the road from the school board office, Ski Ben Eoin tweeted:

Ski Ben Eoin

Think you’ve got it bad?

Snowbank in Summerside, PEI:

Snowbanks in Summerside


The problem with Nova Scotia’s publicly funded universities…

…Summed up in a single chart:

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 10.57.46 AM

Federal funding for Nova Scotia universities announced today by Justice Minister Peter MacKay on behalf of Science and Technology Minister Ed Holder under the federal Research Support Fund.

The fund covers overhead and additional research costs associated with “managing the research funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), such as salaries for staff who provide administrative support, training costs for workplace health and safety, maintenance of libraries and laboratories; and administrative costs associated with obtaining patents for inventions.”

Or put another way, them that gots, gets.

Is the ‘terrorist’ label ever useful?

When word of the foiled Valentine’s Day shooting plot emerged, along with police assurances that it was not a terrorist attack, I tweeted:

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 3.00.24 PM

This was tounge-in-cheek, of course, I was happy to have police debunk any terreorist connection, because I thought doing so might curb the Harper Government’s penchant for ramping up public fear of violence at every opportunity.

I was wrong. As if on cue, Justice Minister Peter MacKay called a news conference to trumpet the events as justification for existing and proposed government surveillance of private citizen communications. In fact, as the police made clear, spying on citizens played no role. An unknown tipster alerted police to the plot.

This is consistent with what we already know about massive spying on citizens by the US National Security Agency. Claims that NSA spying stopped terrorist plots have been thoroughly debunked.

Writing in the Halifax Examiner, Tim Bousquet took the opposite tack on terror. He wondered why the prospect of four young people shooting up a crowded shopping centre with the goal of killing as many as possible doesn’t qualify as terrorism.

Limiting the definition of “terrorism” to only “scary shit done by radical Islamists” serves a social function. Namely, it allows the scary Islamists—a foreign, impossible-to-understand “other” that has nothing to do with our society—to be used for political purpose, an excuse to restrict civil liberties in the name of vigilance and safety….

School shootings, mall mayhem, and other mass murder events at the hands of our fellow citizens have been with us for decades, if not centuries, and yet we’ve not allowed them to cloud our judgment. We’ve recognized them for what they are: horrible events, yes, terrorizing events, yes, but exceptions to our common day-to-day experience, not something that should stand in the way of a free and open society, a democratic society that values privacy and even unpopular dissent.

The lesson here is that we should all—journalists most of all—be wary of fright-words like “terrorist” and “Islamist.” Roy Peter Clark of the Poynter Institute, offers a list of questions that can guide our understanding and use of such terms:

  1. What is the literal meaning of the questionable word or phrase?
  2. Does that word or phrase have any connotations, that is, associations that are positive or negative?
  3. How does the word correspond to what is actually happening on the ground?
  4. What group (sometimes called a “discourse community”) favors one locution over another, and why?
  5. Is the word or phrase “loaded”? How far does it steer us from neutral?
  6. Does the word or phrase help me see, or does it prevent me from seeing?

Clark quotes in full from a memo from Al Jazeera editor Carlos Van Meek reminding its reporter4s to avoid loaded words:

We manage our words carefully around here. So I’d like to bring to your attention some key words that have a tendency of tripping us up. This is straight out of our Style Guide. All media outlets have one of those. So do we….

EXTREMIST – Do not use. Avoid characterizing people. Often their actions do the work for the viewer. Could write ‘violent group’ if we’re reporting on Boko Haram agreeing to negotiate with the government. In other words, reporting on a violent group that’s in the news for a non-violent reason.

TERRORISM/TERRORISTS – One person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. We will not use these terms unless attributed to a source/person.

ISLAMIST – Do not use. We will continue to describe groups and individuals, by talking about their previous actions and current aims to give viewers the context they require, rather than use a simplistic label.

NOTE: Naturally many of our guests will use the word Islamist in the course of their answers. It is absolutely fine to include these answers in our output. There is no blanket ban on the word.

JIHAD – Do not use the Arabic term. Strictly speaking, jihad means an inner spiritual struggle, not a holy war. It is not by tradition a negative term. It also means the struggle to defend Islam against things challenging it. Again, an Arabic term that we do not use.

FIGHTERS – We do not use words such as militants, radicals, insurgents. We will stick with fighters. However, these terms are allowed when quoting other people using them.

MILITANT – We can use this term to describe individuals who favour confrontational or violent methods in support of a political or social cause. For example, we can use the term to describe Norwegian mass-killer Andres Behring Breivik or Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. But please note: we will not use it to describe a group of people, as in ‘militants’ or ‘militant groups’ etc.

This is exceptionally sound journalistic advice. Instead of defaulting to emotionally laden value judgements, focus on what people do and say.

H/T: Silas

An interactive digital globe of languages

language globe 2

Wonder why Quebec feels linguistically isolated? The faint blush of pale green, circled on the map above, represents the French-speaking region of North America on this screenshot of an interactive Google Chrome map of the globe. Blue represents English speakers, Orange Spanish, dark green Portuguese. Polyglot Europe stands off to the northeast.

(Why there’s a barely visible orange dot near the Alberta-Montana border is beyond me.)

The example above is from an open Google-devised platform for geographic data visualization project called The WebGL Globe. It’s only a screenshot. To get the full effect, go to the source. Google encourages users to copy the code, add their own data, and create more interactive global maps. Here’s one for population.

H/T: Steve Manley

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