*

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Cornell and Upper Cornell in Markham

This street in Cornell is not marred by garages thrusting out from homes.
I spent Boxing Day in Upper Cornell, an extension of the new urbanist suburban development of Cornell in Markham, Ontario, north of Toronto. I was pleasantly surprised. I rather liked the place.

It does not completely live up to its hype but then what does? And a walk about the subdivision makes me believe many of the reporters writing about Cornell have never actually visited the place.

The Cornell development needs a few years to age; Subdivisions are like fine wines, they take a few years to mature, to reach their full potential. Give the little stick trees a few years and many of the streets will be as inviting as claimed.

Note apartments above the street with bikes on balconies.
Unlike almost all subdivisions, Cornell has a downtown core. This commercial district is not so much reminiscent of the downtowns once found in small towns but is more in tune with the shopping blocks built in the early part of the last century along major urban thoroughfares in many North American cities.

I even saw a neighbourhood corner store in Cornell. I was visiting friends whose place was rather close to that store. If we needed milk for the toddler, there was no need for the car; We could just walk. (In reality it was freezing cold and a car was used for the milk run.)

The lanes in Cornell are wide and well lit.
I'm not a big fan of laneways. When I was a child there was a lane, we called it an alley, behind the family home. Coal sheds, rather than garages, lined that laneway. This kept the coal deliveries and the coal dust away from the homes. The city garbage trucks also used the lanes as did the junkmen. These junkmen patrolled the alleys looking for scrap iron or other discarded stuff, tossing their finds into their horse-drawn wagons.

When people switched from coal to natural gas one might think that the coal sheds would have been converted into garages but no. Today many of those 1940s laneways are gone. The lanes were not liked for many reasons and over the passing years they were closed and merged into the adjacent backyards.

The lanes in Cornell are not at all like the lanes I remember. The Cornell lanes, I discovered, are easily twice as wide as the lanes behind my childhood home. And these Cornell lanes are brightly lit by rows of simple, modern lights, similar to the ones illuminating many mall parking lots.

I have often read that one immediately noticeable  feature of new urbanism is the width of the streets; they are narrow. I did not find the streets in Cornell particularly narrow.

In fact, I rarely encountered a boulevard in the genuine old neighbourhoods in which I hung out as a child. Cornell has some very wide streets that just about shout "built with you and your car in mind." (And this is good!)

I found the Cornell streets comfortably wide and some had cutouts to encourage on street parking. Although, one fellow told me that overnight parking on the street was a no-no. He did it a few weeks earlier and received a $40 ticket. I parked my car overnight in front of my hosts' garage doors at the edge of the rear lane way. This was legal.

The authentic old neighbourhoods with which I am familiar were developed before cars became as ubiquitous as they are today. The fact that many, if not most, of the residences in Cornell have parking for two cars says it all; Cars are important in Cornell. As a rule, one doesn't walk to work if you live in Cornell.

My hosts both face hour-long commutes when it comes to work. The car is an important part of their lives and the car is an important part of life in Cornell despite the place claiming to be a new urbanist centrepiece.

Lots of floors with lots of visual interest.
The rich mixture of housing said to be found in Cornell is a fact. And the architecture in Cornell is interesting. I would love to see the inside of some of the townhouses which border a large park near the place where I stayed.

I also noted that Cornell has lots of open areas.

In the end Cornell seems to be simply a different approach to urban sprawl, but it is still urban sprawl. It sits on land that just a few short years ago was some of Canada's best farmland.

Repairs needed.
How Cornell will age is a question. A lot of wood has gone into all the doodads decorating the place, and wood ages quickly. How often will residents be willing to replace all this stuff before much of it is removed.

In the past many an old wooden porch has been demolished as the upkeep of the once elegant century home became prohibitive.

Oddly enough, considering all the new urbanist talk of porches, aging large porches will not be a big problem in Cornell; there are not many large porches in the place.
A small porch.

The residence where I stayed did have a wrap-around porch but neither the porch columns nor the porch railings were wood. All appeared to be painted aluminum.

There's a lot to be learned from Cornell and the other new urbanism developments. It looks like a fine place to raise a family, kinda like my own subdivision in Byron on the southwestern edge of London, Ontario.

A wide street with boulevard cutouts for parking welcomes cars to Cornell.

Some homes still have views of garage doors.
The car is part of life in Cornell.

Correction: Editors are wonderful folk. Indispensable. I left the "e" out of alley in my original post. Oops! Gosh, I miss those wonderful newspaper editors.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas
and a 
Happy New Year
to all!

. . . and now to go and watch Fiona unwrap her gifts. Maybe I'll post some pictures. I do hope you are all having as wonderful a Christmas as I am. 
Cheers!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Captain Beefheart has passed away



Don Van Vliet, known to many as Captain Beefheart, is dead at 69, succumbing to complications from multiple sclerosis. Once a darling of the counter-culture, I encountered Beefheart's music at art school in Detroit and at parties in both Ann Arbour and Berkeley California back in the late '60s. Van Vliet abandoned the music scene in the '80s to focus his energy on his painting

Trinidad, California, is a small, coastal town in the north of the state.
He moved to Trinidad California with his wife Jan and worked there, hid out there, and died there. Even during his days as a rocker, Van Vliet showed a propensity for staying out of sight. He passed on a chance to have his Magic Band play at the Monterey International Pop Music Festival in 1967 ostensibly because guitarist Ry Cooder had quit the group just days before the event.

The Shine Beast of Thought
Even in the years when he was at his creative peak he chose to play relatively few concerts. Known to be a bit tyrannical, his original band revolted in 1974 and deserted him en masse. Van Vliet struggled through the following decade to finally retire from the music scene completely in the mid '80s, becoming something of a recluse being rarely seen, often not even attending his own gallery openings.

Possibly his best known release was Trout Mask Replica which he cut with his original Magic Band in 1969. Rolling Stone magazine ranked the double album fifty-eighth in their 2003 list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

Credit: Jean-Luc
His early music, from the late mid '60s, was rhythm and blues with a sound reminiscent of the early Rolling Stones.

Trout Mask Replica was not derivative like his earliest work but ground-breaking.  The New York Times called it, "A bolt-from-the-blue collection of precise, careening, surrealist songs with clashing meters, brightly imagistic poetry and raw blues . . .  it had particular resonance with the punk and new wave generation to come a decade later, influencing bands like Devo, the Residents, Pere Ubu and the Fall."

Van Vliet’s life is a story of creativity. He even created his name. He was born Don Vliet. He added the Van in 1965. To quote from the NYT again:

"Van Vliet demonstrated artistic talent before the age of 10, especially in sculpture, and at 13 was offered a scholarship to study sculpture in Europe, but his parents forbade him. Concurrently, they moved to the Mojave Desert town of Lancaster, where one of Don’s high school friends was Frank Zappa.

His adopted vocal style came partly from Howlin’ Wolf: a deep, rough-riding moan turned up into swooped falsettos at the end of lines, pinched and bellowing and sounding as if it caused pain.

'When it comes to capturing the feeling of archaic, Delta-style blues,' Robert Palmer of The New York Times wrote in 1982, 'he is the only white performer who really gets it right.' "

In the early 1980s, Van Vliet's Captain Beefheart  persona made two albums for Virgin, Doc at the Radar Station and Ice Cream for Crow, backed by again by the Magic Band but this time the band was a crew of musicians who had idolized him while growing up. The albums were enthusiastically received.

Garland
Ice Cream for Crow was his last album.

For the past two and a half decades, painting and not music has been the focus of his life. In the exhibition catalog to a show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the museum director, John Lane, wrote, "His paintings — most frequently indeterminate landscapes populated by forms of abstracted animals — are intended to effect psychological, spiritual and magical force."

Van Vliet would have turned 70 on Jan. 15. Two days before his milestone birthday former Magic Band guitarist Gary Lucas had planned a symposium at the Echoplex in Los Angeles.

Just a little over a week ago The Los Angeles Times wrote in an article announcing the upcoming symposium, that Captain Beefheart was rumoured to have multiple sclerosis but that the media-shy Van Vliet refused to comment.

At this time, it appears Lucas still plans to hold the Jan. event. Unreleased Captain Beefheart tracks will be played, slides of Van Vliet's art and a film of the band will be shown, and Lucas will demonstrate Van Vliet's out of the ordinary techniques. It is doubtful that the media-shy artist was planning to attend.

"I don’t like getting out when I could be painting," he told The Associated Press in 1991. "And when I’m painting, I don’t want anybody else around."

Sadly, Don Van Vliet himself is no longer around. But his body of work — his music, his paintings — all will continue to resonate through the coming years.

Good-by Don, you've left me with some fine '60s memories.

Trinidad California Lighthouse with flag Photoshopped to half staff.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Deja vu

Loew’s [Century] Theatre, London, rear of auditorium, 1938
"Century Theatre gets new lease on life" read the headline in The London Free Press. "An old downtown movie palace could soon be reborn," claimed the lede. But please read on . . .

Farther into the news story we're told, "The Century closed as a movie theatre in 1987, and plans to turn it into a performing arts centre failed. . . . the Century Theatre building is in poor shape and the auditorium has been demolished . . . " The auditorium is demolished!

When did we last read such silliness? When the Capitol Theatre was claimed to be restored is when. That theatre was restored sans auditorium, sans lobby and sans marquee.

It was opened as a Loew's vaudeville theatre in 1920, then it was sold, twinned and renamed the Century Theatre in 1964, and finally it was closed in 1987. A few years later, in the early 1990s the auditorium was demolished. I doubt very much this "movie palace" will be reborn in 2011.

That said, the LFP article promises "the lobby portion will be restored as much as possible, including two original chandeliers." I'm not holding my breath.

Loew’s [Century] Theatre, London, entrance hall, 1938
This is the entrance to the "restored" Capitol Theatre. It even lost its lobby.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Babies pick up on more than you think

Fiona knows kisses show affection. She appears to love the little ornament.
No real post today. I'm taking the easy way out and linking to a story on the Huffington Post.

Now, that I'm babysitting almost daily, I'm getting a firsthand introduction to babies. They are amazing. I agree wholeheartedly with the John Medina, the doctor and writer of the Huffington Post piece.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How I read the news has changed.

Originally, I was going to write "How we read the news has changed." That would be presumptuous. I have no idea how you read the news. I only know that I no longer read in a purely linear manner, restricted to the article immediately at hand. I surf a wave of questions raised and links provided, as I find own personal way through the maze that is is news.

Let's not get too academic here. Instead, let me show you how I read one story this morning.

I clicked my bookmark for Digital Journal. The fourth story was, "Hackers retaliate in support of WikiLeaks founder."


This article peaked my interest in the WikiLeaks story. I wanted to know more, so I returned to my iGoogle homepage which is filled with news windows, and I had spotted a story in the Top Stories window. I cannot link to this as my iGoogle page is constantly being updated. The story I found was from The Telegraph in the U.K., WikiLeaks' 10 greatest stories.


I read the first story: Iraq Apache helicopter attack. The following is from that story.
"Horrifying video footage showing 15 people including two Reuters journalists being shot dead by a US Army Apache helicopter gunman, taken from the helicopter's gun camera, appalled the world when it was released on WikiLeaks.
The crew were heard laughing at the "dead b-----ds" and saying "light 'em up!" and "keep shooting, keep shooting"

The US military refused to discipline the helicopter's crew, saying, "At the time we weren't able to discern whether (Reuters employees) were carrying cameras or weapons."

The brother of one of the dead Reuters journalists was skeptical: "My question is how could those highly skilled American pilots with all their hi-tech information not distinguish between a camera and a rocket launcher."

Two journalists killed. Having worked for The London Free Press in London, Ontario, a paper in the Sun Media chain, which is part of Quebecor Media, I wondered how my old paper tackled the story. I went to The London Free Press site, I have it bookmarked, and searched "two Reuters journalists".


This brought up the following screen:


The third story listed, Punishing WikiLeaker misses point by columnist Eric Margolis, examined the killing of the jounalists. I clicked the link. I read:

"George Orwell wrote: 'If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.'

A true journalist's job is to expose government wrongdoing and propaganda, skewer hypocrites, and speak for those with no voice. And wage war against mankind's two worst scourges: Nationalism and religious bigotry. Not to lick the boots of government.

I've always felt kinship for free thinkers, rebels, and heretics.

That's why I am drawn to the plight of Pte. Bradley Manning who apparently believed Ernest Hemingway's dictum: 'Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.'

The 22-year-old U.S. Army intelligence analyst caused a worldwide furor by releasing to WikiLeaks secret military logs that exposed ugly truths about the brutal conflict in Afghanistan, including widespread killing of civilians.

To again quote Orwell: 'During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.'

Manning also released a suppressed tape of a U.S. Army helicopter gunship killing two Reuters journalists and a civilian.

A civilian hacker, employed by some shadowy U.S. government intelligence 'contractor' spying on the Internet turned Manning in.

Revenge was swift.

Manning was thrown into solitary confinement and faces a long prison term.

. . . WikiGate provoked a flood of bombastic pro-war propaganda from America's mainstream media, its rent-a-journalists, and Canada's wannabe Republican neocons.

. . . When I served in the U.S. Army, we were taught it was our duty to report up the chain of command all violations of the Geneva Conventions and war crimes. These included killing civilians, torture and executions.

Manning reportedly sought to report to his superiors just such crimes committed in Afghanistan by some U.S. forces and their local allies and mercenaries.

He was ignored. Just as was the courageous Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin when he warned Ottawa that prisoners were being handed over to the brutal Afghan secret police for torture and execution.

Manning's motivations for whistleblowing matter not. What does matter is he revealed to the public the brutal nature of the colonial war in Afghanistan and the bodyguard of lies protecting it from public scrutiny.

If Americans and Canadians really knew the truth of this resource-driven war, and its carefully concealed cost, they would end it quickly.
--- --- ---
After 27 years, this is my last column for QMI Agency. I am grateful to QMI for allowing me to freely express my views even when it disagreed with them. My Sunday column continues on ericmargolis.com and at the Huffington Post, LewRockwell.com and newspapers abroad.

Follow ericmargolis on Twitter."
What a surprise! This was the last story moved by Margolis to Sun Media. Margolis was not like most of the other Sun Media columnists. He was not right wing. A Free Press reporter once told me that he made a point of seeking out and reading the Margolis column. Its presence in the paper made him hopeful that some semblance of balance might survive in the pages of the Freeps as the newspaper moved into a tight Sun Media orbit. Now, Margolis was gone.

I wondered what was being said on the Web about the Margolis departure from Sun Media after 27 years. I googled "why did eric margolis leave sun media."

I clicked on the Sun Family link. I read:

"Eric Margolis out

Veteran Sun op-ed columnist Eric Margolis is another casualty of Sun Media's shift to the far right, with little regard for longevity or popularity.

'I wrote for the Sun chain for 27 years because it allowed me total freedom of expression even when the editors disagreed with my opinions - something very rare in the media,' Margolis told Toronto Sun Family in an e-mail today.

'This policy has changed. My views are displeasing to Ottawa," he says. "Accordingly, the Sun and I are parting company.'

We'll miss his unique analysis of world politics. We also mourn the loss of op-ed diversity.

. . . Eric says, there was a time during the glory years of the Toronto Sun when opposing views were welcomed by management and appreciated by readers.

Quebecor's newly-planted henchmen are putting an end to that editorial freedom.

It's eyes right these days as Sun Media turns into a haven for former PMO staffers intent on morphing the chain's print and broadcast image into Fox North. . . . "
I went back to my Google search and clicked the antiwar.com link. It was two down from the previous link. I found the following story: Sun Newspapers Fire Eric Margolis After Receiving Canadian Govt Grants.

The story claimed that antiwar columnist Eric Margolis was fired in a shake-up at Sun Newspapers in an unlikely coincidence: "It was recently revealed that Sun Newspapers is now receiving Canadian government money," the story said.

Following the story brought me back to the Toronto Sun Family website and a story about the Feds funding some Sun Media papers. I learned that the following amounts went to the following papers.

• $57,291 to the Goderich Signal-Star
• $40,673 to the Shoreline Beacon
• $32,246 to the Kincardine News
• $28,518 to the Clinton News Record
• $23,190 to the Huron Expositor
• $21,325 to the Lucknow Sentinel

Before leaving this post, let me leave you with the thoughts and the questions that immediately come to mind, at least mine.

Sun Media has been attacking the CBC recently. In turn, Sun Media itself  has been attacked by others in the media who are "convinced this is all about advancing the economic interests of Quebecor president Pierre Karl Peladeau." I read the quoted part on Canoe. Which also makes the claim that Quebecor is "not subsidized by taxpayers."

Well, we now know that isn't the whole story, don't we. Forgive me while I google.
 
 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Why does Larry Cornies feel disquiet?

The following has been added after receiving a response from Larry Cornies. Some questioned why "I longed for the editors who once kept me safe." Some thought I was making a joke when I mentioned that "Larry Cornies was one of those editors" with whom I wished I was still working.

It was no joke. Larry was an excellent editor. This shows in his response.

The reason for my guessing is that this piece is more of blog post than a news report. Just as Larry revealed that he was guessing when he wrote that he was of "the opinion that, a few Sun Media columnists aside, most of the Canadian journalism fraternity is supportive of Wikileaks." Also, Larry's column itself left me guessing.

Following blog etiquette, I tried linking to all relevant places. Also, I made sure I tweeted on this post as I knew that would give Larry a chance to respond. Larry often sees my tweets. And Larry has made an excellent response.

One thing that comes through in Larry's comment is that Larry is a gentleman. But Larry did leave me with one lingering puzzle: Why would a man like Larry have respect for Ezra Levant because he has built a strong brand with a loyal following? (So?) I think Larry is simply being far too gracious. (That's another guess or opinion.) I find it hard to respect someone who, to borrow Larry's words, "should face some hard questions and, if warranted, prosecution" [when it comes to talk of assassinations.]

And yes, I still have my copy of The Free Press Style Guide. I should use it more often (as should The Free Press.) Larry and I both recall the days when the paper would have had a style guide recommendation for spelling WikiLeaks. Today the paper runs it both ways.

Here's wishing Larry a very merry Christmas and a happy new year.

Cheers!
___________________________________________________________________

Saturday I read Larry Cornies' column in The London Free Press and I was left puzzled. Cornies confided in us that on the WikiLeaks story he "felt decidedly out of step." He suffered the disquiet that comes from sitting "on the other side of the fence from everyone else."

Cornies wrote:

"Canadian journalists and their employers have been among the site's supporters, at least philosophically. The collection of information, its contextualization and distribution to audiences is, in large measure, what journalism has been about for centuries. To that extent, it's understandable that news organizations and individual journalists have largely been in WikiLeaks' corner."
Ezra Levant

Cornies tells us that this is where his feeling of disquiet comes in. I want to tell Cornies to take a deep breath and relax. I'm not sure where Canadian journalists stand, nor do I know what position their employers are taking, but I do know that the media giant for whom Cornies is writing does not appear to be in the WikiLeaks and Julian Assange corner.

Back in October Pierre Karl Péladeau, President and CEO of Quebecor Inc., Quebecor Media Inc. and Sun Media Corporation, proudly announced that he was very pleased to have Ezra Levant join the hard news, straight talk Sun TV News team. "Ezra isn't afraid to challenge conventional wisdom," Péladeau said.

The Quebecor press release reminds us Levant first started writing for the Calgary Sun in 1995. I think it is fair to say that after 15 years of being in bed together, so to speak, hiring Levant for such a prominent position shows support for Levant and his views by Sun Media and Quebecor.

Levant recently wrote the following in his Sun Media column:

"Why isn’t Julian Assange dead yet? . . . Why is Assange still alive? . . .

Assange and his colleagues act like spies, not journalists. WikiLeaks could have its assets seized, just like the Taliban has. And U.S. President Barack Obama could do what he’s doing to the Taliban throughout the world. He doesn’t sue them or catch them. He kills them. Because it’s war. Obama has even ordered the assassination of an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki.

How does Obama see Assange any differently?"

I took a quick cruise around the Web and discovered that Levant isn't alone at Sun Media in damning Assange. For instance, Sun Media columnist Michael Den Tandt wrote:

"Assange is the e-version of the anarchists who ripped up downtown Toronto last summer. Smart guy, handy with computers, perhaps stuffed in one too many lockers in high school. Out for revenge. That's it."

Although I did find some opposing viewpoints among Sun writers. Michael Harris of the Ottawa Sun wrote:

"The New York Times, for example, was the Julian Assange of the Vietnam War era. When the matter came before the U.S. Supreme Court, here’s what the judges concluded: 'Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.'

The man who leaked the Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg, had this to say about the WikiLeaks affair: 'Powerful forces in America who thrive on secrecy are trying to stuff the genie back into the bottle.'

In Canada, the RCMP tried to do the same thing to journalist Juliet O’Neill, invoking the Security of Information Act to ransack her house, and carry off her notes and even the hard-drive from her computer in their efforts to identify an internal leak. Ten months later, the legal process began that ultimately saw parts of the act struck down by the Ontario Superior Court and O’Neill’s material returned.

Assange is facing now exactly what faced Ellsberg with the Pentagon Papers, Katherine Gun with documents about the Iraq War, and former ambassador Craig Murray when he informed the U.K. government that Britain was condoning torture in Uzbekistan.

It’s called blackening the messenger.

In the Assange case, the shrill calls for charges, prison and even death for the founder of WikiLeaks are much better to talk about than the substance of the leaked diplomatic cables: U.S. companies holding little boy sex parties in the Afghan desert; Britain letting the Lockerbie bomber go because it feared reprisals from Libya if the bomber died in a Scottish jail; British bureaucrats telling the U.S. not to worry about what their own prime minister was saying about nuclear submarines; Americans killing Yemeni civilians and allowing the government of Yemen to take the blame."

Personally, I find Levant's support for assassination, for murder, repugnant. I agree with those like Glenn Greenwald who wrote in Salon:

The way in which so many political commentators so routinely and casually call for the eradication of human beings without a shred of due process is nothing short of demented.


Dan Gardner, writing in theThe Ottawa Citizen, said Levant was advocating "Mafia tactics."

I just cannot understand why Cornies believes his stance leaves him "lonely." Cornies is in step with Sun Media, Canada's largest newspaper publisher. Cornies is sitting with quite the crowd on his side of the fence; He is sitting with possibly the bulk of the Sun Media columnists. He should relax.

But maybe, just maybe, he can't and it's his own personal and very strong moral principles that are making him squeamish. Maybe it's the crowd — Ezra Levant, et al. — that Cornies is now hanging out with that's responsible for his feelings of disquiet. I don't know. I'm just guessing.

I recall when Cornies worked at The London Free Press some years ago and the paper suffered its first strike by the editorial department, Cornies crossed the line. He endured the cries of scab thundering from his co-workers. I chatted with Cornies about his decision and he talked about morality and duty and the truly hard choices one is sometimes forced to make. Cornies was out of step during the strike. Whether he was right or wrong is not my point, he was out of step, and yet he was strong and secure in his position.

Cornies appears to be in step with Sun Media, with Quebecor, and therefore with a majority of Canadian newspapers. Maybe, just maybe, being in step with the likes of Ezra Levant makes Cornies feel uncomfortable. Just suggesting.

Oh, and one other thing that surprised me, Cornies spelled WikiLeaks without capitalizing the "L". Michael Harris got it right.

I make mistakes, lots of 'em. I feel so embarrassed when I read one of my blog posts from days or weeks ago and see grammatical errors and spelling mistakes jumping off the page. At those times I long for the editors who once kept me safe. Larry Cornies was one of those editors.

Let me take one more stab in the dark. I bet Cornies has never gone to the WikiLeaks site. I'll guess that he formed all his opinions without actually visiting the site. Because of this he did not know the correct style for writing WikiLeaks. I can understand. I haven't been there either. I don't want to have my Internet address linked to them.

Who knows who's watching.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

There is life after death

Isn't life grand?
Yes, there is life after death. Unfortunately if it's your death, it won't be your life. Oh well, you just gotta read the fine print.

If you've been following my adventures over the past year, you know that in the summer I had a V-tach event with my heart racing at 300 bpm. The good folk in emerg jolted it back to reality with 200 joules of electricity. ZAP!

Since then I have had nuclear scans, MRIs, echocardiograms and more. Micro bleeding was discovered in my brain but as bad as that sounds it's relatively common. About five percent of folk my age have it. If it weren't for today's hi-tech medical equipment this little know fact wouldn't even be little known. I was told to "relax."

But they did discover that one chamber in my heart is severely enlarged. You might say I'm a big hearted fellow. I used to run. In fact, I was quite the runner in my youth, setting records and stuff. I jogged right up until my open heart surgery. (I was the first person in Canada to have their mitral valve repaired robotically. Small incision. All very neat.) Runners have enlarged hearts. I was told to "relax."

But all this health stuff has made me quite aware of my mortality. As they say, "No one gets out of here alive."

And yet, life does go on. And I smile. I babysit my little 15-month-old granddaughter and I smile. The universe is unfolding as it should. "I'm relaxed."

Friday, December 10, 2010

No record breaking snow fall in London, Ontario

Snowplows were busy Thursday digging Lucan out after the snow storm.
It dumped about 75 cm (29.5 in.) of snow on London starting Sun., but it was not as big a storm as forecast. It didn't break the Dec. '77 record for three consecutive days of snowfall, when about 100 cm (39 in.) of snow buried this Southwestern Ontario city.

Chris Scott, meteorologist for the Weather Network, reports that despite London being "squarely in the cross-hairs" of the severe lake-effect storm, Forest City residents have seen worse. 4 years ago, almost to the day, 60 cm (23.5 in.) fell in a 24-hour period on some areas of the city.

Still, the storm that started Sun. hit London with such fury that by noon people were canceling out of town trips. But the storm was focused on the city and on the country north of town. Those brave enough, or foolish enough to start for Toronto, discovered the storm weakened soon after leaving the eastern edge of the city. By the time travelers reached Woodstock, they had blue skies.
While a severe winter storm was causing white-outs in London  there were blue skies and dry pavement...
While a severe winter storm was causing white-outs in London, there were blue skies east of the city.
By dinner time Sun. the storm was closing down the city. Hwy. 401 in the south-end of town slowed to a crawl as scores of accidents played havoc with traffic. Hamilton Road, running above 401 near Dorchester, was plugged with transport trucks and cars attempting to skirt the freeway traffic problems.
A Lucan home with a monster snow drift on the roof.
Until late Wed. Hwy. 401 was winter-treacherous. At one point, a 17 vehicle pile-up of trucks, vans and cars between London and Woodstock delayed traffic for more than four hours. 

The chain-reaction accident occurred late Wed. morning and it was mid-afternoon before the westbound lanes were cleared and traffic back to normal.

While London was hit hard, with the university, college and city schools all closed, the cities three largest malls shutting down early, and banks and other businesses either refusing to open or locking up early, it was Lucan to the north of the city that took the full brunt of the storm.

By the time it was over, Lucan was buried under about 180 cm (71 in.) of snow. The snow started in Lucan Sunday and didn't stop, according to the CBC, until early Thursday morning. 
Many Lucan residents cannot recall as fierce a snow storm.

Lucan and London, Ont., have had about half their allotted snowfall already and winter hasn't even officially started.

One would think a white Christmas was surely in the cards for London and region, but maybe not. 
Rain is forecast for the region by the weekend. 
Medway Creek north of London is Christmas card pretty.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Joy and capitalism, the meaning of Christmas


Brian was not yet a teen but back in the '70s kids could have a paper route, and he did. And it was a big one with about seventy customers.

One Christmas Brian bought a big bag of Popsicle sticks and made small sleigh Christmas tree ornaments to give to his customers. It took him hours to assemble and glue the little wooden sleighs and then decorate them with little drawings of Christmas trees and print "Merry Christmas" in red ink on each one.

When Brian made his pre-Christmas collection, he gave each customer a little sleigh and wished them a Merry Christmas. He returned home with his pockets bulging with Christmas bonus money. He made, shall we say, a killing.

It turns out our little Christmas weasel didn't just buy Popsicle sticks. He made an investment in both sticks and human nature. And his investment delivered very handsome returns.

Brian had some sticks left over and these he made into inexpensive but oh-so-sweet little little gifts for all his aunts and uncles. And they were cheap. Ours hangs on our tree every year, along with all the other Christmas memories.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Ceiling or daddy long-legs spider

Most spiders found in Ontario homes are harmless to humans, so relax.
Some books call this spider a daddy long-legs but I don't. The daddy long-legs with which I am familiar have different bodies. No, this is what we called a ceiling or a cellar spider when I was a boy.

The spider that I called a daddy long-legs is also called the harvestman and I understand it is not a true spider. I think the term daddy long-legs fits the harvestman more than the cellar spider and so I'm staying with my terminology.

There is a myth that a daddy long-legs (cellar spider) has the most potent venom of all spiders but because it is unable to pierce human skin, it is harmless.

This myth was tested on Myth Busters and it was busted — twice. It seems the spider was able to bite through Adam's skin but he reported nothing more than a very mild, short-lived burning sensation. Analysis of the venom proved it didn't approach the potency of the black widow spider.

Apparently one story isn't a myth. Cellar spiders do hunt and kill the dangerous-to-humans black widow.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Don't bag fall leaves!


"Just pick up the damn bags!"

It was a quick, flippant answer that struck a responsive chord with many London folk — especially those with clear plastic bags, filled with fallen autumn leaves and sitting forgotten at the curb, passed over by city crews doing the fall leaves pick-up. It seems those leaves were ignored because they were in the wrong bags.

Plastic leaf bags are so passé; Paper bags are in. But not just any paper bag. No, the paper bags you fill with leaves, and place at the curb, must be certified compostable and bear the appropriate logo from either the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) or the Bureau de Normalisation du Quebec (BNQ). No label, no pick-up.

How much does it cost London to pick-up leaves?
The problem had grown into quite the local dust-up when London mayor-elect Joe Fontana stepped boldly into the fray. Fontana called News Talk 1290 Today with Andy Oudman and sliced through the Gordian knot of confusing green rhetoric. Fontana, shooting from the hip — some might argue lip — said, "Just pick up the damn bags!"

Free Press columnist Ian Gillespie found the “just get ‘er done” response refreshing. I wasn't immediately enamored with Fontana's response but I have slowly climbed on-board. Gillespie was right. And so was Fontana.

With the problem at hand "solved" by our mayor-elect, I say, "Let's clear up the whole messy, costly, leaf pick-up program and kill it for 2011. The Free Press reports that the city enjoys an annual savings of about $200,000 simply by banning plastic bags for leaf pick-up. This makes me wonder how much the city could save by scrapping the needless pick-up altogether.

Fontana promises to be a "Get Tough" mayor. He ran for office vowing to freeze property taxes over four years — a financial get tough platform. Maybe one place to apply his new, bold approach might be here, and tackle the whole leaf pick-up problem head-on.

The truly get tough answer might be, "They're leaves. Run your lawn mower over 'em and get on with life. The city is out of the leaf pick-up business. We can't afford the luxury anymore."

I can hear the outcry now. "The leaves will kill my lawn." "Leaves harbour mould and plant diseases." "Rotting, wet leaves offer sanctuary to breeding mosquitoes."

Relax. It doesn't have to be that way according to many researchers who have studied fall leaves. Steve Bender, the Grumpy Gardener, says:

"Stop Being So %^&*@#+ Stupid! Do you bag your leaves? . . . Are you, in other words, a certified cretin?

Leaves are a great source of organic matter. And they're free! Why throw away good, free stuff in favor of peat moss, composted cow manure, and shredded bark from the garden center that costs money? Hello? Is there anybody home?"

He see fall leaves as free organic matter! Did you hear that? Free! Grumpy writes:

"Hydroponics aside, you can't grow good plants without good soil. And no matter if your soil is mucky clay or worthless sand, the best way to improve is to add lots and lots of organic matter. Organic matter improves soil drainage and aeration, increases storage of moisture and nutrients, and makes things cozy and comfy for earthworms and microbes that stir and digest the soil and make its nutrients available to plants. Organic matter is brown gold."

Grumpy is not alone. The Website of The City of Guelph calls leaves Mother Nature's gold. The tell homeowners:

 "Keep your leaves on your lawn. . . . Research has proven that mowing leaves into your lawn can improve its vigor, and help to slow down weed germination in the spring. Organic matter and nutrients from leaves mown into lawn areas has been proven to improve turf quality."
The City of Guelph calls leaves Mother Nature's gold.

Personally, I've never understood the whole autumn leaves problem. My dad was a farmer born more than a hundred years ago in the early years of the twentieth century. He always saw fallen leaves as a valuable commodity. Something to be composed, or used to insulate plants from the harshest cold and fiercest wind of winter. Leaves represented the goodness of the soil; He recycled them back into the earth.

My grandparents on my mother's side were both born in the 1870s in small farming communities. They agreed with my dad. Despite living for most of their lives off the farm and in the city they never showed any sign of being caught up in the off-the-land fear of leaves that seemed to grip the city slickers.

A The Free Press photographer, now retired, had a farm west of the London. He told me that he wished there were a way to convince the city to dump the leaves collected from city homes at his farm. He saw them as a fine addition to the soil and he'd just plow them into the earth. Unfortunately, his farm was too far out of town for the city to have any interest in his idea.

A few years ago The Free Press ran a Business Monday feature on a company selling and installing special replacement blades for electric and gas rotary mowers. They installed two special blades with a total of six sharp cutting edges which made quick work of mulching lawn clippings, including leaves.

The company's product was obviously accepted by Londoners as the shop in North London was backed up with hundreds of lawn mowers waiting to be upgraded.

Sadly, it seems that the multi-blade, mulching invention, as good as it was, was better than the inventor's business acumen; The business folded and the mulching blade invention disappeared with last year's leaves.
 ______________________________________________________________

And Joe, if you should happen by, do a quick google about the Net and check out all the cities that are getting on the mulch 'em bandwagon.

e.g. Seattle Public Utilities: Mulching lawn mower guide

. . . and they are even into mulching in Merry Old England.

e.g. Warwickshire County Council: Mulch Mowing

e.g. . . . and a sister paper of The London Free Press,
The Chatham Daily News, says:
"Use a mulching mower and feed your lawn and keep shredded grass and leaves out of the landfill."
So go get 'em Joe. Tell those damn voters,
 "Just leave the damn leaves!"

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Don't take medicine in front of a baby!

According to many authorities, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration:

"Don't take medicines in front of children younger than 4 years old. They may try to copy your behavior."

Babies imitate. It's a well known fact.
The actions of Miss Baby yesterday underscored this warning. Her grandmother and aunt were busy with Christmas baking. Miss Baby was watching. Within minutes the little girl was beating and pouring imaginary batter to make imaginary cookies.

Babies learn by mimicking. Don't set a little one up for a potential life-threatening incident. Every year thousands of children consume dangerous medicines and must be rushed to Emergency. Keep all medicine locked away and do not encourage a baby's interest in your medicine cabinet by taking pills, capsules and syrups in their presence.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

It takes guts, stick-to-itiveness, patience and more to learn to walk

Fiona may soon give up keister scooting for walking.

Watching a baby leaving babyhood to become an active toddler is to be privy to an amazing transformation. I'm in awe of Fiona as I watch her systematically working oh-so-hard to perfect a difficult skill: walking.

Fiona has never crawled. She keister-scoots. First, she tugs off her socks, they are too slippery and she needs the friction of her bare feet on the smooth floor. Then, she stretches out her legs, gets a grip on the floor with her heels and pulls herself forward. It doesn't sound efficient but it is. She can scoot from one end of the house to the other in very short order.

In preparation for her learning to walk, I removed a large, glass coffee table from our front room. I worried that if she fell and hit her head on that table, she would get badly hurt. It was a wise thing to do but quite possibly unnecessary. Babies don't just stand up and promptly fall on their face when learning to walk. Babies aren't stupid. (Still, accidents do happen and removing anything that could injure a falling toddler is important.)

Fiona began her quest to walk by pulling herself up on anything that provided a good grip. No surprise here. But as quickly as Fiona learned to get herself up, she learned to lower herself back down. I had read that babies needed to be given support to get back down without injuring themselves. Maybe some babies need this, but not Fiona.

Pulling herself up allowed Fiona to work her legs and strengthen them. Soon the hand-grip only steadied the baby. Her legs were strong enough to raise her to a standing position without assistance from her arms.

With strong legs well practised at raising her to her feet, Fiona no longer required a hand-grip. She began using smooth, vertical surfaces to steady herself. With a wall, for instance, she could slide her hand both up and down the wall, steadying herself while standing up and again when sitting back down. Perfect.

Fiona is now standing unaided for a quarter minute or more. But she keeps her centre of balance such that she always falls forward and breaks her fall with her hands on the wall. Like I said, babies aren't stupid.

Walking is going to take strength, along with balance, and she she seems to have figured that out. Starting this week Fiona embarked on an exercise program to build the necessary strength and balance. She stands on Judy and my double bed, getting herself up without support. This is tough and she often falls. She is practising three things on the bed: getting up, standing unsupported and making a controlled fall. And doing it where she has a soft, cushy surface on which to tumble.

I bet she is walking within a week.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Lindsey Graham: The parrot's not dead . . .

Lindsey Graham, right, with John McCain at the Forum.
One of my favorite Monty Python Flying Circus skits was The Dead Parrot Routine. A routine about denial.

Over the years, I have learned that that routine plays itself out in many different forms daily --- and sadly, but not unexpectedly, it is not funny in these reincarnations.

Take Lindsey Graham, a U.S. senator who would make Monty Python proud. With the U.S. deep in financial doo-doo, and to a great extent because of its involvement in two foreign wars, one truly unnecessary, Graham was back saber rattling this past weekend at the Halifax International Security Forum held in Nova Scotia, Canada.

With his party, the Republicans, now controlling the U.S. Congress, the senator from South Carolina felt empowered to threaten Iran with the full wrath of the mighty United States military. Tehran must veer from their present course when it comes to developing and constructing the bomb.

Graham was addressing a panel looking at the ramifications of the recent U.S. midterms on American foreign policy. AP reports Graham said that if the United States were to go to war against the Islamic republic, it would not be to:

". . . just neutralize their nuclear program, but to sink their navy, destroy their air force and deliver a decisive blow to the Revolutionary Guard, in other words neuter that regime."

Reportedly, Graham's position left many "stunned." Personally, I think it left Graham looking a little stunned.

If you have five minutes, check out this video found on YouTube which argues that the South Carolina senior senator is as delusional and just as openly ridiculous as Baghdad Bob, a propagandist for Saddam Hussein.



For a more complete report and a video of Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak at the Forum commenting on Lindsey Graham's remarks, check out my post on Digital Journal.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Eggs: Healthy or Not?

The other day the University of Western Ontario sent out a press release informing the media that an acclaimed researcher at the London Ontario university had co-authored a review of dietary cholesterol studies.

The doctor, David Spence, along with two other Canadian experts in the field, came to the conclusion that dietary cholesterol is bad, very bad. Just about the worse offender when it comes to supplying a concentrated dose of dietary cholesterol is the egg.

The review points out that one egg contains from 215 to 275 mg of cholesterol. In comparison, the infamous KFC Double Down contains 145 mg of cholesterol. For those who don't know, the KFC Double Down sandwich replaces the bread or bun with two KFC chicken breasts to hold multiple slices of bacon and cheese.

The London Free Press, the local paper, carried a story on the review under the headline "Eggs worse than Double Down."

That, of course, is not quite what the doctors were saying. In fact, Dr. Spence told The Free Press that the Double Down is a "dietary disaster."

No, the doctors were talking only about cholesterol and they did raise some interesting points.

The paper correctly points out that The Heart and Stroke Foundation has given eggs their seal of approval. Yet, a search of the foundation's website finds this warning.

" . . . foods that contain high levels of dietary cholesterol, such as egg yolks, may have a small effect on blood cholesterol levels in people diagnosed with high blood cholesterol or type 2 diabetes. A recent study showed that individuals with type 2 diabetes need to watch their egg intake because it can increase their risk of heart disease. The Canadian Diabetes Association suggests that people with diabetes may have up to two eggs per week . . . speak to your healthcare provider, who will advise you on how much food containing dietary cholesterol you should eat."

In their review, the Canadian trio points out that in two major studies those who developed diabetes while consuming an egg a day doubled their risk of cardiovascular disease compared to those eating less than an egg a week. The studies also showed a significant increase of new onset diabetes with regular egg consumption.

There seem to be some points of agreement between the Heart and Stroke people and the three renegade researchers.


A story in Canada.com reported:

The last time Spence spoke out publicly against yolks in his local newspaper, his house was egged.

"I had to pay someone 150 bucks to come in on a ladder and clean up the second story. They hit the wall on the second floor and the door and the windows on the main floor."

But he remains unperturbed. He said yolks "shouldn't be regarded as an item that's suitable for human diets" for anyone at risk of vascular disease. "And you name me a Canadian that isn't."


Ironically, on the very day The Free Press was warning its readers of the health risks posed by eggs and dietary cholesterol, the paper carried a story on one of nature's most nutritious foods: Eggs!

If you still want to eat eggs, and I can understand that, Dr. Spence sets an upper limit of 200 mg. of dietary cholesterol a day. I guess that means only eating half a yolk at one sitting. It will make for some rather lightly coloured omelets but I can "live" with that.


To see my take on this story running in Digital Journal click HERE.

For The London Free Press story by Debora Van Brenk, click HERE.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Twitter and Flickr for citizen journalists

One of the neat things about blogging is being your own publisher. It is almost like putting out your own magazine. And just as no newspaper or magazine should go without images, your blog posts should not go begging for pictures.

Wikimedia Commons is one excellent place to look for copyright free images. Lot's of folk sharing lots of pictures are to be found there. Another good site is Flickr. Both sites make the copyright restrictions which apply to each image very clear. The restrictions vary from image to image, so stay alert as you search for pictures. Twitpic can also be a source of images but I have questions about using pictures found on Twitpic. More on this later.

Rally to Restore Sanity (and/or Fear!) was so reasonable. Bes... on TwitpicReady to restore sanity!  on TwitpicStephen Colbert is my favourite superhero (at the "Rally... on Twitpic

The above images are from Twitpic. I simply added the embedding code into the HTML of the Blogger page. The code is right there for the taking on the Twitpic page. Clicking on the glorified thumbnail image, above, will bring up the original Twitpic page.

Twitpic Photo: Yaman09
You can take larger images from Twitpic but you must view the full sized image and then right-click to Copy Image or Save Image As... You can also point, click and drag the image onto the desktop.

If you Copy Image, you can paste it directly into a photo enhancement program, like Photoshop, for cropping and tweaking.


If you copy, drag or save the image, this will break the link to the Twitpic's originating page. You must add a link under the picture to restore the connection. This is demanded by Twitpic:
"Remember! Twitpic Community Guidelines specify that if you post a Twitpic photo on an external website, the photo must link back to its photo page."
This all sounds good and sounds safe. No copyright infringement here, right? Since the embedding code was supplied, putting these pictures on one's page must be O.K., right? I don't know.

The first image may have been shot by the person twittering, making them the copyright holder, but I am suspicious of the middle image of Colbert and Stewart and the next one of Colbert alone. Were these images really taken by the person twittering? I have my doubts. A lot of stolen images are to be found in the Twitpic mix.

Flickr Photo: Jeff Gates
Flickr Photo: Bridgette Blair
The two large images above were taken from Flickr. The first big image was removed from Flickr using a download function found on the Flickr site. It is a big file. The second was taken by right clicking the largest posted image available and using the "Copy Image" function. Afterwards, I resized the second image so that it would load faster. This resulted in a little loss of quality. (I can live with the loss; I, and my readers, like the speed.)

Flickr Photo: Joe Newman
Both these images appear to be safe to use on a blog but the Creative Commons licence seems to put them off limits for newspapers and others who would use these image to generate income. Click on the photographer's name in the credit line under the image, the name is linked to the originating Flickr page.

Flickr Photo: Bridgette Blair














The Flickr image, above left, has been cropped to accent the subject of the photo. It has also been brightened using Levels and Curves in Photoshop. I believe this is allowed.

The "Palin" picture and the crowd images were fitted onto the page using Blogger supplied tools with a little tweaking. When the second image, the horizontal one, was placed and sized, it was too large for the space. This forced the horizontal image to appear below the image of "Sarah Palin." By finding the size of the image in the HTML code, this is very easy, and subtracting ten percent from both the height and the width, the image was made to fit. (Use the Preview function in blogger to check your layout before posting. Be warned that your Blogger page may format differently on different computers.)

So, if you are blogging and need images, Flickr seems to offer the safest images for placing on your site. Flickr users are photographers while Twitpic users are posters of pictures --- pictures which may or may not be owned by the poster.

Be aware that Getty Images uses Flickr. You can see these images but you cannot use them without paying Getty. Pay close attention to the info found under the heading License. Make sure that you scroll the Flickr page so that you can see all the license info. Sometimes the Getty copyright warning may not be shown without scrolling. Watch for the black Getty Images symbol; If you see it, don't use the image.

Links: Flickr, Twitpic search

If you are writing a blog on a news event, remember to google the event itself or the event's sponsors.

The Government of Chile posted excellent shots from the recent rescue of the Chilean miners.

See: Government of Chile, Flickr page.


From the Democratic Party Facebook page.

The Democratic Party in the States have a Facebook page where they often post pictures. There were a lot of excellent pictures posted there from Obama's recent four-day tour of the west.




It is not always possible, but when it is, the safest pictures to use to illustrate your blog and other posts are the pictures you shoot yourself.

The American West, popular with tourists the world over, shown in my shot.
Cheers!
Rockinon