Covid-19 in NS by the numbers

Update: April 1, 2020

This post contains NS data on the Cover-19 outbreak here and will be updated regularly. You can see that as of April 1 a total of 173 cases had been reported. (Please note the name of this blog, Turpin Laboratories, was a tongue-in-cheek choice made during happier times. I am not a laboratory and possess no scientific expertise.) Everything below is presented for your reference only. Drawing conclusions from these data is is ill-advised unless you’re an expert. Further, you can see from the way the numbers jump around that predictions would be meaningless — especially, to paraphrase Yogi Berra, if they’re about future.

Above are the data used to create the charts and graphs you’ll find below. The cell highlighted in red shows when I last updated them.
Above: “Positive cases to date” reflects confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Nova Scotia, e.g., 147 on March 31. Negative results and the total number of tests administered in the province are also shown. The rightmost cell shows the totals tests as a percentage of the population.
The chart above (New cases reported by day) shows the number of Covid-19 cases reported each day by NS public health. For example, the first three cases were reported on March 15, two more were reported on March 16 and another two on March 17. The chart below (Running total) shows what happens when you add those number up. For example, the number corresponding to March 17 below is seven, the sum of March 15,16, and 17 above (3+2+2=7). You can find the news releases on the government’s searchable database at
The chart above is the result of summing all the available results as of date on the horizontal axis. The number 147 does not mean 147 cases were reported on March 31: rather, it’s the total of all 17 reports from March 15 to March 31, inclusive. As you can see on the bar chart, only 20 news cases were reported on March 31.

De Adder gets the treatment

The offending political cartoon.

Cartoonist has met the enemy and he is us

The social media scolds bagged some big game last week, extracting an apology from cartoonist Michael de Adder for an innocuous cartoon (above).

The cartoonist was calling out Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cronies for their treatment of former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould.

A boxing ring was the perfect setting, because Trudeau gained notoriety as an amateur boxer by knocking the stuffing out of domestic-assaulter Sen. Patrick Brazeau in a charity match.

So far, so good, but de Adder made the mistake of portraying JWR as gagged and bound, symbolizing the fact she was (maybe) legally gagged by solicitor-client privilege and (perhaps) bound by cabinet solidarity. I don’t feel bad for de Adder. He dishes it out and he should be able to take it. But I can’t help wondering about the scolds.

Their reaction is pretty much summed up here in a Tweet that appears to be from John Cleese.

Well, de Adder’s drawing wasn’t doing that. If you enjoy violence against any gender, I recommend the entertainment industry, including best-selling books.

Below are some possible explanations for de Adder’s scolds.

• Because they interact with him on Twitter, de Adder has become an extension of their egos. With this cartoon, he has damaged those egos and must be brought into line.

• The cartoonist is part of an “elite.” This offends those who believe themselves to be intellectually or socially superior. They, like the rich, believe they have achieved their status through merit. By contrast, they see de Adder is a one-trick pony, unworthy of his status. He must therefore be humbled.

• Think of it as psychosomatic, a restricted vision caused by existential adherence to beliefs or causes. The scolds can only see the lower left corner of de Adder’s drawing, causing them to believe the artist is making light of violence against women.

• Others can see the entire cartoon, but cannot grasp its context.

• Or, they are aware of the context but choose to ignore it because willful blindness enhances their cause.

• This is closely related to the propagandist tactic of erecting a straw man and attacking it with full force. In this way, one can inspire outrage against de Adder without having to address substance.

• The above tactic is typically supported by constant reinforcement lest the targets get a chance to think for themselves. For this, Twitter is the best tool in the box.

• De Adder is a journalist, and journalists are seen by many as know-nothing, would-be intellectuals. But even would-be intellectuals, we’re told, are enemies of the people and common sense. Therefore they must humbled. (See Stephen Harper, Donald Trump, the Khmer Rouge et al.) NB: I say this with greatest respect for the broader know-nothing community, which has always been a source of fellowship and inspiration.

Lastly, de Adder is a threat to authoritarians from the entire political spectrum. So, in time, he may regret his insouciance still more. Let us hope his apology will be enough to keep his head from sitting atop a pike or rolling into a wicker basket designed by Louis Vuitton.


Exxon’s criminal negligence: lock’em up

Canada progress climate change
Propagandists for ExxonMobil were almost certainly a factor in Canada’s poor record of fighting climate change.
The figure shows that Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions projections under a “with current measures” scenario are projected to be 768 megatonnes (Mt) CO2 eq in 2020 and 815 Mt CO2 eq in 2030. It also shows the expected range of the same projections under different economic and energy price and production scenarios. For 2020, the expected range of emissions could be between 749 Mt and 790 Mt. For 2030, the expected range of emissions could be between 765 Mt and 875 Mt. It must be noted that these projections do not include contributions for the land use, land-use change and forestry sector (LULUCF), as analysis of alternative accounting approaches remains ongoing. (Graph by Environment Canada)

IT SEEMS there’s never a law around when you need one. 

I’m thinking of climate criminals, people who undermined climate change science for decades when they knew it was valid and were well aware that ignoring it meant human catastrophe. They’re getting away with murder. (Climate criminals do not include the ignorant. Ignorance is not a crime.)

But what about people like Rex Tillerson, the former chief executive officer of ExxonMobil and U.S. secretary of state?

Exxon was the corporate Joseph Goebbels of the losing war against climate change, sowing confusion and doubt about climate science. Doubly damning, the company did so despite research, from its own scientists, going back to 1977 about  the reality and deadly implications of climate change. 

Tillerson began his career with Exxon in 1975 and quickly rose to the company’s upper ranks. He cannot pretend he didn’t know about the vile propaganda his company was spreading or that he couldn’t have done something about it.

I like to think a Canadian criminal court could jail Tillerson under Section 219 of the Criminal Code:

Criminal negligence

219 (1) Every one is criminally negligent who

(a) in doing anything, or

(b) in omitting to do anything that it is his duty to do,

shows wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons. (Emphasis added.)

The maximum sentence when lives are lost is life in prison .

Former Exxon CEO and U.S. secretary of state Rex Tillerson (Wikipedia)

It’s reasonable to argue that Tillerson’s collaboration in a disinformation campaign against climate change science shows a “wanton disregard for the lives or safety of others”.

On the other hand, you could argue that investigating one of the world’s 10 largest companies is too much of an undertaking for our tiny country. However, much of the groundwork has already been done by U.S. states on behalf of Exxon shareholders. They’re arguing in civil court that shareholders weren’t properly advised of the threat to the value of their holdings posed by climate change. 

Here, courtesy of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Inside Climate News is an overview of legal actions against Exxon in the U.S. 

I’m certain the plaintiffs would gladly share their evidence against Exxon with Canadian investigators and I would like to see similar lawsuits here, but I’m far more concerned about the well-crafted public deception that undermined the fight against climate change. 

Scientific American says “One thing is certain: in June 1988, when NASA scientist James Hansen told a congressional hearing that the planet was already warming, Exxon remained publicly convinced that the science was still controversial. Furthermore, experts agree that Exxon became a leader in campaigns of confusion. By 1989 the company had helped create the Global Climate Coalition (disbanded in 2002) to question the scientific basis for concern about climate change. It also helped to prevent the U.S. in 1998 from signing the international treaty, known as the Kyoto Protocol, to control greenhouse gases. Exxon’s tactic not only worked on the U.S. but also stopped other countries, such as China and India, from signing the treaty.” (Emphasis added.)

Remember, Exxon did this while possessing its own research validating climate change science.

So, I would like to see criminal charges under Section 219 and extradition requests to the U.S. for Tillerson and other Exxon executives.

But let’s not stop there. My guess is there are hundreds of equally guilty Canadians working for Exxon or other fossil fuel companies. As noted, the U.S. has done the groundwork, so let’s use it to hunt down our own climate criminals.

I understand that lawyers would probably shoot down this idea down because of some legal subtlety.

OK fine. Then we need a new law to instill palpable fear in Canada’s executive suites about degrading the environment. For example, executives inclined to secretly pollute so much as a trickling stream should be prepared for jail.

The environment is not an abstract concept: it’s our habitat. We are not trying to save the planet, which has survived climate change before; we are desperately trying to save ourselves.

People who get in the way belong behind bars. If our current laws can’t do the job, then let’s write new ones. 


Doctor-less down, hospital up

(Updated post. Please see correction below.)

December is off to a good start for the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

This month it is able to report the first significant decline in the number of citizens who need a family doctor but cannot find one.

5,322 people reported they had found a family doctor and 3,738 registered with NSHA to get help in finding one.

That’s a net improvement of 1,584, the first decline since January. The final number is even better because, beginning this reporting period, NSHA can include results from the Patient Attachment Incentive Trust, which offers docs a one-time payment of $150 for each new patient they take on.

It began April 1 but the results were not counted until now, giving NSHA the benefit of eight months’ of incentives in a single entry.

That means there are 55,801 doctor-less citizens as of December 1, down from 59,225 on November 1 (3,424). Whatever number you settle on, it’s a little bit of good news.

Screen Shot 2018-12-10 at 2.53.25 PM
NSHA graph shows number of doctor-less Nova Scotians, based on its registry. The December 1 number shows an encouraging improvement. It’s accurate, but a little misleading.

DGH New Entrance2
Architect’s rendering of the new entrance to Dartmouth General, which opened today, December 10. The official opening is tomorrow, December 11.

And there is more good news at Dartmouth General. The official opening of its new entrance, which faces Acadia Street, happens tomorrow, Dec. 10.

In your correspondent’s view, the “official” opening of a door is a good idea when it’s part of a $140-million renovation because it’s a chance to remind the public this important project is well underway, which makes it harder for governments to stop it.

I say this with the lonely saga of DGH’s ghost floor in mind. It’s the building’s fifth floor, built circa 1988 but left empty until now. 

Citizens may recall that during the ghost floor’s big sleep, emergency departments on both sides of Halifax Harbour were practising hallway medicine because there were no beds for emergency patients once they had been stabilized.

This will continue until the construction, finally underway,  of the ghostly fifth floor is complete. But it’s galling to know that additional capacity has been available —on the ghost floor— for the last 30 years. It’s the kind of thing that makes voters cynical. Preventing hallway medicine is the responsibility of elected officials and all three political parties have dropped the ball at one time or another.

But enough negativity. The DGH project is itself a part of the much larger “QEII New Generation” project that will replace the VG, Centennial and Dickson buildings in Halifax.

NSHA’s Victoria van Hemert, who is overseeing the whole thing, says the changes at DGH will have a huge impact on the community.

“The big benefit is capacity,” she says. “It means services will be closer to people’s homes.”

Here are some of the other benefits:

  • 48 new beds, some of which will accommodate morbidly obese patients
  • Renovations are finished on the third and fourth floors.
  • Eight new operating rooms (replacing four existing ones), which will increase  surgical capacity by 3,500 operations per year.
  • Two of the new O.R.’S will be high-volume facilities dedicated to orthopaedic surgery, making DGH a key focus for those procedures.
  • Patient rooms will be spacious and offer a view of the outside wherever possible. They will be single-occupancy where feasible. Both features have been proven to speed recovery, reduce relapses and promote infection control.
  • Some rooms will have two patients, but that’s the maximum. There will be no four-bed wards.
  • Outpatient services capacity (procedures not requiring overnight stays) will double.
  • A three-storey addition is under construction and planned for completion next summer. It will house the new O.R.s, a new ambulatory care clinic (ongoing treatments not requiring an overnight stay, such as dialysis), and an endoscopy centre.

The entire project is expected to be finished by late 2021, which pretty much eliminates the possibility of progress being suspended by an election, as it did in 2009 and arguably 2013. This time Premier Stephen McNeil’s government seems to have the bit firmly in its teeth and technically has until 2022 to drop the writ.

Nonetheless, we should keep a sharp eye in the Halifax Infirmary redevelopment, which is ambitious, critical and expensive. Completion might come in 2024-25, which is a long way away in political terms.

NSHA has been refreshingly open about the doctor shortage and the hospital reconstruction. I hope they keep it up and even go further. Believe it or not, open government brings results.

CORRECTION: Earlier, I wrongly reported the fourth floor of Dartmouth  General Hospital would be used for administration. It will continue to be an inpatient floor.


How to boost sales of illegal painkillers

Predictably, the number of Nova Scotians in need of a family doctor hit a new high as of Nov. 1.

On the bright side, it’s “only” 1,179 more than the month before, and it’s the fourth number in a row suggesting some kind of moderating trend. So, fingers crossed, eh?

On the dark side, our 59,225 doctor-less citizens may lose access to a much-needed painkiller next year.

Health Canada is proposing to make low-dose codeine products available by  prescription-only. This would include Tylenol No. 1, which is an alternative for people who cannot tolerate a class of common painkillers called NSAIDs. It includes Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Alleve and many others.

I’m not saying Tylenol No.1 is risk-free. Regular Tylenol (and its generic versions) contains acetaminophen, which by itself can have serious side-effects when misused, but is safe when guidelines are followed.

However,  Tylenol No. 1 also contains codeine and caffeine, which are intended to boost the pain relief. Codeine is an opioid which, given the current paranoia over anything with that name, explains what’s going on here.

Health Canada has a stout defence of its proposal and I lack the science to debate the issue with them.

But I will say that even retail drugs can have unwanted side effects. The misuse of Aspirin and its cousins, for example, can cause stomach ulcers. The question is whether the benefits of a drug outweigh the risks.

If you have chronic pain, you might be willing to risk a lot for relief. (On the flip side, I know someone whose death likely began with a refusal to request opioids for severe pain.)

And I note Canadians take about 600 million doses per year of Tylenol No. 1, which pro-rates to about 15 million doses in Nova Scotia, the equivalent of 300,000 bottles containing 50 tablets. I don’t know how many prescriptions that will require, but the calculation starts at 300,000.

Whatever the final number is, it’s bound to be a burden for family doctors, some of whom have already endured oppressive and unnecessary prying by authorities waging a war on opioids.  Nonetheless, a doctor I know supports the management of opioids even in small doses, but feels other types of painkillers should be made more accessible and less expensive. Interestingly, this doctor suggests including opioids among the drugs pharmacists are permitted to prescribe.

And that brings us to the biggest problem here: if Health Canada makes this change, how will you get Tylenol No. 1 if you don’t have a family doctor? 

How many of our 59,225 doctor-less citizens will have go the infamous “street” for their pain relief? These folks are about six per cent of the province which, using my seat-of-the-pants calculation, equates to a potential market of about 18,000 bottles.

So that could be new biz for “the street” and its dangerous, unregulated products. That’s a lot of risk. I wonder if the benefits are worth it.

But I’m no expert. To quote the Great Ignoramus, I’m just sayin’, that’s all.


Crucial transformation coming to Halifax Infirmary site

Updated March 9, 2020

The  $2-billion cost of revitalizing Nova Scotia’s most important medical centre, and the debate over the public-private-partnership (P3) approach to building it, have obscured a much more interesting feature of the project.

Far from the decentralization discussed just two years ago, it will create a health care powerhouse at the Halifax Infirmary site.

According to the Nova Scotia Health Authority, when the dust has settled in the middle of the next decade, the HI site will comprise 625 inpatient beds, 28 operating rooms, 33 intensive care beds and 15 intermediate care beds.

expansion of inpatient care at HI
Increases are net, reflecting new facilities and transfers from the VG site. (Courtesy NSHA)

I know I should lower my expectations here. After all, the effort to bring the so-called Victoria General campus up to standard has been driven solely by hot air for at least 20 years. But the politically risky decision to make it a P3 build tells me Stephen McNeil’s government means business.

The VG campus, notwithstanding its disgraceful buildings, is supposed to be the centre of excellence for medicine in the Maritimes. We need to take note of what’s going to replace it.

For starters, the Infirmary parkade will be demolished and rebuilt underground, with a new inpatient building sitting on top.

The existing emergency department will remain where it is, but will be flanked by three new buildings dedicated to a research and learning centre, cancer care, and ambulatory care.

As late as April of this year, the plan was to retain cancer care at the Victoria General site, but planners decided patient health would be better served if the centre was part of the HI site. In part, it will permit views of the outdoors, communal space, gardens and natural materials designed to make cancer patients more at ease. It will also promote team care.

Whatever the decision, it will gobble up the communal vegetable garden occupying the site of the former QEII High School. But we don’t yet know whether the cancer care centre will occupy the garden site or the former CBC building on Bell Road. Planners will complete a study of patient flow before making that call. (See illustrations.)

beacon streetscape crop 2 w arrows
This  concept illustration shows an area bounded by Robie St. at the bottom, then, moving clockwise, Bell Road, Summer Street and Veterans’ Memorial Lane. Arrows point to numbers on key buildings: 1-new inpatient building; 2-outpatient building; 3-learning and research centre; 4-cancer care building.

In sum, the site will have four new buildings: cancer care, ambulatory (outpatient), a research and learning centre, and an additional inpatient building. Dartmouth General is already undergoing an extensive remake that includes

GP street scapes cropped arrows
In this concept, the locations of cancer care (4) and outpatient (2) have been swapped. Patient flow will be the key to the decision. In either case, the community garden will have to go. (Courtesy NSHA)

a new tower, and the rural-friendly community outpatient centre at Bayers Lake is going ahead.

So that’s a total of six new buildings.

A team approach to care is seen as one of the benefits of the new campus. For example, people with cancer often have other illnesses and will benefit when specialists can work along-side cancer-care providers.

The focus on patient comfort will extend to the 180 new inpatient units, 80 per cent of which will be single occupancy. This, as well as good views of the outdoors wherever possible, has been found to pay for itself in shorter stays and fewer returns to care. The remaining rooms will be similar but with a maximum of two patients and no sharing of bathrooms.

Victoria van Hemert, who heads the project, told your incredulous correspondent (who prefers to lick his wounds in remote caves) that some people actually heal better in a social setting.

As noted, the parkade on Robie will go underground with the additional inpatient building on top. Underground parking lots will also be constructed beneath the cancer care and outpatient buildings.

Interestingly, the net increase in “regular” inpatient beds on the Peninsula is just 36. But van Hemert, who has a number of successful hospital projects on her CV, says it’s the right number:

“This outcome was objectively derived based on programs and services, demographics (including age), technological changes, and more day surgeries. Epidemiologists were a part of the calculation. And then we looked ahead 20 years.”

Intensive care beds will go up by nine to 33; intermediate care will rise by three to 15.

There is some capacity to scale up the emergency department, but planners are counting on three things to ease the current overcrowding:

  • Expanded outpatient services (mastectomies, for example, can now be done on an outpatient basis);
  • Faster transfers of emergency patients to continuing care (home care);
  • Faster access to long-term care (e.g. nursing homes).

“More timely discharge of inpatients to Continuing Care and long-term care services will assist with improving flow of patients from the Emergency Department to inpatient units,” Nicole Brooks de Gier, community relations advisor for the project, said in an email.

That’s an understatement. Your correspondent has spent the night with family members in an emergency room on three occasions, once for 36 hours. The beds are actually gurneys, which are narrow and uncomfortable, and it can he hard to get help from staff because they are busy with, well, other emergencies.

In each case, the explanation was the lack of a hospital bed for my family member. Too many were already occupied by patients who belonged in a home or continuing care.

This is surely expensive, but it’s also hard on staff morale. “We’re trained and equipped for emergency medicine,” an exhausted emergency nurse told me one night. “Our job is to treat patients and send them home, or get them ready for admission to inpatient care. (Your relative) is not getting the right care here.”

Given the net increase in regular inpatient beds, it seems this $2-billion project has a lot riding on care given outside a hospital.


  • Part of the project is a new operating room at Hants Community Hospital. It’s completed and expected to handle 800 surgeries per year;
  • NSHA will own the buildings and deliver services

To come:

  • Dartmouth General expansion (ghost floor comes back to life)
  • Continuing care and long-term care
  • Bayers Lake outpatient centre
  • Short rant in favour of P3 model


Doctor-shortage: Eastern Zone feeling better

As of the first of this month 58,046 (6.3%) Nova Scotians were in search of doctor. That’s an increase of about one-tenth of a percentage point, or 1,416 people.

On the upside, it’s far better than the increase recorded on July 1 which, as they say on TV, was a “whopping” 2,483. Since then, the monthly increase has been declining steadily, so maybe that’s good news (hard to say, as I have never been “whopped”.)

The data come from the Nova Scotia Health Authority, which has been notably open about the doctor shortage. Further, the October report contains new details offering a pretty good idea of the situation where you live, based on the percentage of people there without doctors.

In the first table below, I’ve highlighted the four best performers in green, and the worst in red. The Eastern Zone has all the best — four areas where there is effectively no doctor shortage, in my view.

Liverpool is in dire straits, with 16.3% of the population (1,781 people) needing but unable to find a doctor.

As usual, about half the people without doctors (29,469) live in Metro Halifax. That’s 7.7% of the city vs. 6.3% for the province. At the bottom of this post is a Halifax-centric table sorted from the highest percentage of people without doctors to the lowest. I’ve used a seasonal orange colour to illustrate the local problem, about which our councillors and MLAs don’t seem to care.

Highlighted table from NSHA

Oct.1 2018

Halifax-centric table

Halifax-centric October 4
This table is sorted from the highest percentage of people without doctors to the lowest. I’ve used a seasonal orange colour to illustrate the local problem, about which our councillors and MLAs don’t seem to care.

The easy, low-cost way to catch stoned drivers


It’s amazing to see how much effort and money is going into preparation for next Wednesday, when pot becomes legal in Canada. You’d think government would have less to do when something becomes legal but, no, all the levels of government have been bulking up for a year now. It’s the way we do things here.

Still, amazingly, it’s not going well.

For example, CBC reports that police departments are still ill-equipped to detect and deal with suspected stoned drivers.  “Only” 833 of Canada’s finest have been trained as a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) versus the 2,000 sought by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.

But their methods, which can involve detention with scant cause and be highly intrusive, are in for a rough ride in court.

Here, thanks to Robichaud Law, are some of the hoops traffic officers will go through to get a conviction.

First, the police officer must determine whether there is a “reasonable suspicion” the driver is impaired by drugs. Here’s a list of suspicious signs:

  • smelling marijuana emanating from the person,
  • observing erratic driving behaviour,
  • obtaining an admission of the suspect of recent drug consumption
  • observing strange behaviour
  • observing bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, etc.

Hell, spending an hour in the visitors’ gallery at Doug Ford’s Ontario legislature could produce four of those symptoms. More if you visited the press gallery.

And what if your doctor has prescribed you tranquillizers? What’s your answer when you’re asked if you’ve recently consumed drugs?

So, let’s say the cop determines you could be stoned or drunk. You’re off to see a DRE, if there’s one to be found. Here’s what happens.

  • a preliminary examination involving pupil measurement and comparison, pulse, eye tracking of an object;
  • a horizontal and vertical “gaze nystagmus test” (i.e. jerky eye movement);
  • a “lack-of-convergence” test (i.e. can’t cross your eyes);
  • divided-attention tests, which consist of balancing, walking and turning, one-legged standing, finger-to-nose test;
  • blood pressure, temperature and pulse;
  •  an examination of pupil sizes under (different) levels of ambient light, near-total darkness and direct light and an examination of the nasal and oral cavities;
  • an examination which consists of checking muscle tone and pulse; and,
  • a visual examination of the arms, neck and, if exposed, the legs for evidence of injection sites.

After checking off that intrusive list, the DRE may decide the driver is impaired and demand samples of saliva, urine and/or blood. But fluid tests are unreliable indicators of weed impairment and, in any case, CBC says there isn’t a single cop in the country qualified to take a blood sample.

This is tough enough on police trying to do their jobs, but what if you’re the driver and you’re innocent? To paraphrase comedian Russell Peters, somebody gonna get real mad.

And one way or another, it’s going to be a licence to print money for criminal lawyers.

What to do? The answer is as obvious as your bloodshot eyes: ask suspect drivers to take a test in a driving simulator. You could even fit a simulator in one those over-sized police vans for roadside testing. The officer would simply ask the suspect to take the wheel of a simulator and start “driving”. The machine could measure all the key aspects: reaction-time, hazard recognition, speed, ability to stay inside the lines, etc.

Best of all, the machine would produce the results in a cold, objective printout. It wouldn’t matter whether the suspect had alcohol or other drugs in her system, or how much of it, because we would know whether or not she can drive safely. From a public safety perspective nothing else really matters, right?

Do driving simulators exist? Of course. Are they expensive? Alibaba has a wide variety of them at reasonable prices. Even after being tricked out for law enforcement purposes, I doubt one would cost more than a single police patrol car. And, assuming I passed, I wouldn’t feel inconvenienced because the simulator experience looks kinda fun. (There’s a demo video here, for a model starting at US $10,000. NB: Download takes patience.)

Some will say the system might unfairly catch sober but bad drivers. Well, what’s unfair about getting dangerous drivers off the road? That’s why we require driving tests in the first place.

To summarize. Smoked weed? Don’t care. Drank alcohol? Don’t care. Dangerous driver? We care. Then, and only then, we’ll investigate whether substance abuse is the cause.

So, problem solved. Or, as we say at Turpin Labs: ipso facto duodenum.




Don’t go down that rabbit hole


Mehta fiasco common but avoidable

Conversations between fair-minded people about Rick Mehta tend to begin with something like: “I don’t know who’s right, but I do know … “

Unfortunately, even what we “do know” is wrong or not enough. All I’m certain of is that he was fired by Acadia University Aug. 31 amid a firestorm of accusation and counter-accusation.

The dispute, as others have noted, is a “rabbit hole.” We’ll never know who’s right or wrong. For sure, Mehta’s detractors and advocates (yes, he has some) will never persuade each other of anything.

But there is a way to avoid more rabbit holes: invite Kenneth Westhues, professor emeritus at the University of Waterloo, to lecture on “mobbing” or, in this case, “mobbing in academe.” And while we’re at it, have him speak to non-academic employers as well. Westhues is a leading scholar on mobbing, a phenomenon first identified in the late 1980s by Dr. Heinz Leymann, of the University of Stockholm.

And let me assure you: if Mehta is a victim of the academic form of mobbing, he has plenty of company.

I contacted Westhues because the Mehta controversy was reminding me of two incidents in my own own worklife. Some time ago, a large, somewhat plump and naive young woman walked into a office of twenty-somethings next to the room where I worked. For reasons still lost on me, a single loudmouth in the group began attacking her at every opportunity. He publicly mocked her hair, her intelligence, her body, her words and, unbelievably, her name. Others joined in and soon her work-life was hell. I didn’t participate, but I didn’t intervene either. The pressure grew daily until she left. It was the cruellest psychological attack I’ve seen.

Much later, I saw a gang of office-workers attack someone whose only crime was a lack of support. A single person launched a whispering campaign and it spread like a brushfire. This time I was sure I had the authority to intervene, but I was wrong. There was blood in the water and dismissal quickly became the inevitable outcome. (Concerted, unrelenting attacks on someone’s competence tend to be self-validating.) The instigator, who should have been fired, was triumphant. 

Here’s how Westhues describes the phenomenon: “Mobbing can be understood as the stressor to beat all stressors. It is an impassioned, collective campaign by co-workers to exclude, punish, and humiliate a targeted worker. Initiated most often by a person in a position of power or influence, mobbing is a desperate urge to crush and eliminate the target. The urge travels through the workplace like a virus, infecting one person after another. The target comes to be viewed as absolutely abhorrent, with no redeeming qualities, outside the circle of acceptance and respectability, deserving only of contempt. As the campaign proceeds, a steadily larger range of hostile ploys and communications comes to be seen as legitimate.”

Mehta’s dismissal letter, especially the last two sentences, is an unwitting illustration of Westhues’s definition. Its intensity, inflammatory language and length are unlike anything I’ve seen in a firing. Perhaps it’s the way academe does these things.

I asked Westhues if he thought Mehta was a victim of mobbing. He was aware of the dispute, but he takes on only three or four cases a year and wouldn’t offer an opinion without first studying every scrap of relevant information.

He did, however, direct me to the many resources on his website.

One is a list of 10 conditions that increase a professor’s vulnerability to mobbing in academe. I’ve highlighted the five that apply to Mehta:

• Foreign birth and upbringing, especially as signalled by a foreign accent;

Being different from most colleagues in an elemental way (by sex, for instance, sexual orientation, skin color, ethnicity, class origin, or credentials);

Belonging to a discipline with ambiguous standards and objectives, especially those (like music or literature) most affected by postmodern scholarship; Based on a Google search, Mehta’s discipline, psychology, is at least affected by postmodern scholarship.

• Working under a dean or other administrator in whom, as Nietzsche put it, “the impulse to punish is powerful”;

An actual or contrived financial crunch in one’s academic unit (according to an African proverb, when the watering hole gets smaller, the animals get meaner). I can’t find any indication that Mehta’s department is having financial problems, but the university is. See CBC, $10.5M bailout for Acadia helps avoid ‘more difficult decisions’.

Having opposed the candidate who ends up winning appointment as one’s dean or chair (thereby looking stupid, wicked, or crazy in the latter’s eyes); From Mehta’s  Facebook Page: “In the early part of 2017, Acadia University was searching for its next President. On March 27, I submitted the concerns that I had with Dr. Ricketts being the next President of Acadia University in a letter that I submitted to the Presidential Search Committee.  … Dr. Ricketts became the President of Acadia University.”

• Being a ratebuster, achieving so much success in teaching or research that colleagues’ envy is aroused;

Publicly dissenting from politically correct ideas (meaning those held sacred by campus elites); Here’s some media boilerplate, courtesy of The Canadian Press: “The associate professor of psychology has been outspoken on a range of contentious issues. He has come under fire for saying multiculturalism is a scam, there’s no wage gap between men and women, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has created a victim narrative.”

• Defending a pariah in campus politics or the larger cultural arena;

• Blowing the whistle on or even having knowledge of serious wrongdoing by locally powerful workmates.

I told Westhues that Mehta seemed to be digging in his heels, or “doubling down,” on the issues that were causing him so much trouble. I asked if his seemingly irrational reaction could be the result of stress. His response surprised me: “Generally, a mobbing target is best advised to dig in heels and go for broke.”

Westhues said that once a mob has formed against a target, any sort of apology he or she may offer is likely to be misconstrued as an admission of serious wrongdoing or dismissed as insincere.

Mobbing can extend outside an academic institution (which is self-evident to people who’ve been following the Mehta story) and become “virtual mobbing.” Westhues cites a “very hostile” petition aginst Mehta as an example of that.

I’ve not studied the petition in detail,” he writes, “but I have done so in the case of similar petitions and learned that many, even most of the signers know little or nothing about the facts of the case, just add their names as a means of what’s called now ‘virtue signalling,’ the conspicuous declaration of values they hold dear.”

Indeed, the very first signatory has no apparent association with Mehta: “… I honestly would boycott any classes with him if I still went there … ” (Emphasis added.)

If you read on you’ll find plenty more signatories who demonstrate no association with Mehta, but say some nasty things.

So, should we be pro- or anti-Mehta?

The answer is: we should be anti-mobbing.

Managers of all kinds looking for help with that could start with the Waterloo Anti-mobbing Instruments. And then look around Westhues’s website.

It might just keep you from falling down a rabbit hole.


Bad environment = bad economy

Intern proves planet always survives,

economy not so much

Surrounded by fire, wind and floods, world leaders are stepping up talk of balancing the economy and the environment. Ordinary people talk about “saving the planet.”

To learn more about the science behind these ideas, Turpin Labs has honoured another intern — Bob — with an opportunity to take the controls of our Time Machine Mark II XL. While we regret the difficulties experienced by our first pilot-intern, whose name I forget, she will always be in our hearts. That said, we have high hopes of recovering Bob because he is protected by a new safety device unique to the Mark II.

We will never rest until Bob and his predecessor are returned safe and sound, while pointing out that both interns did say they had “better things to than fetch coffee”.

Below is Bob’s report. Please note he found spokespeople for both the environment and the planet, something rarely accomplished by today’s lazy reporters. — Bill Turpin, CEO

439 million years ago

Environmental conditions: crazy low sea-levels, humongous sheets of ice destroying  everything in their paths, making it almost impossible for anything to grow.
Economy: down by 100% as 86% of species have been wiped out. Although trilobites are among the survivors, Beloved CEO, they lack the innovation and drive the economy’s needs.
Environmental spokesperson: “It’s all good. We’re working with the Planet to press the reset button and see what happens next. Should be interesting.”
Planet: “I’ve been a planet for four billion years or so. I’m not going anywhere.”
Trilobites: “We don’t see a problem.”

364 million years ago

Environmental conditions: There’s almost no oxygen in oceans and volcanic ash on land is causing outrageous cooling.
Economy: With 74% of species wiped out, the economy has shrunk by 99%. Reefs are taking a beating, completely destroying sales of handmade jewelry on beaches. On the bright side, the slaughter appears to be opening an evolutionary door for human existence.
Environmental spokesperson: “We’re low on oxygen, but so what? We’ll just press the reset button again.”
Planetary spokesman: “I agree completely with the environment. Whatever it does is fine with me. Can’t say I’m sorry to see the trilobites go — not much of a contribution there, really.”
Trilobites: Did not return calls.

251 million years ago

Environmental conditions: Unbelievable global warming, apparently set off by a huge volcano. This is no place to be unless you’re in a time machine.
Economy: Well, 96% of all species have been wiped out, what do YOU think, Bill, er, Beloved CEO?
… [Static. Loss of signal …]
Planetary spokesperson: “I feel good, always do. I see humans are still on timeline. They should more interesting than trilobites. Anyway, time to press the ol’ reset button.”

Between 199 and 214 million years ago

Environmental conditions: Bill, there’s been a helluva an asteroid collision, but not enough to blow up the planet. It’s clear things are looking up for the arrival of dinosaurs, but mammals are losing ground … [Static. Loss of signal.]

65 million years ago

Environmental conditions: This is the big one, Beloved CEO, the one everybody loves to read about. Volcanoes, asteroids, climate change. It’s obvious that after a 135 million year reign, dinosaurs are on the way out, along with 76% of all life on Earth.
Economy: Prospects are not as bad as you might think. With dinosaurs off the board, this is a big, big break for humans and sharks. If humans step up like we know they can, we should be rocking the economy in 65 million years or so.
Environmental spokesperson: “Whoa! Did you SEE the explosion when that asteroid hit? Hoo-WEE! … What? No .. no worries .. we’re good here, man.”
Planetary spokesperson: “I gotta admit, we felt that one. Still, we held together and we’re in top shape again. Just orbiting and spinning. Love it.”
Dinosaur spokesperson: “We’ve banned marijuana-smoking in public places, so we don’t expect any further problems.”


Environmental conditions: So-called scientists think we have climate change again, that humans are causing it and that it’s too late to stop it. However, we don’t have consensus. Also, some believe non-human species are becoming extinct at 100 to 1,000 times the normal rate. But really, Bill, can you really take a number like that seriously? And humans are doing great!
Economy: Fantastic! Just fantastic! We haven’t seen an economy like this for 65 million years. Coral reefs are under pressure again, but beach sales of jewelry are through the roof!
Environmental spokesperson: “No question we’re running hot. How are YOU doing, that’s the real question. I mean, your kind are done like dinner. You can’t SEE that?”
Planetary spokesperson: “We see another big-time extinction coming on, but we’re optimistic that intelligent life will finally emerge in the next 50 million years or so.”
Human spokesperson: “Halifax has banned public smoking of tobacco and marijuana. That should tale care of any problems.”

… [Static. Loss of signal …  ]

Anyway, Beloved Leader, this much is clear: you can do anything you want to the environment and it will always be there. But you can’t say the same for the economy. You mess with the environment, you mess with the economy.

Gotta go. Two big destroyer-class time machines have shown up. The “Exxon Memory Hole” and the “Trump Narcissistic Liar.” They’re turning my way. Infallible Leader, did you ever install those shields you talked about? I mean, because if you forgot …

[Loss of signal.]