Monday, August 30, 2010

Who's a photojournalist?

Nineteen years ago a young co-ed named Gwen Jacob strolled topless down the streets of Guelph, Ontario. That hot summer day was destined to become even hotter for Jacob as her simple, impetuous act landed her in hot water for years to come.

The issue of public nudity raised by Jacob's actions, and how it is covered by the media, was revisited in a recent article written by Stephanie Dearing. Dearing posted a story to the Digital Journal, complete with photos, from a recent Guelph celebration honoring Jacob's walk. Some photos from Dearing's report were taken down by DJ editors due to their frontal nudity. Other less revealing images were left to illustrate her story.

Jacob may have run afoul of our prudish laws in 1991 but it was not until 1996 that the charge against Jacob was overturned by the Ontario Court of Appeal ending years of legal wrangling. It was a decision that put the events of 1991 in the proper perspective. It is too bad that all Canadian media didn't handle the story and the verdict with the same maturity as the courts.

When the verdict was announced, excitement rippled through Canadian newsrooms, "Women have the right to go topless!" Photographers, they like to be called photojournalists in the newspaper business, were dispatched to pools and beaches across the province to bring back shots of the hordes of bare breasted Canadian women now released upon the nation.

Even the respected New York Times noted the shock waves reverberating through the far north as Canadian moral standards were reportedly shredded, left in tatters by legions of half-naked women. The caption under their art read:

"In Ottawa, women are allowed to go topless at beaches and outdoor pools. At a beach, Lisa Regimbal walked by a topless Connie Morden. (Canadian Press)"

I have a black and white copy of that picture and Lisa looks properly put off by the chance encounter. The iconic image was shot by an award-winning Ottawa Sun photographer who later moved it to The Canadian Press. It was through the Ottawa Sun photos the world discovered Ottawa women go topless.

A year later the Ottawa Sun ran another shot from the same staff shooter's topless-on-an-Ottawa-beach assignment, but there was one big difference: The blonde woman, so aghast at encountering nudity on a local beach in the first picture, is quite relaxed as she chats with her half naked friend in this second image. Here are the cutlines used by the Ottawa Sun under the second picture:
"Last summer, Lisa Regimbal, left, bear (sic) it all while chatting with Connie Morden."
(Yes, that is the quote. Bares is spelled incorrectly and the young ladies have had their names switched.)

Why the confusion? Why did the women display such different reactions to toplessness as depicted in the two pictures? The answer is simple: The pictures were set-ups. It was so difficult to find naked women on the beach in Ottawa that the Sun used models. I contacted the mother of one of the models and confirmed  the Ottawa Sun topless-at-the-beach pictures were fake and taken at an arranged photo shoot. (At one point in my career, I actually worked with the shooter who took the shots. I got the impression from talking with him that the shots were bogus.)

The Toronto Sun moved a lot of images of topless lasses that summer, mostly to other papers in the Sun Media chain, and I know the editors at The London Free Press were duly thankful -- at least many of the male editors. But, after careful consideration, all these images were rejected for publication. And it was not just for the front nudity.

The London Free Press editors always decided there were enough incongruities among the photos to cast doubt on their veracity. It was decided that these pictures were all illustrations and not news photos.

It is interesting that the Digital Journal pulled the first pictures posted to their online newspaper from the topless event held in Guelph celebrating Gwen Jacob's triumph. Naked breasts may now be seen in public but naked breasts are still not going to be seen on the electronic pages of the Digital Journal.

DJ replaced the offending images with honest, if standard, photos showing naked backs suggesting naked fronts. These pictures still told the story but in in a muted tone. The Digital Journal editors may be conservative but, unlike their Sun Media counterparts from the past, they were honest.

Look at these two pictures running side by side. The young woman on the left was posing for a Sun Media illustration to accompany a news story. The image on the right is from the DJ article.

One picture is definitely honest and the other is highly questionable. Which picture was taken by a photojournalist and which picture was taken by a photographer. I say the image on the right from the Digital Journal was taken by a photojournalist and not the trumped-up one on the left from the Ottawa Sun.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A cool optical illusion

I discovered a couple of interesting blogs that specialize in optical illusions. Click on the above art so that you have only the art, and not my entire blog, on your monitor. Now, stare at the centre black cross. The colour should change to green and even begin to disappear. If it doesn't work try moving closer --- I was about a foot from my monitor when it worked. If you like this, check out some of the other optical illusions on the Mighty Optical Illusions site.


Friday, August 20, 2010

Fleming calls it "placemaking."

John Fleming, Manager of Implementation Planning, City of London, Ontario, was interviewed by The London Free Press reporter Randy Richmond back in 2006. It is interesting to look at a development that was featured in the paper as an example of New Urbanism in London and discover what we find today.

A porch in the New Urbanism development.
First, Fleming does not like the term New Urbanism according to Richmond's story. Fleming prefers "placemaking" as the term for developments where the cookie-cutter approach is out. Where porches wrap around the homes so that the street "gets a view of something architecturally interesting."

Richmond tells us that there are dozens of ways of turning subdivisions into more walkable, pleasant neighbourhoods.

I hate to break this to Fleming and Richmond but my neighbourhood, despite its crescents and cul-de-sacs, has sidewalks teaming with folk. They are out walking their dogs or simply strolling for the sheer pleasure of it. We don't need a special trail for strolling. No one does!

Heck, on my court the strollers don't even need a sidewalk.

And in my neighbourhood we don't need wrap-around porches to enjoy our paper, a coffee, and a chat with a neighbour. All the porches need to be is large enough for a chair or two. That's it.

In fact, the perfect porch may be the simplest porch. With no railings to rot and no roof to maintain, simple porches will not grow old, deteriorate and be demolished rather than repaired.

When I was a photographer with the paper I was surprised to learn how many older homes I visited for the Homes section originally had rather grand porches. Now, those porches only exist in pictures.

Personally, I like the cookie-cutter look. It is too bad that Richmond and Fleming don't. I like the condos that are part of the development The Free Press featured as an example of New Urbanism. I'm not disappointed but I wonder how Richmond and Fleming feel. Betrayed?

One feature of the New Urbanism development that didn't get deep sixed is the walking and jogging trail - an example of placemaking in action. It runs behind some homes and condos. A recent visit showed the trail was well used but not well maintained. The asphalt was cracked and blistered with plants pushing their way up and pushing the asphalt apart. Who is supposed to maintain this trail? The city?

John Fleming calls it "placemaking" rather than smart growth. I now know why. Smart growth could refer to weeds and not to the proposed developments that turn subdivisions into more walkable, pleasant neighbourhoods with the ultimate goal of a little more soul, a sense of place.

You know, I can't even write those words and keep a straight face.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

21st Century Suburbia

The London Free Press story had a good lede:

" . . . picture the land rushes of the 1800s, when tens of thousands of people on horseback, wagon train, bicycles, foot, mules and railway cars raced each other to stake claims in the wild American west.

Change the horses to BMWs, and the pioneers to developers . . . and you'll have the London rush."

Randy Richmond is a fine reporter and writer. When I saw his byline on the weekend special report on the changing of southwest London from farmland to an urban landscape, I poured myself a coffee and sat down for a good read. It wasn't much of a read, one page. Nor was it all that good. By the time I had finished my coffee I had finished Randy's piece.

I'll be upfront with my feelings about New Urbanism; It's mostly a crock. If you think large homes jammed tightly together on small lots is an imaginative response to suburban sprawl, I think you should think, and imagine, again. You can be forgiven if you've been fooled, sold a bill of goods, as most of us haven't visited these New Urbanism utopias but only read about them. And New Urbanism gets good spin in the press.

Snout houses, as Randy calls them, are rapidly appearing.
Randy tells us it will be "goodbye snout houses." I guess Randy hasn't visited these New Urbanism utopias either.

The homes on the left are part of a new development going up near Wharncliffe Road South. In this development it is, "Hello, snout houses."

Randy quotes a city councilor: "Everybody wants to be the first to build." The first? As is obvious from my pictures, the building has already begun and it is not all that creative.

The homes, some quite handsome, sit on streets that curve and curl and are joined by short streets called gates in subdivisions of past decades. Suburban crescents are not uncommon in the new subdivisions in the southern part of London but courts are rare, but not as rare as the traditional "grid pattern of streets" mentioned in Randy's piece.

Apparently high density and four car garages go together.
According to Randy, the new housing will achieve "higher densities than in many areas." I believe him. Many of the subdivisions presently being built are composed of attractive homes squeezed tightly together. This does not mean that no homes have suburban-wide frontages. This home in Talbot Village has a large, double-doored garage off to the side. Personally, I like its look but it does not say high density.

One of the hallmarks of New Urbanism is the inclusion of neighbourhood retail space, ideally centrally located and no more than a five minute walk from any residence. This mixing of residential and retail minimizes the reliance on the car and if done correctly adds a sense of place to the new community, or so we are told.

Possibly the closest shopping district to Talbot Village.
I believe it was The London Free Press writer Christine Dirks who wrote the piece on Talbot Village before the earth was even turned for the suburban development off Colonel Talbot Road below Southdale Road.

As I recall, Talbot Village was to be possibly London's first foray into New Urbanism. In the end, it wasn't. It's a suburban development and a good one with many of the homes having pleasant '30s facades. But when it comes to shopping, you can't buy so much as a bottle of Coke and a bag of chips in Talbot Village. For shopping residents must get in their cars. (This has now changed. As of November 2010, a Tim's and a No Frills grocery store are being erected in Talbot Village.)

Appealing? Maybe. Architecturally breathtaking? No.
The folk living in the apartment buildings shown are in London's finest apartments according to the sign posted by the Tricar Group. They live within a short walk of the Wonderland Road shopping district. They're closer to more stores than the folk in the pseudo New Urbanism development.

Now, don't get me wrong, I like apartments. In fact, if I could get an apartment with the floor space of my home and for a similar monthly cost, I might move. But I can't and so I won't.

The wow factor
My main reason for showing these two twin structures is the claim reported by Randy that all structures in the developing southwest, "even commercial and industrial enterprises" will have "appealing architecture." These buildings may be appealing but they are not grabbers. Check out this tower being built in Mississauga. You might not agree, but I think this building is an eye-catcher.

I find it interesting that, according to Randy, Wonderland will be the gateway to the city. The curvaceous Absolute Towers serve the same gateway role in Mississauga. The difference is that the Mississauga buildings are an exciting architectural design. They break with the past and open our eyes and minds to the sculptural possibilities of architecture.

These amazing buildings would look even better in London as they would not have to compete with a lot of other towers. The canvas is still somewhat clean in London but this will not last and there is little sign that anything exciting is on the horizon.

Randy talks of a grid pattern of narrow, tree lined streets with cars in the back of the houses. I read that lane ways were part of the original plan for Talbot Village. The actual subdivision not only has the garages in the front, some roads are widened to allow cars to be parked in front of the homes but off the main part of the street. I think it is actually a good idea but it is not New Urbanism.

A lovely street but why does anyone think that this is not urban sprawl?
Oh well, as I said at the beginning, the lede was good. I googled everything in the story but the best stuff I found was on the American land rushes. Check them out. Randy pointed us in an interesting direction --- even if that direction was not towards southwest London.

These homes present a design approach popular around the world but are they high density housing. I think not.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Nice cars finish last

A best seller in Europe, the Astra was a handsome car.
Nice cars finish last. This is not always true but all too often nice is not enough to earn a profit. For that reason, nice cars come and nice cars go. Think of the Saturn Astra, a car envisioned as the saviour of the Saturn car company but instead became the company's swan song.

Before the Astra even hit North American dealerships there were clear signs of trouble. General Motors predicted no more than 30 to 40,000 in first year sales. These sales numbers were much lower than those achieved by the poorly received Saturn Ion which the Astra replaced.

And even those mediocre numbers were too  high. GM sold about 12,000 Astras in the States in 2008. With a 139-day supply of  '08s, GM didn't even import the 2009 Astra into the U.S. Yes, I said import. Saturn, originally created to battle the imports, was itself an import at the end.

The Astra in a sense delivered on its promise in spades. It was supposed to sell poorly and it did. Now, GM is touting the Chevrolet Volt as a fine car but with predicted sales of possibly 10,000 units in its the first year.

Each Volt sold in the States will cost the American taxpayer $7500 in rebate money or this poorly selling care will cost the American treasury $75 million over the course of a year. Of course, if the Volt proves to be popular and the U.S. government retains the rebate program, the charge to the American taxpayer could grow to more than $337 million or more annually. (Chevy sees sales climbing to possibly 45,000 units by 2012.)

The Chevrolet Volt is a nice car but with a price tag of $41,000 even the $7500 government rebate  will not make it a success. At least, that's my opinion.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Don't do it!

Many pediatricians say young children should not be tossed. Photo by: DEREK RUTTAN The London Free Press. Note: the picture is shown exactly as it is running on the newspaper webpages. The magenta tint was not added by the Rockin' On site. This is a copyrighted image and is being used to make an editorial comment on the image itself. Legally, it cannot be modified.
As anyone who has followed this blog knows, I'm a grandfather. And whenever I see my granddaughter tossed in the air I cringe. Her head seems so big compared to her fragile looking neck. She giggles and clearly loves the roughhousing but I'm not sure tossing a young, small child is safe.

Today was The London Free Press retirees' monthly breakfast. I sat with a couple of former editors and a retired reporter. One topic of conversation that grabbed my interest was the negative talk surrounding today's front page picture. It shows an 18-month-old little girl being tossed high into the air by her dad.

The one editor was absolutely livid that such an image is gracing the front page of the paper. It certainly would have been spiked if he had been running the desk. He saw the image as encouraging behaviour all too common and all too dangerous. He made it very clear he firmly believed small children can be seriously, and totally unintentionally, injured in this type of roughhousing. Never toss a small child; Never!

I came home and did some quick research. The editor was right: Don't toss small children.

Lyuba Konopasek, associate professor of pediatrics at the New York-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City says, "Being physically playful with your child is a great way to bond and to have fun, but keep it very gentle . . . never include throwing a child or baby into the air in your roughhousing. The potential for a dangerous fall or neck injury isn't worth it."

Rady Children's Hospital, San Diego, a pediatric hospital, advises, "Never shake or toss a baby or a child under age five." Further, this research hospital advises that infants should not be wiggled or bounced.
The children's hospital notes that the heads of babies and young children are heavy, and that the neck muscles are not strong . . . parents, grandparents, and babysitters often don't realize "how easy it is to hurt their baby this way".

Play tossing can injure babies and children.

Not only does Rady advises parents not to toss their baby in the air. The children's hospital states that even though children may laugh and appear to be enjoying the toss, this activity could leave them seriously injured.

As I said at the start of this post, I've seen my 11-month-old granddaughter tossed in the air. I bit my lip every time this was done. No more. I guess I should thank The London Free Press and the former LFP editor. Together they've made my granddaughter's life a little safer.

I hope I may have made life a little safer for the children of those reading this post.

(In the pictured father's defence, my bet is he doesn't just catch his daughter but grabs her and then drops his arms gradually slowing her fall. This would minimize the forces acting on the small child. Still, it is not a good practice.)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

I'll be back! That's a promise.

I've got a good reason to regain my health.
Less than two months ago I was healthy. Oh, I've had health problems and serious ones. But teamed with the wonderful medical folk here in London, Ontario, I've surmounted the worst that has occurred.

Then in mid June in Sonoma, California, I suffered a serious V-tach event with my heart racing to 300 bpm. It took an emergency cardioversion (defibrillation) of 200 joules of electricity to shock my heart back into proper rhythm. I was given beta blockers to prevent a re-occurrence.

Then in mid July in London, Ontario, I went blind temporarily in my left eye. I was off to the hospital emerg again. I had suffered a TIA event, often a precursor to a stroke. I was given Plavix, a blood thinner.

Within hours I had an MRI of my head and neck to confirm what the doctors suspected, hardening of the arteries with plaque in my carotid artery. The good news: My arteries are clean. The bad news: I have micro bleeding throughout my brain.

Tuesday I must go to the Cardiac Institute and as the month progresses I have quite the number of medical appointments. What caused the V-tach event? Why is my brain bleeding? Am I reacting poorly to the blood thinner? Should I stop the Plavix? Was the baby Aspirin I used to take responsible for the bleeding? If I do stop all blood thinners, will I put myself in position to suffer a stroke?

I am beginning to feel as if I am starring in an episode of House.

All of this is taking a great toll on my free time. My blogging has suffered. My photography just isn't happening. And worse, I haven't been able to chase some very good local stories for Digital Journal.

Sorry team. I will be back doing my small bit for citizen journalism. Just give me, and my doctors, a little time. Who knows, maybe there will be a good medical story here. Now, I must go; It's time for my beta blocker.


Why is this not available in Canada?

Would you be interested in a car that gets more than 100 miles to the Imp. gallon? I would.

Recently I read that Suzuki has launched a hybrid powered gas/electric vehicle for sale on the Japanese market that travels an impressive 34 kilometres for every litre of fuel used!

Called the Suzuki Twin, it also features an automatic idling stop system to shut the engine down whenever the car stops at traffic lights or when stationary in heavy traffic, minimizing CO2 emissions and fuel consumption.

Apparently the Suzuki Twin hybrid vehicle is currently only sold in the domestic Japanese market. Too bad.

I find this car is far more interesting than the new Chevrolet Volt.