Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Aussie Hemp

Hemp plant. (Photo by By Hendrike 14:33, 23 November 2006 (UTC) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Hemp plant. (Photo by By Hendrike, own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons)

Local businessman Parker Rudderham announced last week that his hemp oil company, Highland Hemp, had signed a $14 million deal to supply an unspecified amount of hemp oil to an unnamed Brazilian pharmaceutical company.

When reading local business stories, I like to ask myself, “What would the Wall Street Journal do?” (I have been a fan since an American friend told me how to read it: avoid the op-ed pages and stick to the straight-up news coverage which is usually good because information is actually really important to businesspeople.)

In this case, I think the WSJ would have insisted Rudderham actually name the other party to the deal, something neither the CBC nor the Cape Breton Post nor that Halifax-based newspaper insisted upon.

Nor, it must be admitted, did North Carolina-based hemp manufacturing firm Hemp Inc, which picked up the story in its 10 February Industrial Hemp Industry Update. Hemp Inc made up for the missing information, though, by adding some other stuff:

On Australia’s east coast, a Sydney-based startup (Highland Hemp) landed a $14 million deal with an undisclosed Brazilian pharmaceutical company hoping to launch a hemp industry on Cape Breton Island. Highland Hemp president and chief executive officer Parker Rudderham said its company will have about 11,000 acres of hemp under cultivation this year. “With farmers under contract to grow hemp, Highland Hemp will produce oil from the stalk, package it in stainless steel tanks, and have these shipped to Brazil… Frankly, there’s no reason why Cape Breton can’t be to hemp what P.E.I. is to potatoes, except there’s a lot more valued-added things you can do with hemp and there’s a lot more money in hemp than potatoes. There are endless opportunities.”

That’s the kind of publicity money can’t — and really shouldn’t — buy.


Teacher, Teacher

Protests in support of teachers at Nova Scotia’s Province House December 2016 (Photo via Twitter)

I can’t ignore the biggest story in the province this week (no, not the snow, although I can’t ignore that either and will probably spend the rest of this week shoveling): the McNeil government’s decision to force a contract on the Nova Scotia Teachers Union.

Although I don’t think they need more money, I am sympathetic to the teachers — classroom conditions sound difficult, resources inadequate and the government’s attitude insufferable.

Rather than struggle to say something reasonable about the situation, I’m going to cheat and point you to two people who have already said reasonable things, Stephen Kimber and Graham Steele.

Kimber’s most recent article for the Halifax Examiner (behind a paywall) puts the blame for the current situation squarely on NS Premier Stephen McNeil, whom he characterizes as “the real architect of the failed strategy to bring public sector workers to heel by first picking off their weakest link, public school teachers.”

Kimber also points out that none of the three rejected contracts from which McNeil will presumably choose deals with teachers’ biggest concerns: “better learning conditions, safer schools and more time to spend helping students instead of doing paperwork.” (And for an interesting perspective on these concerns, see this CBC interview with Christine Richards, a resource teacher with the Halifax Regional School Board.)

Graham Steele, finance minister under former NS Premier Darrel Dexter, has been running a virtual civics class on his Facebook page since the dispute began. Besides providing a link to the actual text of the Act Respecting a Teachers’ Professional Agreement and Classroom Improvementshe explains what to expect as the bill makes its way, Godzilla-like, through the NS legislature, crushing all opposition in its path. (Godzilla imagery all mine, Steele, like a proper civics teacher, sticks to the facts).



This illustration provides a 3D graphical representation of a spherical-shaped, measles virus particle that is studded with glycoprotein tubercles. Those tubercular studs colorized maroon, are known as H-proteins (hemagglutinin), and those colorized gray are referred to as F-proteins (fusion). The F-protein is responsible for fusion of virus and host cell membranes, viral penetration, and hemolysis, and the H-protein is responsible for binding of virus to cells. Both types of proteinaceous studs are embedded in the envelope’s lipid bilayer. (Image via the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Public Health Image Library

3D graphical representation of a measles virus particle (Image via the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Image Library )

I was reading microfilm in the back room of the McConnell Library last fall while a gentleman and his wife were using the table behind me for a meeting with a financial adviser. I paid no attention to their discussion until they were finished and I heard the man tell the financial adviser that vaccines cause autism. I’d just been reading an article about the havoc a return of diseases like measles could wreak in North America, so without thinking I turned around and said, “That’s nonsense.”

I cringe even thinking about it — I usually save my most obnoxious self for my loved ones. The man was understandably pissed, and I said quickly, “There’s no point in discussing this,” and buried my nose back in my 1949 edition of the Cape Breton Post wishing I had kept my big mouth shut. (Interesting aside: I found an article from that year in which a U.S. podiatrist argued that as cancer rates had risen alongside sales of mass-produced — as opposed to custom-made — shoes, mass-produced shoes caused cancer. Classic correlation versus causation, the same confusion at the root of the ‘vaccines cause autism’ argument. I really couldn’t make this stuff up.)

But then a funny happened — everyone but the man left the room and he called out to ask me why I disagreed with him. I took the opportunity to apologize, said I should never have interrupted his conversation (he agreed) and we then had a completely civil and actually very interesting discussion in which we found all kinds of things we agreed on. We ended on very cordial terms.

But I still think he’s wrong about vaccines and autism. And I think Jessica Simpson is wrong. And I think Robert F. Kennedy Jr is wrong.

A recent New York Times op-ed by Peter J. Hotez explains that measles is so contagious that a single person can infect more than a dozen others. Hotez, a pediatrician, says anytime the percentage of children vaccinated against the disease falls below 95% or 90% you can expect outbreaks — and that percentage is now below 66% in nine U.S. states.

According to the 2013 Childhood National Immunization Coverage Study sponsored by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), immunization rates in Canada look like this:

Immunization coverage1 by antigen for two-year-old children in Canada, 2013

So we’re at roughly 90% immunization against measles (or at least, we were in 2013). Furthermore:

The CNICS 2013 also asked about knowledge, attitudes and beliefs related to vaccines and vaccination, and it revealed that 95% of parents thought that childhood vaccines are safe. Similarly, 97% thought that vaccines are effective and important for children’s health.

On the other hand, there was some concern expressed about possible side effects of vaccines. Almost 70% of parents expressed concern around the side effects of vaccines, and over a third wrongly believed that a vaccine can cause the same disease it was meant to prevent. Almost five per cent of parents strongly agreed that alternative practices, such as homeopathy or chiropractic, can eliminate the need for vaccines.

The study’s authors said this meant there was still room for improvement in communicating the truth about vaccines to parents.

Three cases of measles were confirmed in Nova Scotia this week. (The last confirmed case in the province was in 2008.) Dr. Trevor Arnason, medical officer of health for Halifax, Eastern Shore and West Hants, told the CBC:

Measles has been eliminated within the province so there isn’t generally transmission here. So it’s usually a traveler or someone who’s linked to travel outside of the province or usually the country.

It’s crazy to think that people traveling to the United States (and to those nine under-immunized states in particular) could be at risk of contracting measles, but Hotez fears 2017 could be the year the disease returns, with a vengeance.

Let’s hope our herd immunity holds.


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