It’s natural for Auditor General Jacques Lapointe to believe all his recommendations should be implemented, and implemented promptly. Nova Scotia journalists certainly seem to have accepted that view, but is it necessarily so?
In his latest report, and in the three press statements he released today to promote it, M. Lapointe complains that only 41 percent of his 2010 recommendations have been implemented to his satisfaction, and only 71 to 79 percent of the recommendations in his reports from 2007, 2008, and 2009. (He didn’t add the “to his satisfaction” qualifier, but it’s worth noting, since Premier Darrell Dexter complained that Lapointe sometimes refuses to sign off on recommendations that have been largely carried out, but for which a few small details are not yet in place.)
Long gone are the days when auditors general confined their attention to ensuring columns of figures add up correctly, and accurately reflect cheques drawn and receipts submitted. Nowadays, the Jacques Lapointes of the world concern themselves with “value audits” that go far beyond objective arithmetic, venturing into subjective, sometimes sweeping, judgments about public policy. Given the range and scope of his reviews — Children’s Services one day, Transportation Department mechanical shops the next — M. Lapointe of necessity spends a good deal of time reviewing matters about which he and his staff are far from expert.
That’s not a bad thing. It’s always good to have independent eyes review important policy matters. It’s also good to remember that elected Members of the Legislature hold the ultimate responsibility for policy. Reasonable and responsible people can and do disagree about such matters. Sadly for him, Lapointe’s is not the last word in a parliamentary democracy.
Finally, the ship of state is more ocean liner than jet ski. Course alterations take time. There should be no surprise that implementation rates are higher for reports submitted in 2007 than in 2010.
I’d like to hear more specifics about which matters remain undone, and the extent to which they are unfinished. The government and its bureaucrats may prove to be dragging their feet. It could also be that some Lapointe recommendations work better in press releases than in practice. Maybe 79 percent isn’t such a bad target.
In case you missed it, CNN reporter Wolf Blitzer’s attempt to enforce the journalistic requirement that survivors of natural disasters must thank God for the miracle of their escape (while avoiding mention of God’s responsibility for the deaths and injuries of those who did not) backfired in Moore, Oklahoma,
today yesterday, when survivor Rebecca Vitsmun politely declined to follow the script.
Vitsmun had planned to ride out the tornado with her 19-month-old son Anders by huddling in the bathtub of their home, but 10 minutes before the storm hit, she panicked and fled with with the boy in the family car. She and Anders survived unscathed; their house was flattened.
Encouraging survivors to praise the lord is standard reportorial malpractice in these stories, but the presumptuousness with which Blitzer thrust religion into the interview is arresting, and strikes a marked contrast with atheist Vitsmun’s gracious demurral.
Here’s the full interview via The Coast’s Tim Bousquet.
In the closing moments of an excellent At Issues panel on CBC’s The National last night, National Post columnist Andrew Coyne explained why traditional Question Period theatrics are so feckless when a real scandal envelopes government.
[If the Opposition] would slow down and ask short simple questions, rather these kind of multiple-part grandstanding theatrics, but they don’t seem to be capable of that.
What sort of short questions, host Peter Mansbridge asked.
[S]imple questions of fact that put ministers on the record, where you can then compare what they say on the record with what they say later. It’s more in the nature of the way a lawyer asks questions in court.
It’s hard for them to resist, unfortunately, going for the big windup, you know, the big preamble beforehand, the big stream of accusations. And as we saw with John Baird, anybody who’s got any experience with those is very adept at just swatting them away. It gives him license, frankly, to give non-answers when you don’t ask real questions.
This is obvious to anyone who watches any question period in any Canadian legislature. Why don’t opposition MPs get it, and change their tactics? Perhaps because short, simple, lawyerly questions that build an embarrassing step-by-step case against a government policy or practice do not make onto the nightly television news.
Highway 103 between Halifax and Bridgewater is surely the dullest drive in Nova Scotia. For the last three or four years, motorists forced to traverse its dreary confines have enjoyed momentary comic relief near the Tantallon exit, in the form of a car-sized, more-or-less cubical rock outcropping, painted as a Rubik’s Cube.
“A jumbled Rubik’s Cube fixed in stone, really heavy stone,” said West Dublin resident Peter Barss, who waxed philoshical about its deeper artistic significance:
A monumental monument to confusion and frustration? A puzzle that never changes… and can never be solved? An implied order, an order that can never be realized? A metaphysical statement about some absolute truth about the universe?
This week, the nerdish joke got better when someone — Glooscap? Giant MacAskill? — solved the cube.
Contrarian does not condone the defacement of Nova Scota granite, but we are prepared to make an exception in this case.
The late Harry Piers served as curator of the Nova Scotia Museum from 1900 and 1939. He was also Keeper of the Public Records, a position now known as Public Archivist. In these capacities, Piers received and cataloged hundreds of Nova Scotia animal, fossil, plant, and mineral specimens—along with a few crime scene photos.
Piers meticulously recorded each donation, listing its source, date, and location, together with significant details in a series of accession ledgers. Owing to their fragile condition, these records have been largely unavailable for the last half century, but the museum and the archives have recently collaborated on a project to digitize them, giving researchers ready access to the Piers Accession Ledgers.
The Public Archives of Nova Scotia has made great use of digital technology and social media to gain wider exposure for its collections [e.g.: here]. Unfortunately for those wanting to view online artifacts at higher resolutions, the archives employs an unwieldy Adobe Flash viewer that can only zoom into frustratingly small fragments. The effect is like viewing a large painting through a small-diameter tube. An upgrade to HTML-5 imagery is planned, and that should be a big improvement.
In the meantime, the two institutions have kindly granted Contrarian permission to reproduce a full-sized version of my favorite image from the 60 displays, a 1906 reference collection of 100 “economic seeds (useful and noxious plants) of Canada,” prepared by George H. Clark, Seed Commissioner of Canada, and made available to “seed merchants and agricultural institutions” for $2.
You’ll find everything from Hare’s Ear Mustard and Russian Pigweed to Prickly Lettuce and Cow Cockle, each in its own glass vial, capped with an aluminum screw-top, neatly labeled in English and Latin, and secured to the cardboard display by a brass spring clamp.
The image at right shows just one of the vials, containing the blue-grey seeds of common vetch. [Click here to view the whole imagine at this resolution.]
There is something about the variety of shapes, colors, and sizes of plant seeds that captures a naturalist’s fancy—the miniaturization of nature’s infinitely complex blueprint, perhaps, or the magical potential of spring growth.
Do check out the full Piers exhibit for yourself.
[Place-marker here for future discussion] The civil servants responsible for husbanding Nova Scotia’s voluminous documentary and photographic records responded promptly and courteously to my request for an extra large version of this image, and I am grateful to them.
However, antiquated traditions have saddled these officials with a command-and-control approach to record access, complete with application forms, contracts, fees, Crown copyright, etc. This is an artifact of a bygone era, when such resources were precious and scarce. The world has moved on to an economy of abundance in digital and print resources, and the provincial government needs to adjust.
It’s 6,000 miles long and 120 miles wide (185 x 9,000 km.). It stretches from the ice-bound Kama River in Russia’s Tartaristan Province to Limpopo Province at the northern border of South Africa. It’s an unusually long stretch of unbroken land, given that water covers 70 percent of the Earth’s surface.
The Landsat Data Continuity Mission satellite, soon to be renamed Landsat 8, captured the image from an altitude of 438 miles (705 km.) by assembling 56 photographs taken over a 20-minute period on April 19 into a seamless unit. ThE 15-minute video below traverses its entire length. Be sure to view it in full screen mode by clicking the [ ] full screen icon at the lower right corner of the video, and at the highest resolution your monitor will accommodate by clicking the gear icon and selecting 1080p.
Others ways to view “The Long Swath” include:
- A four-minute compressed version, complete with labels and cheesy musical soundtrack. [Again, use full screen and hi-res.]
- An interactive display using the amazing Gigapan viewer.
In his rivalry with Thomas Edison, Graham Bell made many attempts to record sound using media that ran the gamut from metal, glass, and foil to paper, plaster, and cardboard. Many of Bell’s discs survive, but the technologies used to record them are long forgotten.
Researchers and scientists from the National Museum of American History and the Library of Congress in Washington, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, and the University of Indiana have collaborated on a project to catalog and decipher the primative recordings, using high-resolution digital scans to convert them to audio files.
One wax-and-cardboard disc, recorded on April 15, 1885, contained a recording of the eclectic inventor himself:
“Hear my voice — Alexander Graham Bell.”
The Canadian writer and Bell biographer Charlotte Gray describes the find in the current issue of Smithsonian Magazine.
Gray once asked Dr. Mabel Bell Grosvenor, whether her grandfather had an accent.
“He sounded,” she said firmly, “like you.” As a British-born immigrant to Canada, my accent is BBC English with a Canadian overlay: It made instant sense to me that I would share intonations and pronunciations with a man raised in Edinburgh who had resided in North America from the age of 23. When Dr. Mabel died in 2006, the last direct link with the inventor was gone.
The tantalizingly brief recording reminds me of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s voice, but Gray offers a more pertinent association:
In that ringing declaration, I heard the clear diction of a man whose father, Alexander Melville Bell, had been a renowned elocution teacher (and perhaps the model for the imperious Prof. Henry Higgins, in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion; Shaw acknowledged Bell in his preface to the play).
I heard, too, the deliberate enunciation of a devoted husband whose deaf wife, Mabel, was dependent on lip reading. And true to his granddaughter’s word, the intonation of the British Isles was unmistakable in Bell’s speech. The voice is vigorous and forthright—as was the inventor, at last speaking to us across the years.
H/T: Dave Johnson
Jon Stone writes:
Thanks for sharing that wonderful video. It is inspiring to see what creative minds can do when faced with a challenge.
There have been some astonishinglynegativecomments posted on various web sites with respect to the recent generosity of the Fountain family in creating the endowment for Dalhousie’s performing arts program. The gist of much of the derogatory discussion was that there is no value in training people in performance skills.
Well, here is one excellent example of the value of performers to society. I won’t be surprised if this goes viral and breaks all records for fundraising for the Janeway.
[Update] Greg Lukeman points out a New Zealand children’s hospital fundraising video posted August 27, 2012, that may have provided inspiration for the creators of “Please Whatever Your Name Is” (posted May 15,. 2013).