Tagged: Cliff White

Another superport skeptic

Cliff White sides Bousquet:

I love the discussion about the superports. Tim Bousquet nailed it. You will remember that a lot of the hype about the Atlantica concept was based on the same false assumptions. During that debate one brilliant supporter suggested reducing transportation costs by hiring Mexicans at low wages to drive the trucks.

At the time I was working for The Council of Canadians. I was heavily involved in organizing against the initiative, until that is I realized it was a delusional pipe dream cooked up by AIMS and some elements of the business community.  At that point I stopped being concerned but had a very difficult time convincing colleagues and allies.

What is perhaps instructive to remember is how many business people, politicians, academics, NGOS, and others—both supporters and opponents—bought into the potential reality of the idea, and how reluctant they were to let go of it, despite its obvious flaws.

Biosolids panic – rebuttal

Responding to my response to his earlier response to Lindsay Brown’s letter to HRM Councilor Jerry Blumenthal decrying council’s decision to spend $50,000 repeating decades of studies that have confirmed the safety of biosolid use in agriculture, Cliff White writes:

Halifax Harbour is certainly cleaner then it was. Well, as long as it hasn’t rained in three days, and thank god we get so little precipitation here abouts. And it would be churlish of me to mention that the sewage plants don’t meet the new federal regulations for what can be released into the ocean, so I won’t.

Let me just point out that I originally sent the list from USEPA because you had suggested there was no scientific basis for the concern people were expressing about exposure to sewage sludge. My point was, and is, that there is valid scientific concern, or governments and other institutions, across the developed world at least, wouldn’t be testing the damn stuff.

Since 1999 Centre for Disease Control in the US has been measuring 219 chemicals found in people’s blood and urine. These of  account for only a small number of the many tens of thousands of chemicals in use today, many more of which likely end up in our bodies. Besides the chemicals in the sludge, of course, there are also pathogens and there are many peer-reviewed papers looking at how sludge containing these products effects the environment, people, and other animals who live in it. The reality is the debate goes on, and it’s a valid one. It isn’t just the individual products in our bodies, the chemicals, heavy  metals and bacteria, but how interact with one another.

If people are happy adding a few more dozen chemicals to their internal environment, that’s fine with me. But those who prefer to limit their intake should have an equal right to do so. If farmers want to use sewage sludge on their land, then the resulting products should be labelled to indicate they were produced in this way. Those who wish to add a few more of the above mentioned chemicals and such to their internal environment can do so freely, and everybody else can continue to try and avoid them.

Now there’s a thought. Does this mean the thousands of Nova Scotians who pay extra for local, organic food grown in untreated farm manure should have the benefit of warning labels to alert them to the pathogens and heavy metals that time-honored organic fertilizer contains? Here’s a slide Andrew Carpenter of Northern Tilth presented to the 2006 New England Residuals and Biosolids Conference:

So, poultry manure spread on fields has 48 times as much fecal coliform bacteria as uncomposted municipal biosolids; and 65,000 times as much as composted biosolids like those produced at HRM’s new plant. Cow manure has 125 times as much fecal coliform as untreated biosolids, and 171,000 times as much as composted biosolids.

For trace amounts of heavy metals, the picture is more mixed:

The values shown are in parts per million. NT means not tested. Biosolids and poultry manure were about on a par for most metals; cow manure slightly lower. All three were well below the levels contained in phosphate fertilizer. Remember, we are talking about metals that can be harmful in high concentrations, but which are essential to life in very small quantities. That’s why they are found in vitamin supplements:

The level of heavy metals in Rite Aid Central-Vite Multivitamin-Mineral tablets dwarfs that in biosolids and untreated manure. Of course, Rite Aid is a US brand, but Canadians can get multivitamin mineral tablets at — what do you call those places? Oh yeah, health food stores.

Further reading:

A Halifax resident writes her councilor – feedback

Contrarian friend Cliff White doesn’t share Lindsay Brown’s impatience with HRM Council’s decision to spend $50,000 studying the safety of fertilizer derived from the municipality’s sewage treatment plants.

Among other things, she mentions studies that go back eighty years. I’d suggest that studies going back even half that time wouldn’t be testing even half the chemicals, toxins, and metal compounds likely to be found in today’s sewage. Since any cursory search of the literature will show that not all of these products are removed at the treatment plant, three questions arise:

  • First, how effective are our local sewage plants are in extracting heavy metals, toxins and other chemicals before it becomes sludge and then fertilizer?
  • Second, what are the national and provincial standards for levels of these products in fertilizers?
  • Finally, are these standards adequate to protect both the environment and human health?

A quick search of the literature will show that different countries have widely different standards in this regard, suggesting that this is a legitimate area for concern. Given the reasonable scientific concern regarding sewage sludge I don’t think a study of the local stuff is unwarranted.

In an earlier letter, Cliff forwarded information he extracted from a 2009 US EPA Report.

The sampling effort collected sewage sludge from 74 randomly selected publicly owned treatment works in 35 states. Samples were collected in 2006 and 2007. The TNSSS Technical Report provides results for 145 analytes, including:

  • four anions (nitrite/nitrate, fluoride, water-extractable phosphorus),
  • 28 metals,
  • four polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons,
  • two semi-volatiles,
  • 11 flame retardants,
  • 72 pharmaceuticals, and
  • 25 steroids and hormones.

Some analytes were found in all 84 samples, while others were found in none or only a few of the sewage sludge samples.

After the jump, more extracts from the report, detailing the number of samples in which various chemicals were found. That list will probably scare some readers. Certain environmentalists like to cite such lists precisely because they sound scary, and because they lend a false aura of scientific credibility to their arguments. Such lists are all but meaningless without two essential pieces of information:

  • In what concentrations were the chemicals found? (For many chemicals, minuscule amounts are both routine and harmless.)
  • What level of exposure to people, plants, or animals would result if the sludge were used for its intended purpose? (How much actually gets to people is the real worry, and Cliff’s list tells you nothing about that.)

To answer these questions, scientific risk assessors use a model known as source, pathway, receptor. In the case of a person who eats carrots grown in soil treated with fertilizer derived from composted sewage sludge, the sludge is the source, eating a carrot is the pathway, and the person is the receptor.

For each chemical, the risk assessor will determine the amount present in the sludge, and the amount that might make its way into a carrot and then into a person who eats the carrot. The risk depends on the actual exposure a person might experience. These calculations typically use ultra-conservative assumptions: the receptor is a developing child; the child eats only vegetables grown in soil treated with the fertilizer; Large amounts of fertilizer are used.

This is exactly the kind of analysis used to set allowable levels of Cliff’s scary sounding chemicals. Find the Canadian Council of Ministers of Environment (CCME) report on this process here [pdf]. Regular sampling confirms that composted Halifax sewage sludge meets these standards. Dozens of municipalities have safely used sewage sludge for decades, with less advanced equipment that that used in HRM. And let us not forget, Halifax’s sewage treatment plants solved a real environmental menace–the dumping of raw sewage into Halifax Harbour.

For all these reasons, real environmentalists should be delighted, and HRM Council should not waste public money pandering to anti-science zealots who will never be persuaded on this issue. Read more »

The sound of old machines

Contrarian friend Cliff White muses on tractor percussion (previously here and here):

Not only is this just a wonderful piece, it’s a nostalgic reminder of just how much rhythm and music there was in early machinery. Aside from the occasional pile driver, I can’t think of anything today that carries on that tradition. Even the once ubiquitous make-and-break engine seems to have unfortunately gone completely from our shores.

Snap your fingers, Bill — cont.

My parking ban post and Bruce Wark’s rebuttal has sent readers to their keyboards. The ban enrages North End Halifax homeowner Cliff White:

The rage is prolonged by the following sequence of events. Eventually it snows either during the day or during the night. If it’s during the day and it’s a modest amount the street may get plowed during the same day, with cars parked on both sides of the street. If we are lucky the plow might return in the next few days and do the street again, and if very lucky this will happen at night and some improvement will take place. If the snowfall is large or happens at night as it did the with first snowfall this year, then my neighbours and I wake up to find that in fact the street hasn’t been plowed during the night. Just as infuriating, when the street is eventually cleared, it is not done back to the curb. So as the winter progresses, the street gets increasingly narrow–to the point where parking is eventually restricted to one side of a very narrow street. In a neighbourhood that contains both Statacona and The North End Seniors Centre the rage becomes palpable as the season progresses.

A number of years ago they did remove the parking ban for one winter, but in a way that I remain convinced was designed to fail. They let everyone park where they liked, and required them to more their vehicles when snow fell during the night. Ever since then, whenever the topic comes up, the city spokesperson says, well, we tried that and it didn’t work.

Actually, it would be very simple to have a working winter parking policy. First, no overnight parking on major thoroughfares. Second, on other streets, allow parking on alternate sides of the street on alternate nights. That way, when the plow actually came by during night, two thirds of the street could be plowed in the first pass. Forth, tow cars that are parked in the way to a nearby clean street and ticket them. Lastly, clean the damn streets back to the curb.

For the last couple of years, I’ve spent a good part of the winter in Quebec City, where they have an average of twelve feet of snow during the winter. They also have on-street parking. They do an initial plow down the middle of the street. They have lights on posts every few blocks, and when these lights flash orange, everyone knows the plows are coming in a few hours. When they flash red, you better be off the street: a task-force comes by with snowblowers and trucks and they clean the street completely–yes, amazingly, right back to the curb. But I suppose I’m dreaming that Halifax could ever have some similar system.

Just a little aside, when as a young man Howard Epstein first ran unsuccessfully for city council one of the planks in his platform was the removal of the winter parking ban.

In response to my suggestion of a parking ban limited to nights when snow clearing occurs, Bruce Wark asked where people are supposed to move their cars on those nights if they haven’t made accommodations. His implication: If they can make alternative arrangements on snow nights, why not do so throughout the winter? Charlene Boyce explains why:

I live in a flat that has behind it three parking spots — one for each flat. Beside us is a mirror image building with the same parking situation out back, so it’s a 6-spot parking lot. None of these spaces is mine, since my roommate had her car first. I’ve arranged for winter parking at a friend’s place, but it’s a 20 minute walk away — a 20 minute walk in whatever weather we’re getting. Inconvenient and unpleasant, but at least he’s not charging me. If the parking ban was as it used to be: move in bad weather–I’d suggest my car and the other overflow car in our buildings could easily be driven into the driveway, blocking in the other cars, sure, but off the street for the temporary duration of the storm. It would require cooperation among neighbors perhaps… but it’s a reasonable solution.

To Mr. Wark’s point, there are some people who live in places with no driveway at all, it’s true, and those people may have to make an agreement with their nearest driveway or parking lot owner, but it’s possible.

Possible, but not something you’d want to do every night for four months, just because the traffic tzar can’t be bothered to make distinctions between nights when it snows and nights when it doesn’t.

I have the same situation when I’m in Halifax. There is no space for me, but I can cram my car into the driveway at considerable inconvenience to other residents of the two adjacent buildings.

Suzanne MacNeil wonders why the ban is enforced in some places, but not others:

My partner and many of my friends live in the North End (just north of North Street) where enforcement is heavy. Notably, this is also a neighborhood where very few houses have driveways, characteristic of historic housing stock. It seems unfair to be fining the folks who don’t have anywhere else to put their vehicles.

Perhaps I am answering my initial question here. It would, after all, be silly to focus on areas where folks have driveways or other parking areas for their vehicles.

Talkin’ baseball

In response to my post about “seeing” baseball on the radio (and the iPhone), Cliff White writes:

Although I am not now, nor have I ever been, a major sports fan, I remember clearly listening as a young boy in the fifties to radio broadcast of local and major league games. I remember nothing of those games except the rhythm and pacing of the broadcasts. I suspect much of the nostalgia for the fifties golden age of baseball is rooted in the soothing, tension dissolving effects of those broadcasts. At a time when fears of the mushroom cloud hung over everyone, those broadcasts took you to a simple world where everything moved at a human pace.

Here’s the windup… the pitch… low and inside.

Here is as good a place as any for a footnote about Vin Scully, the incredibly enduring Dodger broadcaster who did as much as anyone to create the atmosphere Cliff describes. When the Dodgers extended Scully’s contract for a 60th (!) season last year, I listed a few Scullyisms. My favorite of these came in the 1987 All-Star game, when Scully saw the Blue Jays’ graceful shortstop Tony Fernández field a ball for the first time.

“He’s like a bolt of silk,” Scully said.

What I didn’t know, but learned this week reading Scully’s Wikipedia entry, is that the broadcaster grew up in Manhattan’s Washington Heights district, where his father was… a silk salesman.

This year, the Dodgers extended Scully’s contract for a 61st season.

War crime – followup

The appalling Wikileaks video showing a US helicopter gunship mowing down a group of Iraqis, including two Reuters journalists, two children, and a pair of Good Samaritans whose only offense was to come to the aid of a badly injured man, continues to provoke reaction. Reader Cliff White writes:

You can’t help wondering after watching that terrible video if killing has just become a game to those soldiers in the helicopter.  It’s both terribly disturbing and dismaying to listen to their casual banter as they go about their “work”.   Even when they learn that children have been injured it’s no big deal, it’s someone else’s fault.  I’d like to see videos like this publicly displayed every time war fever is on the rise in  the country. The reality is that this kind of behaviour is not the exception in war, it is frequently the norm…. Given the situation in Iraq at the time the video was shot was it standard military practice to kill anyone carrying a weapon and anyone else who happen to be in their vicinity?

Two things are important here: While the behavior of the soldiers was shocking, it’s probably not unusual. As Cliff says, when we make the decision to go to war, we need to understand that this is exactly what we are deciding to do. Second, ultimate responsibility for this travesty lies beyond the helicopter, with the generals in the war rooms.

I have been shocked at the breadth of efforts to dismiss the video as somehow not reflecting reality, or evidence that liberals don’t support “our boys.” You expect this from right wing organs like the National Standard, where blogger Bill Roggio posted an error-riddled screed against Wikileaks, later nicely debunked by Salon.com’s Glenn Greenwald, who has been a one-man truth squad on the story. Among other things, Roggio and the New York Times chided Wikileaks for editing the tape, accusing them of redacting critical context. Wikileaks did edit the tape, but it simultaneously released the 39-minute original, completely unedited.


Greenwald’s coverage pointed me to a blogger called Jotman, who has relentlessly cataloged CNN’s cowardly coverage of the video (here, here, and here.) CNN won’t even show its viewers the most incriminating parts of the video. In a gesture reminiscent of Elvis Presley’s maiden appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, only far more sinister, Blitzer and Co. black out part of the screen when the shooting starts—all out of deference to the families of the victims, of course.

George Packer, a long time apologist for the war, pooh-poohs the video in, of all places, his New Yorker blog. The main thrust is that less worldly wise civilians fail to consider the context, fog of war, recent firefight, violent history of the neighborhood, blah, blah, blah, before condemning the soldiers’ actions. The blog is worth read both as an example of sophistry, and for the acuity of the New Yorker readers’ rebuttals.

The most apt response to this line of rationalization comes in a pair of unnamed readers’ comments to James Fallows’s blog yesterday.

First a question: If these loose rules of engagement were in common use in 2007, how do we explain the behavior of the victims? They were aware of the helicopter. Why didn’t they recognize their danger? [Ie, if it was commonplace for gunships to be shooting people with as little immediate provocation as we see, why did they dare expose themselves?]

Next, an observation: Door gunner-ship is not randomly assigned. It may well be that 99% (or 99.9%) of U.S. troops would not have allowed this tragedy to occur, but that simple fact quite possibly disqualified all those individuals from being in that position. (And I note this as a direct result of my Army tour in Viet Nam.) The same, of course, applies to Granger and gang at Abu Ghraib. It is possible to indict the individuals involved and their commanders and ‘the system’ without involving American troops categorically.

And a conclusion: Until one can say one would apply precisely the same reasoning and the same judgment without knowing the nationality of the miscreants, one flounders.


You might — MIGHT — justify the initial attack on the group on the ground, but the American soldiers were itching to fire on the two men whose only crime was that they were trying to come to the aid of a wounded man. Those men in the van clearly did not have any weapons, and posed no threat to anyone. But the American soldiers were almost pleading with their command to be given permission to kill them. If you are going to excuse this by putting it into “context,” then you can excuse almost any behavior.

Text of the ambassadors’ letter – feedback

Contrarian reader Cliff White writes:

What a wonderful letter: short, succinct, to the point, and balanced.

I’ve personally found this whole affair very disturbing.  Although the media in general have been very good in following it and keeping it on the front burner, they have also, at times, let what seems to me the main issues slide out of focus.

The issue is not whether there was proof that Canadian detainees were tortured. Anyone with a scintilla  of sense knew torture by Afghan forces was common place and it you’d have to be a complete fool to suggest that, for some reason, only those detainees captured by Canadians wouldn’t receive the same treatment.

Insisting there was no evidence of such treatment was simply an exercise in government obfuscation. Unfortunately instead of ignoring this red herring reporters and commentators have given it weight I don’t think it deserved.

The main issues from my point of view are, first, the government’s obvious ignoring the issue of torture, in the first place—it seems quite clear that in the early days at least they just didn’t want to know about it. Second, the unscrupulous attacks on Colvin. These attacks have underlined the moral bankruptcy of this government.  Unfortunately I also feel they have tainted us all.

NDP dissembling – reader feedback

Contrarian reader Cliff White, who perches somewhere to the left of our new blue NDP government, responds to our complaints about the Dexter/Steele spin on their foregone fiscal promises:

Enough with the self righteousness already.  Of course they have to take responsibility for, and be brought to task for, their broken promises and misleading statements. On the other hand, dismissing them offhand and branding them all as liars, as some readers have, is not helpful.

Lets face it: they didn’t get into this predicament on their own. There are, for instance, the unelected workers and volunteers who craft strategies and policy statements they think will sell during the campaign.  And there is the public, many of whom later become the complainers, who do not want politicians to tell the truth. They want, and vote for, those who tell them what they want to hear.  Take a look around and see how many elected politicians you can find who make a habit of pointing out unpopular truths. It does hurt though to see a government you hoped would set a higher standard, fall into the same old patterns.

Vin Scully – reader feedback – updated

Our post on Vin Scully, 81, who just wrapped up his 60th season calling play-by-play for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers (and plans to stay on through next season), elicited some wonderful reader comments.

First, Frank MacDonald (yes, that Frank MacDonald, the other Inverness County writer who deserves a Giller):

Enjoyed your reminder of the Koufax perfect game. In my own writing during the baseball season, the game plays the role for me that music plays for many others. Even when it is televised, as it mostly is in this house, it is two rooms away, and the sound of the game (changes in pitch tell me to go see) is soothing as a lullaby.

Unfortunately, current commentators seem more interested in sounding off as if their own opinions are more important than the game (a lot like newspaper columnists that way, I guess), but none of them tell stories any more, just data reports from fact sheets in front of them.

Anyway, it was a pleasure to read what I once listened to.

Frank also sent us the lyrics to a baseball song he wrote.

Contrarian friend Cliff White also likes the sound of a baseball game:

I love the piece on Vin Scully. I’m in no way a sports fan but I remember baseball on the radio from a very young age. There is something about the slow rhythms of game that radio captures and transmits perfectly, but that get completely lost on television.  It’s actually two entirely different games.

The record of the Koufax game took me back decades, to when baseball was a major part of Nova Scotia summer culture.  And this from a non fan, that’s real power.

It’s difficult if not impossible to catch major leage games on radio in most parts of Nova Scotia, but here’s a little secret to remember next March: $15 (US) will buy you a year’s subscription to the radio broadcasts every Major League baseball game, regular and post-season, with a few spring training games thrown in. Then you can listen on your computer or your iPhone, just like the good old days.

Hugh Fraser, the former press secretary to Premier John Hamm who now toils for Bristol Communications, sent kind comments about Contrarian, and a recommendation:

If you’re a baseball fan, I suspect you’ve already been reading Doug Glanville’s occasional columns in the NYTimes. They are great — insightful and addictive. I’m a big Roger Angell fan and I think Glanville’s baseball writing approaches his.

Anyhow, keep up the good work. Better luck with the Dodgers next year.

Ah, Hugh, Dem Bums left town in 1958. Contrarian roots for the Jays now, and sometimes the Sox, and he still hates the Yankess.

Miles Tompkins remembers how the World Series played out on his family’s Margaree farm in the 1950s:

My mom, who knew more about baseball then my father ever did, came to Margaree from Antigonish in the 1950s. We had a large farm and in the fall there were plenty of potatoes to pick. My mother had two jobs: feed the pickers, and come to the front step at the end of every half inning to give the lowdown on the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Yankees. More then once she saw a bucket of potatoes kicked over after a Yankee home run.

Contrarian reader Stan Jones points out that, with the $9.98 MLB app for the iPhone, you get to choose which team’s announcers you want to listen to. You also get one or two free telecasts every day. By contrast, Stan reports, the NBA app isn’t nearly as good, and the NHL has… nothing.