Category: Education

Does Harper have the proofreading chops to be Prime Minister?



H/T: Copy editor extraordinaire DB

And now, Halifax — updated and corrected

Having already photographed Kempt Head, Cmdr. Chris Hadfield turns his attention to less important parts of Nova Scotia:


Hadfield has now photographed both of Contrarian’s official residences. The universe is unfolding as it should.

[UPDATE] Oops! A Twitter user with a Suessian pseudonym points out that Hadfield passed over, and photographed, Halifax on January 2:


[Click these images for larger versions.]

Son of Dan Falvey

When Dan Falvey, teaching assistant and journeyman Halifax bar server, died far too young last June, an exceptional outpouring of grief and affection marked the event.

I never saw Dan in a school setting, but he served me many times. He was simply superb at a job that is too often under-appreciated for both difficulty and impact. Writing in the Coast, Tim Bousquet described him as “hands-down the most energetic server imaginable.”

Dan carried out all the basics with exemplary grace, and he was also wickedly funny. You looked forward to his visits to your table, because his dry, dead-pan humor, coupled with exquisite comic timing, invariably left you smiling and chuckling. What only occurred to me after he died is that his humor always carried a point: he was making a small but shrewd observation about himself, or you, your mates, other people in the restaurant, the restaurant staff, or the restaurant’s management. Or life in general. I miss him very much.

Dan’s energy was the more amazing because waiting tables was always his second job. When he clocked in to begin his whirling dervish service at Bearly’s each evening, he had generally already pulled a full shift helping students at Central Spryfield School.

Dan and Oliver

Dan’s closest friends knew he worked two jobs to afford his children, Oliver and Abigail, the very best educational opportunities available—at private schools and ballet academies. That’s Dan and his kids in the photo.

Over the last few weeks, Dan Falvey’s dedication paid off in a way that would have filled him with pride. Oliver received letters of acceptance from both Harvard and Princeton. He travels to Cambridge next weekend to begin the enviable task of choosing between the two.

Oliver didn’t have any Harvard or Princeton alumni among his ancestors. He didn’t come from a region that regularly exports its best high school grads to the ivy league. His guidance counselor had no special drag with Harvard or Princeton. But Oliver had talent, a work ethic, and a role model that would be the envy of any family. I wish him the very best.

Rehtaeh reaction – continued

I have more reader mail on the furore around Rehtaeh Parsons’ death and the factors that led to it. Once again, a few preliminary points.

  • Rehtaeh’s family and friends are going through an unimaginably horrible experience, one they have handled with grace and courage. The one point that united everyone in this case is sympathy for their ordeal.
  • It bears repeating that, if you or anyone you know are having suicidal thoughts, please call the toll-free Kid’s Help Line at 1-800-668-6868 or the toll-free Suicide Prevention Line at 1-888-429-8167. Also please check out this website, and this list of warning signs.

In a post on April 11, I raised a number of misgivings about the frenzied public response to Rehtaeh’s death. I expected my views to provoke controversy, but in fact, most of the emails directed to Contrarian’s comment link (at the top of this page) have been positive. There’s an initial sample here.

Many more negative comments appeared on Twitter, where I had a series of vigorous exchanges with people who thought I was too trusting of police, and not sufficiently sensitive to “rape culture” and bullying. In particular, some reacted angrily to my contention that photogenicity played a role in the explosion of media interest in this case. Others thought the existence of a photo depicting the November, 2011, encounter between Rehtaeh and four young males ought to have been an open-and-shut basis for a “child pornography” prosecution. Much of the discussion focused on exactly what we know and do not know.

To follow some of these discussions, check out the Twitter feeds of Daily News alumnus Ryan Van Horne, Herald reporter Selena Ross (who was the first to break the Rehtaeh story), Tim Pratt, @allisomething, @KristiColleen, Raveen S. Nathan, and André Pickett.

Meanwhile, Sydney lawyer Candee McCarthy has called me out on a point of law. I wrote that, “a jury which concludes only that the accused is probably guilty must acquit, and police and prosecutors who reach the same conclusion should not lay charges” [Emphasis added]. Replies McCarthy:

Although I agree with your assessment regarding a jury’s obligation, I don’t believe that police and prosecutors should be held to the same standard as a jury. I submit that police should not lay charges frivolously, but they should lay charges if there is evidence or information to support a charge; a charge is not a conviction and should not be held to the same standard as one. The police shouldn’t need to prove a case to lay a charge. They have to be reasonable, sure, but out of the “three tiers” (for lack of a better way to put it), their burden is the least onerous.

The Crown then has the job of proving the case. It is the Crown Attorney that determines whether to prosecute the charges laid by the police, but the crown is not (and shouldn’t be) the judge and jury. In the interest of serving the public’s interest they need only ascertain a reasonable prospect of conviction. (As such I submit they should be prosecuting cases where they believe the accused is “probably guilty”.)

I confess that in writing my quick summary of the presumption of innocence, I relied on that prestigious legal journal, Wikipedia. And when I wrote the clause McCarthy objects to, I wondered if I was overstating it. Apparently I was. I am not a lawyer, but I do wonder if McCarthy overstates the ease with which police should lay charges in cases where they are uncertain of guilt. I know that the Marshall Inquiry devoted a lot of time and thought to the roles of police and prosecutor. If any lawyers or judges out there want to weigh in and help educate the public, I’d love to hear from them.

McCarthy concludes:

This is a sad case all around and I agree that folks and the media are quick to pass judgment… just as all too often they pass judgment on young women for their private sexual behavior (consented to or not) by calling them a “slut” and thinking it’s ok to disrespect these women’s bodies by sharing personal and intimate photos. It’s not like these types of allegations are rare lately… If we as a community are becoming more outraged over victim allegations, I say so be it. Maybe we need it – it’s a hell of lot more comforting to me than to continue to bear “rape culture” commentary and victim blaming.

Tim Segulin:

The outrage and sadness is so palpable at the moment that it is virtually impossible to remind people that while a beautiful young woman has lost her life in a most horrific and tragic way, and allegedly 4 young men were somehow involved, nobody has been convicted of anything, and the police have so far been unable to build a strong enough case leading to charges that would lead to such a conviction. Vigilante justice will only lead to further crimes and in all likelihood more injustice. All the publicity and the extent of public reaction since this story broke may well provide the impetus for somebody to come forward with something the police could build a case. This sad story is far from over.

Janet Connors:

I have… feeling a bit ill about the hysteria. The British gossip media has now picked up the story. This poor, sad girl, seems be getting forgotten in the frenzy of public grief, blame, politics and just plain old bad journalism.

I wonder how this has become a story about bullying, and the reactions of others who seem to think the solution is to bully the boys. I don’t understand a lynching mentality and hopefully, never will.

I hate the expression, “this could have made her death mean something,” because nothing could ever make this death worthwhile. However, this sad affair could have become a lightning rod for so much positive discussion about social justice, teen alcohol consumption, depression, sexual rights, and sexual health, etc. What a shame that we, in Nova Scotia are so lacking in visionary leadership, be it social, political, or educational….  My 2 cents…

I guess it’s obvious I agree with Janet. If this awful set of events does not spur concerted community action on “teen alcohol consumption, depression, sexual rights, and sexual health,” instead of kneejerk demands for vengeance, we will have missed a tremendous opportunity.

Jack Garnett:

“What if the cops and prosecutors were right?” I guess now we will find out, unfortunately still much too late for the teenager’s family. In other cases, the cops ask publicly for anonymous tips to help with their investigation of criminal activity. I wonder/doubt if this was initiated in this case, perhaps because it was not considered to pass the test of “criminal.”

Reinforcing the inadequately defined “vigilante” boogeyman (which the Anonymous press release you provided addressed and denied), and raising the girl’s “depression” in an ambiguous manner that should have clearly clarified that there was no suggestion it could have caused this suicide independent of the [alleged] rape and subsequent internet humiliation, seemed a little bit manipulative to me.

Several other people pointed out that the Anonymous statement I linked to specifically rejected vigilante action, a point I should have noted.

“Given that the topic of your post is on the nature of reporting in the matter,” wrote Brad Fougere, “that’s kind of reckless, no?”

Here is the pertinent excerpt from the Anonymous release:

We do not approve of vigilante justice as the media claims. That would mean we approve of violent actions against these rapists at the hands of an unruly mob. What we want is justice. And That’s your job. So do it.

The names of the rapists will be kept until it is apparent you have no intention of providing justice to Retaeh’s family. Please be aware that there are other groups of Anons also attempting to uncover this information and they may not to wish to wait at all. Better act fast.

Be aware that we will be organizing large demonstrations outside of your headquarters. The rapists will be held accountable for their actions. You will be held accountable for your failure to act.

Surely paragraphs 2 and 3 belie the pro forma rejection of vigilantism contained in paragraph 1. Like so many others, Anonymous presumes guilt (not innocence, as a civil societies do). It presumes the right to gather names and release them, if the criminal justice system does anything other than prosecute the implicated boys. And since all bullies are cowards, Anonymous does this from behind a mask of anonymity.

Fifty years ago and 1,000 miles to the south, they would be called the Ku Klux Klan, and like the Klan, they are deserving of community scorn and disgust. In this regard, it is astounding that the CBC and other media outlets have shielded the identity of the local bully who speaks for Anonymous, while giving him a platform from which to spread bile. Surely some journal or journalist must be up to the task of outing him.

Patrice Bolvin:

A free society relies on functioning governmental institutions and police forces. Right now we don’t have that in Nova Scotia, in my opinion, because there is too much bureaucracy, a lack of public accountability, and a lack of effective coordination of services.

Thanks again to all who contributed. Join in by clicking the “Email a Comment” link near the top of the page.

Contrarian readers’ vocabulary chops — updated

In response to yesterday’s post about Merriam-Webster’s vocabulary quiz, on which 60-year-olds leave younger word-users in their dust, Contrarian readers of various vintage have shared their scores. In alphabetical order:

Andy Weissman (70+) 3420
Andrew Bourke (40-something) 3700
Anna Daniels (20-something): 3660
Blair MacKenzie (30-something): 3720
Charlie Phillips (50-something) 3660
Contrarian (sexagenarian): 3660
David Rodenhiser (5040-something) 3960*
Elaine Fournier (40-something) 3700
Greg Lukeman (30-something) 3900**
Jeffrey Shallit (50-something) 3900
John Denault (70+) 3720
Mike Targett (30-something) 3760
Peter Spurway (50-something): 3860
Shelley Porter (40-something): 3140***
Stan Jones (70+) 3800
Steve Manley (30-something): 3480
Suzanne MacNeil (20-somthing): 3400****

* Current raw score leader, verified by screenshot.
** Current leader on an age-adjusted basis.
*** Ms. Porter has filed a protest over the only word she missed. The judges have responded with majestic indifference.
**** The plucky Ms. MacNeil, punching above her age-adjusted weight, got adamantine right. Contrarian would have flubbed it.

To be added to the reader scoresheet, send your scores and age cohort to comment @ contrarian dot ca. If you believe you have surpassed a top score, please include a screenshot.

A thumb on the weather scale — reaction

Most of the listeners who responded to my debate with CBC manager Andrew Cochran about the network’s (in my view) inflated coverage of weather are just fine with the CBC’s weather treatment.

Highway conditions at 3:30 pm, February 20, when Cape Breton schools closed early due to forecasts of possible freezing rain that evening.

Highway conditions at 3:30 pm, February 20, when Cape Breton schools closed early due to forecasts of possible freezing rain that evening: Pavement dry; precipitation nil.

This doesn’t surprise me. Some people like being frightened about weather, just as others like being frightened about crime. Lurid coverage of crime by some media has led to a sharp increase in the public perception of personal risk from crime even as crime rates have plummeted. I see a parallel with public perception of weather risk.

Two listeners added interesting points to the debate.

Geoffrey May of Margaree said forecasts have become more extreme because weather has become more extreme—a result of climate change. Maybe Geoff can supply confirming data, but my subjective impression supports his view. Let me be clear, however: It’s not detailed reporting of occasional serious storms that I object to; It’s inflated reporting of routine storms, as if they were serious. What Oran sports reporter Bill Dunphy deliciously termed, “radio storms.”

Rosemary Algar of Cape North, a listener who shares my annoyance at weather hyperbole, pointed out a subtle result of our current timorous approach. We are teaching our children, she said, that at the first sign of inconvenience, it’s OK to stay home and disregard our responsibilities to work and school.

Worse still, it’s school officials who are delivering that message.

Hard-pressed parents beget lavish tooth fairies

Visa has released a new iPhone app that uses survey data to help parents calculate the going rate for tooth fairy emoluments, based on a parents’ gender, age, income, location, and educational attainment. The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal played with the app for a while and came up with in interesting discovery that doesn’t really surprise me much:

The smaller the amount I put in for household income, the greater the size of the average tooth fairy’s gift. In fact, I was only able to get calculator to output $5 by setting my household income to $20k per year and selecting that my highest level of educational attainment was high school. Grad school degree holders making more than $150,000 per year gave their kids an average of $1 per tooth.

Life on Mars!

After just 17 days on Mars, NASA’s Curiosity Rover has detected strong indications of life—and confirmed a familiar adage at the same time.

Photo credit: Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Photo-enhancement credit: Peter Barss

Community art at Black and Fuller Terrace

PlaceMakingHFX is a pilot project of the Halifax Regional Municipality, co-sponsored by the 4Cs Foundation. Time lapse video by E Gordon. Music by Galen Conroy, aka DJ Nagwoode.

Quick, let’s get asbestos removal started before school ends for the summer – updated


[Update] Our friend the cranky physicist comments:

A true contrarian would look at the actual risks of the asbestos and it’s removal as well as the cost to taxpayers from how we overreact.

That was also my first reaction, because I get that not all asbestos is dangerous in all circumstances. But, hey, school ended today. Couldn’t they have waited a week?

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