Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Ad nauseum

Thanks to Tim Bousquet at the Halifax Examiner for pointing me to this article by David Roth (the one who used to write for Deadspin, not the one who sang “Jump”). It’s called “The infinite scroll” and it is an elegant though depressing exploration of the modern online reading experience. More precisely, it is an exploration of the modern online advertising experience because the two are (on most sites) deeply entwined:

Even on the websites of august institutions ads interrupt the text every two paragraphs; ads follow you down the sides of the page like store security; ads pop up in boxes that resist being closed, the elusive little x evading your cursor…

It all happened in the way that decline generally happens in American culture, which is one anxious, hopeful, cynical capitulation at a time. We have compressed and corroded and finally collapsed what used to be the core of a publication—its relationship with its readers, and the basic notion that one should not make it hard for them to read.

Spammy content from CNBC

Spammy content from CNBC

If you recognize your own online experience in these paragraphs, I invite you to look around you and notice that it is not true of the Cape Breton Spectator, which does not accept advertising, is not beholden to advertisers, has never prioritized the needs of advertisers over those of readers and, as a result, doesn’t make as much money as the sites that do.

So if you are reading this on Friday 6 March 2020, while it is behind the paywall, THANK YOU. You are keeping this ship afloat.

If you are reading this at some point after Wednesday 11 March 2020 after it’s come out from behind the paywall — and if you’ve made a habit of reading Spectator articles once they are out from behind the paywall — then please think about subscribing. You can subscribe for as little as $5 a month! That’s roughly 80 cents per week! You couldn’t buy a weekly cup of coffee for 80 cents, if weekly cups of coffee were a thing, which they’re not. But you know what I mean.

Subscribe so that this site never, ever has to resort to:

Those ungainly grease-trap widgets, which link out to spammy slideshows about celebrities that have gained weight and miracle baldness cures…

The ones that “have the effect of making every site on which they appear look uglier and less credible.”

Help keep the Spectator credible-looking!



Mukthar Limpao

Mukthar Limpao (Source: L’Arche Cape Breton)

This next item was written by Dolores Campbell as a follow-up to her article this week about Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche International, and the revelations of his sexual abuse of women (workers, not residents) in the community:

I had an interesting conversation with Mukthar Limpao, executive director of L’Arche Cape Breton, on Wednesday evening, having left a message for him on Monday morning. Understandably, Limpao was too busy to get back to me before I wrote Wednesday’s item for The Cape Breton Spectator (which he hadn’t read). He was obviously still very upset by L’Arche International’s recent revelations about its founder, Jean Vanier, who was found to have b

Limpao admitted to feeling not only devastated but very angry at the revelations, of which neither he nor his staff had been aware, and he spoke quite openly of the hurt and betrayal they all felt when news of Vanier’s actions was made public. He worried that the very reasons Vanier and his associates founded L’Arche might be questioned.

I told Limpao that I had been a long-time admirer of Vanier myself. I explained my anger at the two letters Vanier had submitted to the inquiry and his refusal to admit to his abusive behavior, and we found that we were in agreement on these matters.

Limpao still believes, however (as do I), that Vanier’s founding of L’Arche was something to be applauded, as it had changed the lives of so many people with developmental challenges, whose true value had often been dismissed or overlooked. He said that since the report came out, people have reached out to them with sympathy, donations and requests to assist, even after the stunning accusations against Vanier. Limpao and his staff look forward to continuing to provide their residents with the love and loyalty to which they have become accustomed and to the continued support of their benefactors. I have no doubt such will be the case.


Sew what?

That tweet from Kate Wagner, the woman behind the McMansion hell blog (which I’ve written about before) immediately made me picture my mom at her sewing machine. (Note, the photo below does not depict my mom’s sewing machine.)

Vesta sewing machine

This is not my mother’s sewing machine, but isn’t it beautiful? (Photo by Nikodem Nijaki / CC BY-SA, via Wikimedia Commons)

She made everything you could imagine — dresses, t-shirts, curtains, table runners, cushion covers, our Brownie uniforms, my sister’s PROM DRESS, culottes (yes, there was a brief period during my elementary school years when these were big, fortunately, it was short-lived.)

Her cabinet sewing machine was in use so much, it was rarely stowed away. More recently, she swapped out the cabinet machine for a portable and she made more quilts than clothes, but if Fabricville had a Hall of Fame, she’d be in it. So I asked her what she made of this idea that sewing has become prohibitively expensive, and she said:

The price of fabric has  increased a lot. It was going up quite a bit when I was still quilting but there are bargains. The fact that Walmart gave up selling fabric was an early indication. Fabricville still has plenty of bargains but you have to look. Some who go to Florida used to buy up material at very cheap prices. The cost of making a double quilt could run to almost $200 if you had somebody do the quilting on a quilting machine…I think there are still those who probably sew for their children but I just don’t know them.

Thanks, Mom! Not only did you sew a lot of my clothes, you wrote half of Fast & Curious this week.


Cruise vs Coronavirus

The idea of being confined to a windowless, interior cabin on a cruise ship waiting to either get sick or disembark is my idea of a nightmare. (But then again, the idea of taking a cruise period is my idea of a nightmare, which I recognize as a bias and perhaps even a blind spot, but there it is. In my defense, I realize that many of you would consider my vacation of choice — months in the country being eaten by black flies — equally nightmarish.)

If you want to get a hint of what it must have been liked for many of those people confined to quarters on the Diamond Princess, the cruise ship where an outbreak of COVID-19 led to a two-week quarantine, go to the website and do the “virtual tour” of the interior room.

Interior Room, Diamond Princess

Interior Room, Diamond Princess. (Source: Princess Cruise Lines)

But I’ve actually been thinking about the threat faced by cruise ship crew members, who share accommodations and bathrooms and, if they work below decks in the galley or the laundry, work in close quarters.

Here’s a still from a YouTube video that gives you an idea of the size of the crew cabins (the woman posting doesn’t name the ship and the video pre-dates the coronavirus scare, it’s just a cheery, “Here’s what it’s like to live on a cruise ship” video):

Crew cabin, cruise ship

Crew cabin, cruise ship. (Source: YouTube)


TIME magazine reported that as passengers started to leave the Diamond Princess, the 1,000 crew members would:

…soon be moving from their decks below the waterline—where they share rooms, toilets and dining areas—into the very passenger cabins that they stayed on board to serve during the first quarantine, several crew members and a passenger tell TIME.

Crew members said the empty passenger rooms will be sanitized and fumigated, and that they would be transferred to complete a second 14-day quarantine there. Crew members will be assigned to individual rooms, but will likely only begin their quarantine on Friday, after majority of the passengers have left.

Already, at least 50 crew members have contracted the coronavirus, called COVID-19, but some say they fear even more could be ill…

One crew member said Princess Cruises, the company that operates Diamond Princess, has informed them that they will be moving into rooms with balconies, a welcome change from their below-deck, windowless cabins that they share with up to two others.

Charles Chu, a professor of laboratory medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, told TIME that the quarantine failed to contain the outbreak, especially among crew members:

“The crew needed to move around. They faced enhanced risk relative to passengers who stayed in their rooms,” says Charles Chiu…

Since the quarantine began on Feb. 5, crew members have mostly continued their duties, preparing meals, doing sanitation work and delivering food to passengers.

A lack of private cabins for crew members also meant that those who reported symptoms were only told to isolate themselves in their rooms, at the risk of passing the virus to their roommates. “Crew members can easily get infected in that situation,” Chiu adds.

A crew member, who asked to remain anonymous because of the cruise line’s “media policy” told TIME that most of the crew members infected with the virus had been delivering food to passengers three times a day.

TIME asked Princess Cruises about living conditions and quarantine for crew, but the cruise line did not respond.

This is one corner of the coronavirus/cruise ship issue that caught my eye this week but there will be buckets of ink spilled about coronavirus and the local cruise business before this is over, I suspect. It’s far too early to predict the effect it will have this season, but it’s not to early to say that this kind of uncertainty is what you sign up for when you pin your economic development hopes on the cruise industry.

(Apparently, it’s also what you sign up for when you pin your economic development hopes on seafood exports to China. This Bloomberg article, “Virus Makes Lobsters So Cheap Sellers Face a Fatal Blow,” was just sent to me by a sharp-eyed friend of the Spectator, and while the headline is surely overblown — low lobster prices won’t kill sellers — it is nevertheless, as my correspondent noted, “a big story.”)