Wednesday, January 13, 2016

An icon of the boomer generation, David Bowie, has died

When I talk of the music of the baby boom generation, I don't think of music listened to by baby boomers. Simply listening to music does not make a generational claim on that music. I'm a baby boomer and I, and many of my friends, like Beethoven and Chopin but that fact does not make their music the music of the baby boom. I believe most folk would agree.

But refer to the music maker Chuck Berry and the argument changes. In this case, many would argue Berry wrote the music of the boomer generation. If you believe that I believe you are wrong. Chuck Berry was born a couple of decades before the baby boom. Beethoven was born in 1712; Chopin was born a century later in 1810. Chuck Berry arrived in 1926. More boomers may have listened to Berry but, as we have already agreed, listening to music by a generation is not enough to allow a claim on that music by the generation. More is demanded.

David Bowie           Photo by: Adam Bielawski Aug. 8, 2002
Which brings us to the late David Bowie. Bowie was born in 1947. He was a boomer who wrote  music listened to by boomers. Bowie wrote some of the earliest true music of the baby boom generation. Bowie was not only a singer and songwriter, he was a record producer, painter and actor. Bowie was a baby boomer Renaissance man.

Bowie's art is not just an intrinsic part of baby boom culture, his creative endeavors permeate pop-culture across generational divides. I don't believe many were surprised when Commander Chris Hadfield, a Canadian-born baby boomer astronaut, performed a cover of Bowie's Space Oddity while circling earth in May 2013. The video is posted on You Tube until Nov. of 2016 after an agreement was reached with the copyright holder (not David Bowie.)

David Bowie, a baby boomer icon, will be sorely missed.

For some other thoughts on the death of a cultural icon, follow the link to the article David Bowie and Me posted in the Arts and Culture section of the Harvard Gazette. Five Harvard academics, possibly all boomers, share their personal reactions to Bowie's death.

The first piece is by professor James Wood, a boomer born in 1965 in England. The professor wrote: "I loved Bowie’s work, and in many ways it defined my youth, as it did the upbringing of anyone who grew up in Britain in the 1970s and ’80s."

Well said, professor.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Head lice: Not so super

This post, Head lice: Not so super, has been moved to the Digital Journal in support of an imaginative new media outlet. DJ may be providing a window into the future of journalism.

Please click the link and check out the story and the newspaper itself.

(former photojournalist: The London Free Press)

The online presentation is excellent. Journalists take note.

 Journalists take note:

The digital journal has been around for years. Their software is excellent. If journalists worked together to get out the news instead of working to ship money out of the country to foreign investors, journalists could get by without old technology companies like Post Media.

With the right people working on the money earning end of the business (selling ads) and professional journalists covering the news, maybe newspaper people could free themselves from the anchor of the printing press and the tyranny of media chain ownership.

Facebook shares are now 15. Time on pg. is 5 min.
And how is my head lice article doing online? Not badly. The number of hits is as expected.

The bounce rate is rather low and that's good. The bounce rate indicates the percentage of readers who read the first few lines and move on without reading the full article.

The average time spent on the page is high, indicating that good number of readers stay to read the story. The number of comments is low. That surprises me. I thought this topic would elicit a lot of comments from parents and others. The Facebook shares are partially driving the hits. Facebook may become the main driver of hits in the coming days.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Racist? Maybe. But not everyone would agree.

United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia recently stated, "Most of the black scientists in this country do not come from the most advanced schools." He added that many such African-American scientists actually benefited from being given the opportunity to take a "slower track."

I caught this story on CNN. The newscaster was stunned by the remark by the supreme court justice. A discussion of the remark immediately followed the report. No time was taken to consider whether there was any substance, any support, for Scalia's stance.

Was I shocked by Scalia's remarks? A little. But, I had no immediate comment and I believe the on-air folk at CNN would do well to do a little research before launching an attack in which they quickly labeled the justice "racist."

If you are curious to know what others have said on this matter, folks whose views very well may have influenced the justice, follow the links:

  • The Painful Truth About Affirmative Action: Why racial preferences in college admissions hurt minority students -- and shroud the education system in dishonesty. -- from the Atlantic.
  • Does Affirmative Action Do What It Should: Scholars have been looking more closely at how affirmative action works in practice . . . some of these scholars have come to believe that affirmative action doesn’t always help the students it’s supposed to . . . some minority students . . . might actually be better served by attending a less elite institution . . . -- New York Times
  • And just this year the Harvard Political Review ran an article Matters of Mismatch: The Debate Over Affirmative Action's Effectiveness. The article examined the controversial theory of University of California School of Law professor Richard Sander who wrote a provocative 117-page article back in 2004 and published in the Stanford Law Review, "A Systemic Analysis of Affirmative Action in American Law Schools."

Is Antonin Scalia right? I don't know -- but I am certain the CNN folk are too-quick-to-voice-an-opinion. If I had the time, it would be interesting to discover just what exactly CNN has had to say on this issue in the past. When the Atlantic and the New York Times are two of the possible sources of Scalia's thoughts, it is hard not to imagine that CNN has reported Scalia's position in a more positive manner at other times.

Monday, November 30, 2015

First, horseless carriages; soon, paperless newspapers

Recently a fellow told me newspapers are dead. He was quite adamant. No one reads newspapers anymore, he said. He was, of course, overstating his case but there is a core of truth here. The big offset presses of the world will not be pumping out millions of newspapers indefinitely. At some point the rollers will stop rolling, the ink pots will go dry and fleets of trucks will be parked and sold.

But newspapers are more than just newsprint stained with ink, newspapers are also bricks and mortar, newspapers are businesses. Think of The London Free Press. But the soul of the local paper is not found in the large Goss offset press. No, the soul of the paper is found in the staff -- the journalists who gather the news, the editors who massage the information and the computer experts who make everything from the digital collection to the online delivery possible.

Reportedly, most newspapers today get no more than 15 percent of total revenues from online sources. That said, the Los Angeles Times claimed in 2008 that online income had grown to the point that it was enough to cover the cost of the paper's entire news staff, both print and digital.

Jeff Jarvis wrote in the guardian:

So in the LA Times revelation, I see hope: the possibility that online revenue could support digital journalism for a city. The enterprise will be smaller, but it could well be more profitable than its print forebears today and - here's the real news - it would grow from there. Imagine that: news as a growth industry again.

I'm a news junkie. I admit it. I still get the daily paper delivered to my door. But, I also get daily news feeds from many online sources. I first began experimenting with the paperless newspaper more than twenty years ago. Using my Apple Mac hooked up to an unbelievably slow modem, I used GENIE, General Electric Network for Information Exchange, to download text data. GENIE wasn't free but it wasn't outrageously expensive either: about $9 a month and $3 an hour after the first four hours.

About a year after I joined GENIE, I became a Crayon.net subscriber. Crayon stands for Create Your Own Newspaper. I say stands for and not stood for because Crayon is still in existence today. GENIE, on the other hand, is long gone.

As a boy, my grandfather introduced me to two magazines he felt were worth a read: the Atlantic Monthly and Harper's Magazine. The Atlantic Monthly was born in 1857 and is still going today in both print and online editions. The online edition is known simply as The Atlantic and costs about half as much online as at the store. If, like many readers, you choke at the idea of paying for articles online, a lot of the content is available free online.

Harper's Magazine was first printed in 1867. It has successfully skirted some rough financial shoals and is still on sale in stores today. Like The Atlantic, it is also found online. I don't believe there is a charge for the online edition. I believe both the magazine and the Harper's Magazine Foundation are supported by purchases made from their online store.

What I find most interesting here is that Atlantic Media, the folk behind The Atlantic Monthly, a publication with a history going back more than a century and a half, is experimenting with a free, business-oriented, online paperless newspaper called Quartz. I get an e-mail every day announcing what is new.

And there are more paperless newspapers testing marketplace acceptance. Think Politico and Vox.com.

Traditional newspapers are in trouble but often their problems are amplified by the decisions of their new owners. Think of The London Free Press. To fill the daily news hole, the small, southwestern Ontario daily must run stories from Windsor and other cities located hundreds of kilometers away. Why "must" they do this? Staff cutbacks.  Everyone agrees that local stories sell papers but chain-owned newspapers can no longer afford to cover all the local stories they once would have covered.

And why the severe slashing of news staff and others? To free up money to service Post Media's massive debt ($650 million) which, in large part, is owed to a number of U.S. and Canadian hedge funds specializing in distressed assets. Gaining control of the majority of English-language daily papers in Canada was not cheap and it may not have been too bright either.

The Fisher brothers, builders of horse-drawn carriages, switched to building horseless carriages, car bodies, and stayed in business. Whether Post Media will be able to make the successful transition to a paperless newspaper is an open question. But organizations more focused on providing news rather than servicing debt may well keep journalists and their support staff, the soul of the daily paper, busy pumping out news for interested readers as has been done for generations.

And despite the fact that the baby boomer generation is aging and departing (yes, dying), the generations following are, contrary to popular opinion, still interested in news.

There is a growing body of evidence showing that the conventional wisdom about Millennials’ consumption of news is wrong. Millennials engage news sources differently than past generations to be sure, but the label “newsless” is largely inaccurate.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Music of Boomer Generation not simply pop-rock

I find it odd that baby boomers neither wrote nor performed the early music so linked to their generation. If the music of a generation is the music created by that generation then boomers should not take any bows for early rock and roll.

Take Johnny B. Goode: this is the number one top '50s hit on a list compiled by Boomers LifeJohnny B. Goode was written and performed by Chuck Berry. Berry was not a boomer. He was born in 1926. He was in his thirties when Johnny B. Goode was topped the charts.

Number two on the list is the Elvis Presley hit Jailhouse Rock. Written for the movie of the same name by the famous song writing team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, both writers were born in 1933. The two were responsible for many of the early rock and roll hits. And Elvis, of course, was not a baby boomer either.

The third song, Rock Around the Clock, was written by Max Freedman and James Myers who were born in 1893 and 1919 respectively. That's right, Max Freedman was 61 when Rock Around the Clock was released. As for Bill Haley himself, the band leader was born in 1925.

My point is that life flows and as it flows it changes. What's happening today is a result of what happened yesterday. But yesterday does not determine today. If it did we could tell the future and we can't. The past influences the present but it doesn't determine it.

And so I say humbug to much of the baby boomer talk. I don't doubt there was a post Second World War baby boom. There was and it was big but there is no perfectly homogeneous, generational wave of Baby Boomers rippling through our society. We are as diverse a group as should be expected being that we span a period of some 19 years -- 1946 to 1965 in Canada.

Early rock and roll is music written and sometimes even performed by the parents of the boomers generation. I do not want to be defined by music gifted to my generation by my parents', and even my grandparents' generation.

One expert on this topic claims classic rock radio supplies an uninterrupted audio lifeline for aging boomers -- a soundtrack-of-one's-life, so to speak. The expert wrote he has fond memories linked to lot's of old rock songs. But his links are suspect.

A check of the release dates of some of the songs uncovered mismatches between the writer's memories and the dates of the songs' popularity. The writer's personal soundtrack is damaged, stretched and distorted like tape in an aging eight track. I am not surprised. At 68 years, I'm finding that linking songs to events has gotten rather iffy and is becoming more and more iffy with each passing year.

Still, I do have some early, very early, memories linked to songs. You may be surprised to learn that these songs are not early rock and roll. Think of How Much Is That Doggy in the Window: I was six when that was a hit for Patti Page. I used to listen to that song with a little girl I thought was kinda cute. We would sit and listen to her Patti Page record together.

I have more memories attached to Perry Como's crooning than I have to early rock and roll and no wonder. There was no rock and roll to speak of when I was a very young boy in the early '50s. I grew up with Perry Como. First on radio and then on television. I recall sitting in front of our large, white Coronet television watching The Perry Como Show with my family.

And my memories of our Coronet television set are as important as my memories of Perry Como. Coronet sets were made right in my hometown, Windsor, Ontario. At one point, one out of every three sets in the Windsor area carried the Coronet name. When a tube failed my mother would pick up a new one at the nearby drugstore. If a new tube didn't fix the problem, our neighbour, who owned a television sales and repair business, would stop by on his way home and put life back into the small, black and white screen.

But, I digress. I told my friends that I didn't believe top-40 radio was the whole story when it came to the baby boomer music story. I have lots of memories linked to songs by artists who got little or no pop-music airtime. My friends didn't and so they disagreed. They seemed to think that record sales numbers told the whole music-of-the-baby-boom story.

I don't think so. Think: Pat Boone. Why Pat Boone? Well, only Elvis Presley and Fats Domino surpassed Pat Boone in record sales in the early days of rock and roll. I pray no one believes the early covers released by Pat Boone represent the music of the boomer generation. That music doesn't represent me.

That said, even I admit to memories attached to some of Pat Boone's soft-pop period songs. Love Letters in the Sand recalls slow dances at weekly sock hops in evening-dark school gyms. But I have more memories attached to other songs, often by lesser known artists.

So, is early rock and roll really the music of the Boomer Generation? The simple answer: No. The music of the Boomer Generation is a rich, all-encompassing mix, composed of all the music from our still unfolding lives. Pop music is only a small part of the mix. It may be the most obvious musical thread but the other threads, though smaller, may be brighter, more colourful and more demanding of attention. In many cases, the music released by lesser known artists still reverberates strongly if only one listens.

I'd place a song with the unlikely title Fresh Garbage among the music of my generation, the boomer generation. And I am sure I am not alone in having wonderful memories linked to that early song by Spirit, a California progressive rock group.

The late '60s song received a fare amount of air time on FM underground radio or alternative rock radio. Fresh Garbage may not have sold in the numbers needed to propel it into the top 40, I don't believe it was ever released as a single, but Spirit album numbers made Fresh Garbage a hit.

When I think of Spirit , I think of 1970 and I think of Berkeley, California. I think of roaring my Morgan roadster down narrow, twisting, mountain roads above that famous college town and I think of Rebekah Wilcher and her incredible family. Her mother, Ida, an artist and her father, Denny, an early environmentalist. Both were strong, left-wing activists. Ida had a picture of herself protesting the war in Vietnam with Joan Baez. Google Denny Wilcher and be amazed. He is one of my heroes.

There is no easy, one-size-fits-all, music road taken by an entire generation. There may be a path most often taken but there are a lot of other well-trodden alternatives. If you insist on having one, all-encompassing answer to the question asking what is the music of the boomer generation, go for it. But please make some room in your answer for Spirit, Captain Beefheart, Karen Dalton, Teegarden and Van Winkle, Savoy Brown, Paul Butterfield, Vanilla Fudge, Cat Mother . . .

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

TODs are not new

Kidlets production of Squirm
Monday I took my granddaughter to Covent Garden Market where the Original Kids Theatre Company is located. Fiona was taking part in the Kidlets production of Squirm. And the kids, by the way, were simply great. Loved every minute of the performance.

What does my granddaughter's appearance in Squirm have to do with urban transit? More than you might think. To get Fiona downtown on time I picked her up at her school in northwest London and scooted her to the theatre using Riverside Drive. I had her downtown in less than fifteen minutes.

What I find interesting in this story is that at no point did anyone suggest taking the bus. And no one even thought this strange. But it is.

When I was a boy, everyone I knew lived close to a bus route. The schools with which I was familiar were all close to bus service. Few families had two cars and it was not uncommon for a family not to have a car at all. Taking a child from school to a downtown event would have demanded a bus trip.

Even in the '50s, taking the bus would have taken a bit longer than taking a car, if one was available, but the difference was a matter of minutes and not a choice between being on time or being late.

Between my boyhood in the '50s and my senior years today a lot has happened in urban growth and most of it has been centred around our use of the car. Many believe the car-oriented approach to urban planning has to change and the City of London gives lip service to this argument but, for the most part, only lip service.

A New Urbanism development was slated for the southeast corner of the Colonel Talbot and Southdale Road. It never materialized. London politicians, and worse London urban planners, like to talk the talk but time after time they fail to deliver on the promise.

Take all the talk about TOD (Transit Oriented Development). You'd think that TOD is something new; it isn't.

TOD is prominently featured in Smart Moves, the 2030 Transportation Master Plan. Smart Moves claims that London urban planners have determined the northeast corner of the intersection of Oxford Street West and Wonderland Road North will be the focus of a major mixed-use, transit-oriented, development. To underline the depth of their support for this they have included some art in the Smart Moves presentation. 

The off-the-shelf graphics are inadequate. Anyone familiar with TODs would realize this does not represent a world-class TOD. The city often likes to boast that they are tackling something that will be "world-class."

Unfortunately, the city is often wrong. Consider the fact that a development is going up on that very corner today and it is not at all as envisioned. Some TODs in the States and elsewhere are absolutely amazing and this didn't just happen. They were nurtured, coaxed and guided oh-so-carefully to completion. They were planned.

In many ways, where I lived in the '50s could be thought of as an early form of TOD. Transit, commercial, residential and even industrial were all mixed. The major road through my neighbourhood was what was then known as a King's Highway. Such a highway, four lanes and street parking plus a centre boulevard, easily supported my fully mixed-use neighbourhood.

And back then mixed use really did mean mixed. There were lovely apartments above many of the commercial businesses lining the King's Highway. I had school friends who lived above some of those stores. This was a common feature of business districts built in the early part of the last century. My aunt in Brantford lived above a store and many friends in art school in Detroit walked to school from their apartments above nearby stores.
Come to think of it, the present development at the Oxford and Wonderland corner could be thought of as TOD. Without these two major thoroughfares I doubt the forest of high-rise apartments would have sprung up in this location.

But the apartments sit bunched together separated from the commercial. To the best of my knowledge there is no industrial located here.

This intersection earns no praise for imaginative planning and I doubt it will be visual winner in the future no matter how good the transit system.

To learn more about TODs:

A key point of the PowerPoint presentation above is that the TOD value come more from the actual mixed use neighbourhood created and not simply from the transit itself. Think: Quality. Look at the pictures posted from the London intersection. Do you immediately think "quality"?

Creating a successful TOD is complex, difficult. Just adding rapid transit is not enough.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Canadian health care may not be as poor as the CBC would have you believe

This morning Heather Hiscox used a story about a B.C. man who has been unable to find a surgeon to operate on his pineal gland as her program hook to hold listeners and keep them from slipping away during the commercial break.

It was a good hook but proved to be a poor story. Heather Hiscox is a bright lady. I knew her at Western many years ago. She is a trained journalist. She has a Masters degree from the London, Ontario, university. Why can't she read this bumph before taking it to air and spike it rather than reading it.

Is Hiscox really nothing more than a talking head, a television personality? Has she forsaken her journalist roots? Here is a link to the story, headlined on the Web as B.C. man sells everything to pay for brain surgery in U.S. after being denied in Canada - Canadian system maintains surgery unnecessary for certain patients.

The U.S. study to which the CBC story links begins by stating "Surgical indications for patients with pineal cysts are controversial." A quick search of the Web uncovers an American doctor, Derek A. Bruce of the Children's National Medical Center, who posted the following on the Web:
I have never in my career, 43 years, found it necessary to operate on a pineal cyst. . . . The incidence of asymptomatic pineal cysts at autopsy is 10%. . . . Do not operate on this lesion until you are completely convinced that it is causing progressive hydrocephalus with symptoms.
Does the fellow in the CBC story need surgery on his pineal gland -- a gland buried deep in the brain. Maybe. It is a possibility. But another possibility is that the Canadian surgeon who said "it's not ethical to cut into your head for no reason" may be voicing a solid concern -- a concern shared by many American doctors as well as Canadian ones. Maybe this surgery IS unnecessary for certain patients.

I understand that American doctors face more threat of being sued for malpractice than Canadian ones. The fact, reported by the Los Angeles Times, that the doctor slated to do the surgery on the Canadian man "has been sued for malpractice about 17 times in his career" may mean nothing. And the fact that a judge said the U.S. doctor was "more interested in marketing than he was in medicine" may also mean nothing.

Still, the judge did find that the doctor "committed fraud when he performed an inappropriate surgery." Read the L.A. Times story, L.A. surgeon ordered to pay Maryland couple $800,600 in malpractice case, and make your own decision.

There is a story here. There may be a number of stories here. And one of the stories may find that a multitude of Canadians have undergone brain surgery at great expense south of the border for questionable reasons.

The other story may be that the resistance to doing pineal gland surgery is misplaced and it is time for more neurosurgeons to offer this option to their patients. Whatever, the story is not the one emotionally presented by the CBC reporter