Category: Magical beliefs

Emus down vs. Emu Downs


On Monday, Contrarian voiced skepticism about a Digby couple’s claim that wind turbines had decimated their their emu flock.

Andy MacCallum, vice president of developments for Natural Forces Technologies Inc., a company that helps develop small wind projects in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and British Columbia, responds:

I worked on a wind farm in Western Australia a few years ago called Emu Downs Wind Farm. An emu farmer was the major landowner for the project. The emus loved the turbines, and would gather at the turbine bases as they provided shelter from the wind.

This is, of course, merely an anecdote, just as the failure of the Ocean Breeze Emu Farm is merely an anecdote. By themselves, neither proves anything. But the Emu Downs story presents stronger evidence against the turbines-harm-emus hypothesis, than the Ocean Breeze story presents in its favor.

  • If turbines kill emus, then gathering around the Emu Downs turbines should have hurt the Aussie birds, but apparently it did not. The site remains a tourist attraction.
  • A thousand factors could have caused the Ocean Breeze emus’ failure to thrive. Owners Debi and David Van Tassell simply picked the explanation they preferred, with no supporting evidence.

Without considering possible alternatives, the CBC swallowed the Van Tassell’s sad story, whole. Not to be outdone, the Halifax Chronicle-Herald committed the same journalistic malpractice a day later.

The impulse to accept at face value any argument against any development, no matter how far fetched or specious, simply because those advancing it are deemed, “sincere,” is a recipe for basing decisions on ignorance, prejudice, and magical beliefs.

Where are the editors?

[Photo: Workers construct the base of a wind turbine going up at Hillside Boularderie, about 30 km from Contrarian’s Kempt Head base station. Courtesy of Natural Forces.]

Trick or treat on Duncan Street — by the numbers

Dan Conlin has kept track of the trick-or-treaters who called at his Duncan St., Halifax, home for the last 17 years. Yesterday’s numbers showed a modest uptick, but the overall trend is dramatic and downward:


This year’s visitors began arriving at 5:35 pm, peaked at 7 p.m., and had vanished into the night by 8:15. Vampires, Princesses, and Ninjas led the parade, at six each.

Only one cat made an appearance, likely the one pictured, feline fancier Rosa Eileen Barss Donham, who lives one street over from Dan.

Conlin gives his Best Overall Costume Award to an eight-year-old walking box of Ritz Crackers, English in front, Français au verso, with nutritional information on the side. Nutritional information about lard pills—what a card!

Complete details on yesterday’s West End Halifax’s confectionary extortionists here; For comparison purposes, see designer Kinnon Elliot’s infographic about Hallowe’en costumes here .

Take that, Lord thankers

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.

[video link]

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.

H/T: Mary Elizabeth Williams in Salon.

Here’s the full interview via The Coast’s Tim Bousquet.

Subverting logic, public health, & the environment

A handful of my neighbours, falsely purporting to repesent the residents of Boularderie Island, noisely oppose a plan to put up a couple of wind turbines at Hillside, Boularderie, near Bras d’Or.

Their arguments deserve scrutiny because of what they reveal about the logic underpinning the anti-wind movement.

In a CBC interview this morning, a spokesperson for the NIMBYists pointed to an elderly lifelong Hillside resident who has grown distraught about the project, and worries it will render her unable to live out her years in the beautiful place she has always called home.

bertrand-russell-200Back in March, an Australian researcher cataloged every illness complaint related to wind turbines in that country and concluded that “wind turbine syndrome” was a disease spread by word of mouth. Its prevalence bears no relationship to the number and proximity of wind turbines, but correlates closely with the intensity of nearby protests against wind farms.

The Boularderie NIMBYists have spent months promoting fear of wind farms, with little success. Now they cite the fear they themselves aroused in a single elderly woman as a reason not to allow the project. This is akin to electroseining every fish in a disputed pond, and then citing the lack of fish as a reason to ban fishing.

In their magnanimity, however, the Boularderie NIMBYists would allow the turbines to go ahead as long as they are erected at least two kilometres from the nearest dwelling (a condition that would preclude their location on Boularderie, and virtually everywhere else in Nova Scotia), and as long as the proponents can prove they will do no harm — in other words, unless they prove, not just a negative, but every conceivable negative.

While it is sometimes possible to prove a specific negative proposition, it is impossible to prove an ill-defined an all-encompassing set of imaginary negatives. We’d have a better chance of disproving the existence of Bertrand Russell’s celestial teapot.

The really sad thing is to see environmentalism—probably the most important -ism of our time—distorted and corrupted to fight trivial or imaginary problems, at the expense of fighting real and pressing environmental threats, like emissions from burning coal.

And where do we burn coal? Why at the Point Aconi Generating Station, barely 10 kilometres upwind from Hillside.


Public service announcement: Marshy Hope season opens

Marshy Hope April 2013

New Brunswick can have its Magnetic Hill, but for my money, when it comes to gravity defiance, nothing beats Uphill Brook at Marshy Hope in Pictou County.

Motorists travelling the TransCanada 104 between New Glasgow and Antigonish take note that the next few weeks, when melting snow fills Nova Scotia’s streams but foliage has not yet sprouted on our perennial shrubs, mark the best season for observing this physics-defying natural phenomenon.

Sir Isaac Newton, the inventor of gravity, went to his grave without offering any explanation for it.

From the turn at the bottom of the valley that is Marshy Hope, Uphill Brook runs uphill for about 200 yards (182.88 meters) before disappearing through a culvert under the highway. The spectacle is best appreciated from an eastbound vehicle.


One would like to think of human history as an unbroken march toward enlightenment in which superstition and magical beliefs are gradually discarded in favor of rational thought and evidence-based decisions. One would like to, but then one remembers the media’s obsession with Mayan doomsday predictions never actually predicted by actual Mayans, and the scandalous failure of most Nova Scotia health care workers to get the ‘flu vaccine (thus depriving themselves, their families, and their patients of the most effective life-saving advance in medical history), and today’s numerological media trope-de-jour: the fact that today’s (arbitrary) date can be rendered as 12-12-12.

So it was with a mixture of amusement and chagrin that we read (courtesy of Lauren Oostveen of the Nova Scotia Archives) the New York Times’s account of the last 12-12-12 iteration, the one that occurred on December 12, 1912. The anonymous Times writer of a century ago cataloged the carry-on about arbitrary dates with an air of droll contempt that seems not at all dated.

[F]or those who live on past to-day, there will still be available some triple-plated dates of magical mischance. And one of them, to come a mere thirty-two years from now, will outdo all other combinations in the magic of its mixture. It will come on April 11, 1944, and the 4-11-44 that may then be written will, of course, bring out into the letter writing industry every soul that ever hugged a rabbit’s foot, threw a horseshoe over the left shoulder, or trembled when he broke a mirror or walked under a ladder.

So mark this down as one area where 100 years of humankind’s relentless march toward rationality appears to have gained no ground whatsoever. Here’s the whole Times piece: