*

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Edward R. Murrow was right. Journalists have thin skins.



I'm a happy guy. I'm retired. Nice home. Fine wife and partner. My health could be better but I am confident I'll celebrate my 70th birthday come summer. I'm doing better than my dad and two of his brothers when it comes to longevity and I figure I can't ask for much more. Plus, I've got three lovely granddaughters. For me, personally, life could not be much better.

Up until 2009, I worked at The London Free Press. At that time there was a layoff/buyout underway and a young photographer, with a stay-at-home wife caring for two little boys, faced the loss of his job.

I stepped up and took the buyout. It meant a 25% cut in my company pension along with a big cut to my Canadian Pension Payments. As my wife and I still needed more money to balance our books, my wife also began drawing her CPP and again at a huge discount. I also faced the loss of my drug plan and my dental coverage. But I took the buyout and I never looked back. I have no regrets. It was the right thing to do.

I assist two children in the third world by sending monthly payments plus birthday and Christmas gifts. Speaking of Christmas, this year my wife gave a third world family a selection of farm animals. Also, she paid for the education of a young girl for a year. She did both in my name. Why? She knows that I feel gifts are a waste, at least when given to me. At my age, I have everything I need. So she gives gifts to others in my name. I love that woman. She understands.

That said, I've been surprised at the total lack of understanding shown by many of the professional journalists with whom I once worked. I've learned they have exceedingly thin skins. Do not ask these folk a question. They get their noses painfully out-of-joint.

The other day Morris Dalla Costa posted a tweet on Twitter calling for a boycott of L. L. Bean. I was surprised to see The London Free Press supporting a boycott, especially a boycott that involves not just a distant company in the New England outback but a number of chain outlets right here in London, Ontario. I'm sure Mr. Dalla Costa was unaware of the London connection. I cannot see a reporter/columnist at the paper calling for a boycott of businesses that advertise in the Free Press.

And yes, I think The London Free Press and Post Media would attempt to distance themselves from this tweet. But, as long as the two allow reporters to include a reference to the newspaper in the username of the poster of questionable tweets, they must take some responsibility.

I asked  Mr. Dalla Costa: "Do you really want us to boycott L. L. Bean? Boycotting L. L. Bean will not punish Trump according to the Bangor Daily News." I included a link to the newspaper article.

But L. L. Bean is not the one supporting right-wing policies. The Trump supporter is a board member, a granddaughter of the founder.

The group Grab Your Wallet decided to boycott L.L. Bean because Linda Bean contributed money to a political action committee (PAC) that supported Trump. It seems odd that GYW, and Mr. Dalla Costa, did not target Linda Bean’s own company Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine. Talk about firing quickly and wildly. If you thought only the Donald abused Twitter in this fashion, you now stand corrected.

The direct goal of the L. L. Bean boycott is to force the company to remove Linda Bean from its board of directors. That's it. The boycott is not to financially damage Trump but to damage L. L. Bean, despite the fact that the company being attacked does not appear to support Donald Trump and his policies.

As Rebecca Fishbein argues in the gothamist: Linda Bean is very rich and she's not going to be affected by or learn a lesson from a boycott. On the other hand, LL Bean's employees are not rich and will suffer if enough people stop shopping there.

Let me finish this post with a couple of paragraphs from the Bangor Daily News:

Before you forgo ever buying another flannel shirt from the retailer, you might first consider that in 2015 L.L. Bean employed more than 5,000 year-round workers, many of them in Maine. During the winter holidays, the employment count reached nearly 10,000. L.L. Bean has manufacturing facilities in Brunswick and Lewiston, where more than 400 employees make their products. Undoubtedly those workers hold views that differ from one company leader and from one another.

More important, L.L. Bean has kept is strong presence in Maine — its distribution facility is also located here — though it would likely be more cost efficient to locate many operations elsewhere.

Contrast L. L. Bean with The London Free Press. Jobs that I would have thought impossible to cut have been eliminated. Why even the press has been silenced and the paper is now printed in Hamilton. I've heard rumours that there are now only eleven reporters at paper which was once one of Canada's finest.

Years ago I thought the paper was heading in the wrong direction. One can ask Paul Berton if I made my unhappiness known. Paul listened politely to my all-too-vocal complaints but he didn't threaten me or try to silence me. Paul was, above all, a gentleman.

I cannot say the same for Mr. Dalla Costa. He tweeted to me "get a life" and then blocked me on Twitter.


I stand by original position. I think joining a boycott is a serious matter. Such a move demands careful thought.  As I have suggested, this is the type of Twitter response I expect from someone like, uh like, Donald Trump.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Kids Love Crayola Washable Paints and So Do Parents


There's a lot of talk about Hatchables this Christmas. I'm not impressed. One parent told me that it took 20 minutes for the toy to hatch and that was too long for their child. The kid lost interest, left the room and missed seeing the toy begin to hatch. The little tyke cried.

Reminds me of the Furby my oldest granddaughter had. Its voice changed and this frightened her. There was no way to control the damn toy. It had become a toy in need of an exorcist. My granddaughter was terrified. We put the toy in a closet and it has stayed there ever since. It is not forgotten but shunned.

I've found some of the simplest toys are among the best. All my granddaughters love making art. This means washable Crayola paints. They come in a number of formulations and oodles of colours. Shoppers Drug Mart sells these and the Crayola paint brush kit at very reasonable prices

Kaleidoscopes have it a little harder when it comes to holding a kid's interested. But I find if I'm enthused and excited I can get the kids keen on these toys too. I love the kaleidoscope images and the kids love to take pictures of the constantly changing geometric patterns. A kaleidoscope plus a digital camera equals hours of entertainment but those hours will be spread over many weeks.

Hatchables? Humbug.

Individual Angel Food Cakes are Heart Healthy

Mini angle food cake baked in a small ramekin.
I have a bad heart. The problem is a severe arrhythmia and not hardening of the arteries. Still, my doctors have me on a heart healthy diet. One serious heart problem is enough. If the doctors and I can keep my arteries open, we will be somewhat ahead in this game.

Dinner tonight was pasta with fresh, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, hot peppers, sweet green peppers, grilled mushrooms and soft, low-fat, goat cheese. Dinner was healthy.

To follow such a heart healthy dinner,  my wife settled on angel food cake with three kinds of berries: black berries, raspberries and strawberries.

Tip: Keep an eye open for mini angel food cake pans. These hold about 2/3 cup of angel food cake batter. One box of angel food mix will make up to ten mini cakes. The best little pans have the traditional tube in the core. This helps to insure the middle of the cakes are cooked.

That said, the cake pictured was baked in a ramekin and it worked just fine. My wife is a superb cook.
I often hear folk complaining about being forced to eat healthy. They have no imagination. Healthy is fun. Healthy is delicious. Healthy is only way to cook.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The quietness of softly falling snow

I love winter. I like spring, summer and fall as well. Each season has its strong points. But winter are different. It stands proud, beautiful and apart. I'm surprised that such a wonderful time of year attracts so much bad press. Recently, columnist Larry Cornies went on an I-hate-winter rant. The piece was titled: No welcome mat for Old Man Winter.

Cornies has a rather depressing view of winter. It's a slushy-faced, drunken monster casting a dark shadow over all and sundry. He admits he didn't always feel this way but he was not too old when he began turning against one of God's fair seasons.

Cornies ends his rant by reprinting a poem by Thomas Hood, a 19th-­century English poet. I wondered if Cornies associates this poem with winter. If he does, he has attached the wrong poem. The poem is a downer, Larry. Allow me to suggest an more upbeat alternative.

When I was in grade school we memorized a poem with a much different tone. If memory serves me right, the poet was Dame Edith Sitwell who once said: "Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home."


The poem I associate with winter is: "Christmas Snow."

 The night before Christmas
’Twas quiet all around;

’Twas quiet on the hills
And quiet on the ground;

’Twas quiet up above, 
And quiet down below;

And the quiet was the quietness
Of softly falling snow.


Whenever it snows, I recall that poem and smile as I look forward to the unique pleasures of winter.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Real life is filled with surprises


Recently my wife had our granddaughters, Eloise, 5, and Fiona, 7, making chocolate chip cookies. The two kids rallied to the task. They made some of the best tasting chocolate chip cookies I have ever had. The girls did not go light on the chocolate chips and I think that helped.

Now, about the hats. The kids didn't have hair nets and so to keep stray hairs out of the batter the two wore their outdoor winter hats. It worked, I guess. There were no hairs in the cookies.

When I look at this picture, I smile. This is a picture of two young kids making cookies. It is not a posed moment. Today if a newspaper is illustrating a story on kids making cookies, they might run a stock image rather than spend the time and money to shoot their own art. The image would work on the page but it would never show a neat moment like this one.

Stock photos reinforce stereotypical thinking and such thinking should be the antithesis of the thinking of a journalist. Sadly, today this is no longer the case.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Craig Silverman speaking at Western; worth a listen

This coming Monday, Craig Silverman is speaking at Western. He will examine spreading truth in this age of viral misinformation. Silverman, the founding editor of BuzzFeed Canada, has taken a great interest in misinformation and fake news and how the main stream media makes the problem worse.

To decide whether or not to attend this lecture, I googled Silverman's name and found an article by the man himself: How Lies Spread Faster Than Truth: A Study of Viral Content. I was amazed to discover that Silverman lays much of the blame for the spreading of false information on the MSM. A good call, in my book.

Silverman is a bright guy. Most editors I have known are. If I have any criticism of Silverman's work, it is that he does not go far enough. The MSM not only give Internet rumours legs, the MSM are the original source of some of the worst false news. I say worst because a falsehood spread widely by the media can be far more damaging than an erroneous post uploaded to a Blogger site.

When the MSM make a false claim and it gets carried by both papers and television news, the story can quickly take on the patina of Truthiness, to use the Stephen Colbert term. Think UFFI or head lice or even going topless at a Canadian beach.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Medical wait times in Ontario

Some people I know who live in the States tell me my original post was grossly out of date. Thanks to what is being called ObamaCare, the coverage problems being encountered in the States have changed since my last visit to the States.

For instance, the big increase in premiums related to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is big news. According to the Harvard Gazette, some ObamaCare premiums will rise 25 percent in 2017. This sounds scary but it isn't as bad as it sounds. The article reports the premiums going up are for a very specific subset of the insured: only those getting their coverage through the health insurance exchanges. It’s not about the premiums people pay for employer-run plans or for Medicare or Medicaid coverage.

The Gazette points out most people getting health insurance through the exchanges are heavily subsidized, with premium and cost-sharing subsidies. In other words, the cost to the federal government is increasing.

Hmmm. Increasing government health costs. Sounds like a familiar problem. One being faced by governments around the world.

I believe the right approach to solving our health care issues is to keep an open mind. And I am willing to admit that I too am guilty of closed-mind thinking. We must be both creative and willing to learn from others as we tackle the problem of providing health care in a world where the costs are constantly rising.
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The Province of Ontario has a problem and the City of London has the same problem but bigger. The problem? Hospital wait times. The London Free Press has been running an excellent series looking at the lengthy wait times endured by patients waiting for hip replacement surgery.

But as bad as the problem is, and it is bad, I would not be too quick to toss the entire Canadian system and embrace the U.S. model. In 2010 my wife and I crossed the States by car. We stayed in bed and breakfasts and we chatted with a lot of Americans. One lady we met had been waiting more than a year for her joint replacement/repair surgery and she saw no end to the wait time. The boondoggle? Her insurance company.

On that same trip I had a heart event that put me in Marin County General outside San Francisco, California. I was lucky. Marin General is a great hospital serving one of the most affluent areas in the States. Although, I spent less than 48 hours under medical care, I ran up a bill of about $30,000 U.S. And all that money, all the sophisticated tests, didn't find the cause of my heart problem. I was given some pills, metoprolol, and discharged to drive the thousands of miles between me and home in another country on other side of the continent.

Back home, the doctors discovered the cause of my heart problem and an ICD/pacemaker was inserted into my chest. My direct cost in Canada: essentially nothing. My cost for treatment in the States? This too was essentially nothing but it took some eight months, or more, of back and forth with the insurance company and a U.S. based collection agency before all was settled. I had to take some long, difficult phone calls and I had to listen as I heard our retirement security threatened.

If I had been an American, even with insurance, it is possible the source of my heart problem would never have been discovered. I might have fallen through the cracks, as they say. The insurance folk would almost certainly have fought to find a way to drop me from any health plan and with no money there would have been no solution. (Today, with the Affordable Care Act in place, some of this has changed.)

To go full circle, let's return to the problem of wait times and hip replacement surgery. In London, Ontario, the wait time has become indefensible. But as bad as our system is when it comes to this surgery, I wouldn't be too fast to hold the much-faster-on-paper U.S. system up as a gold standard.

Please, follow the link to Free Money for All: A Basic Income Guarantee Solution for the Twenty-First Century by Mark Walker. (If the link fails, google the book and do a search on the word "infinite". You are looking for page 38.)

Walker points out that at the time he wrote his book a sizable percentage of Americans were unable to access the fine U.S. health care system. Being neither rich nor insured, they found themselves unable to pay when it came to elective surgery. They were trapped outside the Amercian health care system to suffer indefinitely. These people were sitting on what I have heard Americans refer to as the infinite wait-list. The wait times endured by these people were not measured in months, the times were not even measured in years. The wait could be infinite.

Has Obama changed the American medical system? Yes, but infinite wait times are still a problem for some Americans and the ranks may grow under a Trump presidency.

 Source of above graph: Commonwealth Fund (Wednesday, November 16, 2016)

Note: The above graph illustrates a complex problem. Use care when interpreting.