Real world vs. Facebook’s world vs. Google’s world — Updated

Black Island Kempt Head

Facebook continually pesters me to entrer the “city” where I live, but rejects Kempt Head, Ross Ferry, Boularderie, and Cape Breton all of which are more-or-less accurate. It will allow me to enter Halifax, Sydney, or Baddeck, none of which is accurate.

Contrast this with Google, which embraces locations with admirable granularity. Google effortlessly adopts islands, villages, hamlets—even micro-locations like Frankie’s Pond and Parker’s Beach—as long as it sees real people using them.

This may seem a small thing, but it strikes me as a profound difference in the cultures of the two organizations. One constantly cajoles you into ill-fitting pigeonholes. The other looks at what you and those around you are actually doing, and continually updates and adjusts to this new information.

(Photos: Above: Black Island (in Gaelic, Island Dhu), Kempt Head, in the real world. Below: Black Island, Kempt Head, on Google Maps.)

Black Island


Marla Cranston points out the Purcell’s Cove dies not exist in Facebook World.

If Calvert, NL, native Jenn Power were so inclined, she could list Ferryland as her home town, but this would be like asking her to accept Big 8 in place of Diet Coke. Far worse, actually.

Newly minted Margaree Centre resident Stephen Mills cannot list that village as his current residence, but Facebook World does allow “Margaree,” a community that, as Mills points out, does not actually exist.

There is no plain “Margaree” —— just the directional or topographic variations: North East Margaree, Margaree Valley, etc.

Interestingly, Mills contends that

[A]ll the Margarees were a bureucratic decision at some point. Names like Frizzelton and Fordview described the locations at one point.

A great addition to Nova Scotia’s craft beer offerings


My granddaughter Kate’s first birthday provided an opportunity to sample the newest addition to Nova Scotia’s craft beer landscape. Big Spruce Beer, brewed on the Yankee Line in Nyanza, is perishable, and must be refrigerated. It is sold only at the brewery, and only in these 1.89 l. (2 US quart) jugs (which ensures its status as a sociable drink).

It has a mild, hoppy edge, and compares favourably with the best offerings from Propeller or the Granite Brewery. Well done!

UPDATE: Big Spruce will have launch parties at Governors Pub in Sydney on April 12th, and The Wooden Monkey in Dartmouth on April 20th. (What, no Bearly’s?)

Turning a page – [Updated]

A couple of deft touches in Monday night’s swearing-in ceremony for CBRM’s new mayor and council hint at Cecil Clarke’s potential to be a transformative mayor for the island’s predominant municipality. [See update below.]


The first is a small thing: the musicians Clarke has chosen for the event are (1) young and (2) non-Celtic. This marks a departure from the cliched tartanism that usually dominates such affairs. Check out headliner Kyle Mischiek’s rap-remix of “We are an Island” on YouTube and iTunes. The freshening up of a slightly dowdy Cape Breton chestnut will bring welcome symbolic value to the ceremony.


The second is a far more dramatic signal: Clarke’s choice of a clergyman to deliver the invocation prayer for the event is Fr. Paul Abbass, the once beleaguered, now vindicated executive director of Talbot House. With this vivid gesture of compassion and solidarity, the new mayor will lead the community in a public laying on of hands to mark Abbass’s restoration from the cruel purgatory inflicted on him by the Department of Community Services. As a friend said, on hearing of Clarke’s choice, “That’s leadership!”

It is, and it’s a quality in desperately short supply these last dozen years.

I pretend to no objectivity in these matters. I played a small peripheral role in Clarke’s election campaign. I had no use for his predecessor, who doubled down on a self-defeating culture of defiance coupled with dependency. I’ve made no secret of my repugnance at Community Service’s furtive campaign of vilification against Abbass.


For future discussion: 12 years of crowd-pleasing attacks on “Halifax,” coupled with shameless demands for ever-bigger handouts from the same symbolic city, have widened the gulf between the island and the province. Both regions must shoulder some responsibility for allowing two solitudes to develop—political cultures who show little understanding of, and less curiosity about, each other’s positions, priorities, and interests.

One sign of this was official Halifax’s assumption that the Talbot House board consisted of incompetent rubes, when passing familiarity with Cape Breton would have alerted them to the solid record of achievement and stature among the recovery centre’s directors. Another was the inability of Cape Breton’s most important municipal leader to alert the the provincial government to the injustice unfolding at Community Services.

Clarke is an ambitious man whose sights are set higher than the Civic Centre on Sydney’s Esplanade. His new job offers a unique chance to make his mark. He has the leadership skills to inspire an ill-governed community, too long mired in real and imagined past grievances, to refocus on future possibilities. He has the governing and networking chops to pursue those possibilities with optimism, tempered by realism.

I’m betting he won’t squander this opportunity.

[Update] A few readers have taken the second-to-last paragraph above to mean that I am, as one put it, “in the know about Cecil’s future political ambitions – aka, his plan to run for federal office, if he has one.” Absolutely not. I do know, because I was present, that some campaign workers sought assurance before the start of the campaign that Clarke would serve out his full term as mayor. Clarke committed to that, and he repeated the commitment publicly many times during the campaign.

Retribution North of Smokey


CBC Radio’s Joan Weeks follows up suggestions arsonists have intimidated residents and civic officials in northern Cape Breton into silence, while insurance companies are declining to cover homes in the area against fire damage. True on both counts, she reports. Previous instalments here and here.


Taking a dive in the Barra Strait


On December 12, Harvey Morash and Michael Gerhartz went diving at Grand Narrows, Cape Breton, where the two great basins of the Bras d’Or Lake* converge amidst the treacherous currents of the Barra Strait.

Those currents make the water in this video disturbingly murky, but the fecundity of the sea life—the profusion of urchins, anemones, not to mention perch, lobster, and cod—is something to see.

The aerial photo at right shows the two bridges, highway and railway, that span the strait, from Iona on the left to Grand Narrows on the right.

* Lake? Lakes? An eternal argument. The Bras d’Or Lake Biosphere Reserve Association has settled on ‘lake,’ and I will take my cue from them.

Dredge it and Cecil will be LG?

Perhaps this post deserves elaboration.

By any measure, dredging Sydney Harbour is a dubious use of public funds. It may yield modest increases in commercial shipping, but dreams of a container terminal here are but a fantasy. Despite the massive boom in world shipping that characterized the 2000s, the two container piers in Halifax continue to limp along at half capacity. Plans for a third pier at Melford are years ahead of those for Sydney, where a putative terminal proponent seems to have vanished.

Yet the Cape Breton public has been massively oversold on the concept as the only possible salvation of Cape Breton’s economic future, to the point it has become a political sacred cow, and anyone who opposes it a Judas.

This is the worst possible message for Cape Bretoners: to promise a single, steel-plant-scale silver bullet to solve our problems — with the silver furnished by federal and provincial taxpayers, of course. Most area politicians and business leaders recognize this campaign as a cynical fraud, but the political momentum behind the concept is such that none dare speak against it.

New Dems want to protect their slender Cape Breton base in an election that promises to be much more difficult than the one that catapulted them to power. Liberals don’t want to give the other parties an edge in that election. Cecil Clarke wants to give his campaign for Parliament a boost.

Clarke cannot beat MP Mark Eyking in a federal contest. No one running on a Harper ticket could, and Clarke barely held his own provincial seat last year. Clarke will lose, but will he also win by losing? Insiders quietly ask what federal plum Harper and Peter MacKay have dangled to induce him to run.

On the steps of Province House last evening, a New Democrat MLA offered a chilling prediction: Clarke will be Nova Scotia’s next Lieutenant Governour, when the incumbent’s term expires next year. At a cost of $38 million in matching federal-provincial tax dollars.

Where is Dennis Ryan when you need him?

Margo Schwartz’s eulogy for Irving

This is the eulogy Irving Schwartz’s eldest daughter Margo delivered at his funeral September 20, 2010, at the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre:

I speak today on behalf of all of the children of Irving and Diana Schwartz, with sister Joanne at my side and brother David and Sister Stephanie with our dear mother, Diana.

For as long as I can remember, I have been in awe of my father, Irving Schwartz. I have often reflected, with gratitude, that by some lucky accident of birth I found myself to be his daughter. I adored and respected my father and cherished every moment we had together. Our father, Irving, was a great human being, a mensch, and he was a great teacher – one who taught and led by example.

Growing up with Irving as a father was an exciting adventure. Just getting in the car with him was thrilling! We always knew that he would take us somewhere interesting and that we would get there quickly. He would regale us with stories of all the exploits the Schwartz brothers had gotten up to in their youth and sing one of his favourite songs “In a quaint caravan, there’s a gypsy”- at the top of his lungs – famously off-key.

Dad worked a lot and he loved it. He never really stopped – he was too full of positive energy, creativity and a stunning ability to get things done. But we knew the importance he placed on family too.

Continue reading Margo Schwartz’s eulogy for Irving

The wonderful world of blogging

Cape Bretoners are accustomed to coincidental connections because their homeland offers such fertile ground for them. The combination of summer residents, occasional visitors, and the vast Caper diaspora has seeded the planet with people eager to rekindle their connection to the island. The late Whitney Pier ship chandler Newman Dubinsky made a point of wearing a Cape Breton tartan ball cap on his frequent travels overseas, because of the conversations it was sure to spark.

For different reasons, blogging can have the same effect. My ex-sister-in-law, Myra Barss, is in New York, clearing out her parents’ house. She emailed a dealer in used and vintage clothes she had found through a Google search. The dealer’s reply ended with a question:

Also, on another note, are you affiliated with the blog “Contrarian?”

Myra responded:

Do you read The Contrarian? It is written by my former brother-in-law, Parker Donham. How did you make the connection between us?

Sasha’s answer:

Yes, I do read the Contrarian. I ran across his blog only last month with the article: “Why are journalists like phone sex workers.” I saw your name mentioned (tagged) on this blog only this week, so I thought it was just plain bizarre that I would run into you. Very small world.

What part of NS do tourists photograph?

Estonian travel buff Ahti Heinla used the distribution of photos on Panaramio to create a world heat map of touristiness. Yellow indicates high touristiness, red medium touristiness, and blue low touristiness. Areas having no Panoramio photos at all are grey. The analysis takes account of both the number photos and the number of authors in a given area. Here is a lo-res blowup of the Nova Scotia section.


Note that despite the Nova Scotia Government’s decades-old policy of promoting boring and exciting parts of Nova Scotia equally to tourists, visitors still flock to Cape Breton.