Facing up to an unflattering mirror – Feedback, updated

Aside from a small issue of geography, reader Ivan Smith says the Globe and Mail’s take-out on racism in Nova Scotia, got it right.

The popular notion that racism has disappeared from Nova Scotia is just as wrong as that geography. Racism is still here. Not as bad as it was in the 1960s or even the 1980s, but we still have a long way to go.

How many Nova Scotians know that there were black slaves here?

Smith recommends Simon Schama’s Rough Crossings, a book and subsequent film depicting the treatment of blacks in Nova Scotia in the 1780s, available on DVD here.

A copy of that DVD should be available in every public library and school library in the province.

[Update]. Bob Collicutt reports:

There is one copy of Rough Crossings in the Halifax Regional Library system. As of 6:45 a.m. today there are 12 holds on it, including mine. Thanks to you & Ivan Smith for making us all aware of this film.

Canada had one too

The US blogosphere is in a lather over a video of US Sen. Bob Ethridge (D-NC), looking tired and emotional, grabbing a student who tried to question him on a DC sidewalk. Glenn Greenwald wants the Senator charged with assault.

Lest we be too smug, remember how then-Prime Minister Jean Chretien, apparently sober, throttled Emploment Insurance protester Bill Clennett at a Flag Day rally in 1996, throwing him to the ground and breaking one of his teeth.

A third party did lay a charge of assault against Chretien, but the Attorney General of Quebec declined to proceed with the case.

Facing up to an unflattering mirror – Update

In the wake of February’s cross-burning in Hants County, the Globe and Mail did what Nova Scotia newspapers ought to have done: assigned a top notch reporter to research and write a searching report on Nova Scotia’s unfinished history of racism. Many of you will have seen Les Perreaux’s piece when it appeared last month, but I missed it. He began by noting African Nova Scotia’s unique backstory:

[N]o other region on this side of the 49th parallel has Nova Scotia’s long history of a black-and-white divide. Until the immigration reforms of the 1960s, 37 per cent of Canadian blacks lived in Nova Scotia. Today, its black population of 19,200 is smaller than the numbers in each of the largest cities. But no other place in Canada has so many black communities still living in de facto segregation. Nowhere else in Canada does the legacy of slavery remain so tangible, as much as mainstream white society tries to block it out.

The remnants of that history can be as subtle as a suspicious glance in a corner store or the cavalier placement of a dog park or garbage dump on top of a poor community. At other times, racism flares up more dramatically, evoking places far south of Canada’s Ocean Playground.

Racism doesn’t disappear just because it’s no longer acceptable in polite company. On the contrary, the stigma that now attaches to racism may make it harder for white people to confront its influence. The unconscious syllogism goes something like this:

  • We want to believe we are good people.
  • Good people abhore racism.
  • Therefore bad outcomes that beset black people in our community must have some explanation other than racism.

  • Then along come Shayne Howe’s neighbors.

    The only black man in pastoral Poplar Grove in Hants County, Shayne Howe woke to the glare of that burning cross on his front lawn one night in February, while the perpetrators shouted threats and taunts. Then, last month, when one of the two brothers charged was due in court, the family car was torched, destroying the entire interior, including a new child-safety seat.

    Sporting diamonds in his earlobes and a baseball cap perched on his head, Mr. Howe is a descendant of the original black settlers, Loyalists and ex-slaves who came to Nova Scotia in the 1780s. He mixes paint one sunny afternoon in their grey bungalow to prepare for the sale of his family’s house, which backs onto a vast, green hay field.

    He’ll miss simple pleasures there, he says – riding his lawn mower, beer in hand, or skinny-dipping under cover of darkness in the backyard pool.

    “I was comfortable before. People seemed okay with me,” says Mr. Howe, a 31-year-old truck driver, recalling his relief when a local shop owner stopped keeping watch on him whenever he dropped in for a carton of milk.

    Because the alleged cross-burners are distant cousins of his wife, Michelle Lyon, many people around town dismiss the incident as a family feud. But Ms. Lyon says she had never met the brothers before.

    A venomous Facebook page with more than 100 supporters has popped up to back one of the alleged firebugs, where residents of nearby Windsor and Halifax throw around the N-word while condemning the couple as publicity hounds.

    The fatuous claim that the incident was just a family feud that got out of hand is an extreme example of white reluctance to acknowledge racism – even at the scene of a cross-burning.

    Perreaux’s entire piece is worth a read.

    [Update] Department of Amplification & Correction/

    Reader Ivan Smith takes issue with Perreaux’s statement that, “No other region on this side of the 49th parallel has Nova Scotia’s long history of a black-and-white divide,” but not for the reason you might think.

    Okay, maybe he meant it metaphorically. Nonetheless the geography is wrong. All of the Maritime Provinces lie south of the 48th parallel.

    All of Nova Scotia, except for a tiny sliver at the far north end of Cape Breton Island, lies south of the 47th parallel.

    Sandra Gittins of Truro points out that HRM’s mayor is of course Peter Kelly, not Peter Perry, as Perreaux calls him at one point.

    Crime as altitude – feedback

    Contrarian friend Gus Reed doesn’t think altitude maps add much to our understanding of complex social issues:

    These graphs don’t meet the minimum standard for clarity. Your pal Edward Tufte would be appalled. What is the scale of the z-dimension? Are we to suppose that the high peak for narcotics is on the same scale as the high peak for prostitution? Absolute numbers? Percentages? Logarithmic? I’m suspicious that McCune is mixing his units.

    And I don’t like the fundamental assumption that it’s OK to smooth this kind of data. Consider the three hills of prostitution down by Fisherman’s Wharf. They are almost certainly hotels, yet they have volume and give the impression that prostitution is a spreading neighborhood crime wave. Better to use some more accurate and consistent visualization like dots (as on the SFPD KML files from which this is taken).

    Furthermore, as some commenter about halfway down McCune’s post says, the unit isn’t crime, but incident reports. It would be instructive to map donut shops, say, as a reality check. Or distance from police station. Are they maps of crime, or just maps of cops?

    This kind of simplistic use of numbers is fraught with pitfalls. It makes a complicated phenomenon into a simple problem of location. It usually turns out that peaks are located over poor neighborhoods, and it encourages a two-dimensional approach to crime. It’s easily fudgeable. Give me some numbers — “the use of hyperbole on Boulardrie Island” — and I can make it look very bad for you. At the very least, we are entitled to know what the z-scale is.

    Chris Macormick, more a fan of visual thinking than Gus, makes the same point about underlying poverty, and offers this poverty map of the Bay area, by Catherine Mulbrandon of Visualizingeconomics.com, as corroboration:

    Zoom in on downtown SanFrancisco, and the correlation is evident, albeit at low resolution:

    Chris writes:

    Altitude maps of crime are interesting as a way to see patterns easier than perhaps numerical rates do. However they disguise other patterns in the same way, eg. class, policing.

    Disgaggregated crime statistics show spatial variations in crime, whether they’re presented visually or numerically. But when comparing income distribution in SF to crime distribution some loose associations are available:

  • Prostitution is tightly localized in several poor areas
  • Narcotics is more widespread but also in poor areas
  • Theft is more widely distributed and extends in rich areas
  • olicing is probably more prevalent in poor areas, especially for the victimless crimes of sex and drugs, and
  • he crimes depicted are by definition lower class crimes.
  • I would like to see a map of tax evasion, price-fixing, insider-trading, embezzlement, tax fraud, environmental pollution and other cozy crimes of the powerful… Just saying.

    Visual data: crime as altitude

    Doug McCune uses San Francisco Police Dept. crime reports to map crime in that city as altitude. Narcotics:


    Various criminal activity:

    What would an altitude map of Halifax crime look like?

    Or better still, a North American altitude map of multiple sclerosis, a disease that concentrates in northern latitudes (with Nova Scotia a likely mountain range)? Any data-and-graphics-savvy medical researchers out there want to take this on?

    Hat tip: Flowing Data.

    Biking made easy in Montreal

    One of more than 300 self-service Bixi bike rental stations in Montreal.

    From April to November 30, the city will rent you a sturdy, well maintained, three-speed bike for $5 a day (or $28 for 30 days; $79 for a full year). A swipe of your credit card produces a five digit code to unlock one of the 5,000 available bikes; Return your bike within 30 minutes to one of the ubiquitous rental stands and there is no charge. It is a fast, easy, practical way to get around this bustling city, and the Bixi bikes are everywhere.

    The city-owed system recently expanded to Washington, DC, and Arlington, VA. Could Halifax or Sydney get in on the action? We have a few drawbacks compared to Montreal:

  • Smaller population
  • Less density
  • More hills
  • Shorter biking season
  • Helmet laws
  • Vastly fewer bike lanes.
  • Montreal has 502 km. of bike lanes and paths, and recently announced plans to spend $10 million installing another 50 km.

    Food for thought.

    For Queen and country – updated

    Warm-up: England vs. USA. our friend David appears to have scored a ticket.

    [Update]One Contrarian reader doesn’t like the horns:

    Dear Sepp Blatter,

    Day 2 and I am happy to say that the sound level from the mics catching those damned horns has been dialed down a little by the broadcasters. It is the World Cup not the South Africa Cup.

    I want to hear supporters from around the world singing, chanting, dancing, booing, hissing, whistleing, banging drums (not continuously), lauging, moaning, oohing and aahing. Stuff your ‘cultural’ BS as the reason for inflicting a steady droning noise on billions of viewers around the world and the thousands of fans who have travelled from all over the world.

    Please Mr Blatter, let the broadcasters tunr the sound fom field mics down to Level I.

    I don’t like watching the World Cup with the sound on my TV turned off. Horns are OK when South Africa are playing but please let us all remember it is an event to be enjoyed by all the world.

    If you are unable to accommodate my request I shall order the massed pipes of all the Scottish & Canadian forces as well as the pipe bands from the New York & Boston police departments to make a special appearance at the next World Cup.

    In eager anticipation,
    Colin May


    Contrarian’s friend David sends this snapshot from the arrivals lounge at O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg:

    David adds:

    Immigration very friendly and efficient. A really exciting vibe with lots of banter between nationalities lining up to collect their game tickets on arrival.  The ticket operation, too, seemed smooth and well organized. Weather: gorgeous – cold for the locals but perfect for us Canucks.