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Saturday, December 31, 2011

After the fences, comes the security detail

The Electro-Motive Diesel plant in London, Ontario, is showing all the signs of preparing for a strike or a lock out. First the fence went up. Yesterday I noticed the security gurards were in place. When I walked up to the fence to take a picture, a guard sitting in a car took my picture.

I posted a story about the plant to Digital Journal. This is a story that should be told to the world.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The fence is up. What's next?

A fence restricts entry to the Electro-Motive Diesel plant in London, Ontario

The fence is up and the question now being asked is: "What next?"

I talked with the plant chair in search of answers and I have posted a story on Digital Journal. If interested, please click the link.

Monday, December 26, 2011

There's more to this soup than Campbell's

As a boy a bowl of warm soup left me cold. It was awfully dull stuff. My mom's idea of a great soup was Campbell's frozen potato soup. I recall it was much better than the condensed variety but there's no way to check that today. Campbell's frozen soups from the '60s are no more.

It was not until I was in my thirties and visiting some friends in Connecticut that I had a memorable soup. It was a cream of vegetable soup that was came from a gourmet food shop. It was thick. I mean it was really, really thick. It was a soup with body, texture, and lots and lots of flavour. I was won over; I was a soup fan.

Fast forward to today. I am now married to an amazing cook. She makes soups on par with that oh-so-memorable Connecticut soup from three decades ago. Her cheese with broccoli and carrot cream soup is wonderful. It made a great intro to our family Christmas dinner and the following day it was lunch. With a slice or two of homemade bread, it made a great midday meal.

Before giving you the recipe, let me say that I have noticed my wife making great use of both her food processor and her large, stand mixer. Both are made by KitchenAid. For this soup, she uses her food processor to shred the cheese and chop the carrots. The soup, minus the cheese, is first heated on the stove and then the hot soup is puréed in the mixer. She whisks the grated cheese into the hot soup immediately before serving.

And both can be quite expensive but stay alert and you can pick them up on sale. Canadian Tire had a KitchenAid stand mixer on sale before Christmas for under $200.

Judy's Broccoli Soup

750 ml or 3 cups of broccoli coarsely chopped
250 ml or 1 cup of coarsely chopped carrots
250 ml or 1 cup of coarsely chopped onion
125 ml or 1/2 cup water
500 ml or 2 cups of cheddar cheese, old Canadian style
1/4 teaspoon of pepper
And here's the cheat: She adds two ten ounce cans of  Campbell's condensed cream of potato soup, plus two cans of one percent milk.

— First, microwave the broccoli and carrots until soft.
— Then microwave the onions in the water until the onions are soft.
— Now, mix broccoli, carrots and onion/water mix together.  Add two cans of soup and stir until smooth and follow this by adding the two cans of milk. The soup will be somewhat lumpy at this point.
— Pour the mix into a food processor and puree. Don't blend too much. You want to retain some of the texture of the vegetables.
— Microwave on high until the soup is bubbling hot. This should take less than ten minutes. Make sure to stir the mix at least twice while it is heating.
— Remove from microwave, stir in the grated cheese and the quarter teaspoon of pepper.
— Serve immediately.

I think my dear, old mother would have liked this soup. It contains Campbell's condensed soup. Ah, if only it was the frozen variety.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


I don't think much of  cities rebranding themselves. It can be expensive and, in most cases, I think it can be shown to not be worth the expense.

That said, the city of Oak Park in Illinois, the place than Frank Lloyd Wright called home at one point, hired the well known Tennessee-based company North Star Destination Strategies to rebrand their community. These folk have rebranded more than a hundred communities across the United States.

From the Chicago Tribune:
The new tourism logo for progressive western suburb Oak Park is meant to portray its people as “rebels” and “rule breakers.” Instead, some less sophisticated minds believe the logo’s tubular shape resembles a male body part.

Rich Carollo, president of the Oak Park Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the logo was presented to the Village Board as part of a larger study on reinventing Oak Park’s image to attract more tourists. The rebranding proposal, by North Star Destination Strategies, included billboards of famed Oak Park residents Frank Lloyd Wright and Ernest Hemingway, with the words: “Nonconformists” and “Boatrockers.”
The proposed slogan: “Oak Park: Step Out of Line.”
A commenter at the Tribune’s website said it best: "If your visit to Oak Park lasts more than four hours, contact your doctor immediately."

And a thank you to The Underground Conservative for this smile.

What's London; What's The London Free Press

I live in London, Ontario. I live here by choice and by necessity. The choice part comes from having moved here from Toronto back in 1976. I moved here; I stayed here; I raised a family here.

Celebrating family, I live happily in London.
The necessity part developed simultaneously with family. Both my daughters have stayed in London. They work here and they are raising their children here. With two beautiful granddaughters in London, my wife and I have pretty strong bonds with our adopted hometown.

It was with great interest I began following The London Free Press series examining London: What's London. Sadly, with every new installment my disappointment with the long-running series grows. At first, I blogged about the hollow claims being made by the paper — claims that could easily be disproved with just a few minutes of searching the Web and a few long distance phone calls.

For an example, read my post Hove to, actually. It is a classic example of shoddy reporting. When I pointed out to the paper that the claims made in the article were simply not true, the reporter told me: "Interesting how Hove and Brighton took a shot at another brand. The point," he continued, "was how Hove took a negative and made it a positive."

Huh? Doesn't the reporter realize he just smeared Hove and Brighton into one. The whole point of his What's London story was that "Hove, England, had a little identity problem . . . it was connected by name and geography to Brighton."

Randy Richmond, after a call to a Toronto professor, wrote about a fictional campaign to make Hove stand out as separate from Brighton. It was a campaign that never happened according to both local papers, a number of residents and others whom I contacted at some expense. The Toronto professor was dreaming, I was told.

I have one up on Richmond; I can make overseas calls. He can't. When I worked for the paper, overseas calls were not possible without a special code. Randy can call Toronto for a story on Hove but he can't easily call Hove to confirm the story.

The worse thing is, Richmond can't quit flogging the rebranding idea. "There's little interest among Londoners in branding ourselves the Food City, or Market City, or Agribiz City. Perhaps it's an inferiority complex," he writes. "Our neglect of our rural roots is understandable in a way. Since its start as a backwater town in the forest, London has always struggled to get and stay connected with the rest of the province."

What foolish talk. How many cities start as anything other than a little backwaters? Cities don't, as a rule, spring into existence fully formed. Toronto, a successful city in the eyes of the paper, was rebranded during its early backwater days by none other than Lord Simcoe. He rebranded Toronto as York. Simcoe, not known for approving of native names for new communities, declared the name Toronto "outlandish". We all know how well that turned out.

Why London would want to pigeonhole itself with an awkward moniker like Agribiz City, as suggested by the paper, is beyond me. To my ear, it sounds downright "outlandish".

Randy Richmond says the Forest City moniker is not true. Oh! Read the truth.

London was once a multifaceted, urban jewel. It was blue collar; It was white collar. It had factories and farms. London was a rich in opportunity and admired by other communities right across Canada. Today London, like the entire province of Ontario, is suffering through a horrendous economic decline.

It is true. My beloved London has problems, just as so many other cities and towns. The problems in London are not unique but they are severe. For instance, when it comes to jobs the unemployment rate in London is the second highest among major Canadian cities.

If the paper's series was simply a waste of newsprint, it would be bad enough but not worth concern. But, the series is posted to the Internet to be found by anyone searching the Web for information on London.

London is a town unable to "shake off  (its) sleepy pastoral past", it's a place with "an inferiority complex", it's a town "in the middle of nowhere with the future passing (it) by." At least, that is what one might come away believing if one believed The Free Press.

The editor-in-chief of the paper, Joe Ruscitti, tells us London is a an island. Worse, it is composed of numerous islands. And, to a certain extent, Ruscitti is right. Where he goes wrong is in his negative approach to the paper's no-surprise-here faux discovery. All communities are, to varying degrees, composed of separate but linked "islands". We even have a word for these: neighbourhoods or districts.

Think Paris and think of the tight pattern of arrondissements and of the more distant banlieues. Many folk living in Paris have little need, and little interest, in traveling outside their own, unique neighbourhoods. They live in their own little section of Paris where they also work and shop. No one heaps scorn on Paris for this.

Children playing a few hundred yards from my front door.
I live in the Byron banlieue in London. It's a lovely neigbourhood that encourages strolling and chatting with neighbours. It is an especially welcoming walk whenever my little granddaughter, Fiona, accompanies me.

I also shop in the area. If I don't feel like walking, and I often don't, I can drive there in mere minutes.

The island community that is damaging to London is The London Free Press itself. Once known to those who worked there as "the mighty Free Press", the paper today is a pale of ghost of its former self. It is a shrinking presence in the city. Recently the paper laid off 17 more staff members, with at least four from the editorial department: three reporters who were also capable copy editors plus a multi-talented photographer with decades of experience. (I have been told, some work once done locally by Londoners at the paper, is now being outsourced as far away as India.)

The paper tells its readers about every layoff at every major employer except for those cuts made at the paper itself. When Pierre Karl Peladeau, the head of Quebecor, the ultimate owner of the paper, was slated to visit the newsroom recently, Ruscitti fired off an e-mail telling the staff:

“This would be a good time to look and act sharp.

“This would probably not be a good time to tell the boss how much better we would be if we had this many more reporters or this or that piece of equipment, etc.

“At least for those 90 minutes, you like the new emphasis on the mobile newsroom and the concept of the mobile multimedia journalist. You think the newsroom redesign will help us be that kind of newsroom. Etc."

The e-mail made it onto the blog of former Free Press editor-in-chief Phil McLeod. Ruscitti, to his credit, ignored the leak. PKP to his discredit, or so I've been told, couldn't. He pressed Ruscitti and Ruscitti pressed the newsroom. The source of the leak was uncovered and given a short suspension.

The Free Press likes to play shrink, putting London figuratively on the psychoanalyst's couch. This is a damn hard thing to do with a city of hundreds of thousands. But, this is an easier thing to do with a paper of only a few dozen tired, overworked staffers.

At a recent retirement party held to honour departing staff members, the most common word I heard to describe the newsroom was "hell". Maybe working in hell has soured Randy Richmond and the other reporters. Maybe Joe Ruscitti is not playing at the top of his game with PKP breathing down his neck. Maybe the sour view from The Free Press newsroom is tainting their series.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

. . . and now for the rest of the story

It was coarse language vs slimy, slippery language. Coarse got slimed.

The front page story consumed just about all available space above the fold of The London Free Press, yet the story was sadly incomplete. The paper failed to tell the whole story, and it's a good story to tell.

Megan Leslie, MP Halifax (NDP), was critical of the Conservatives "for pulling out of Kyoto." Peter Kent, Minister of the Environment, defended his party by chiding Leslie: "If my hon. colleague had been in Durban . . . "

The problem with Kent's response was, as the Cape Breton Post pointed out, "The government blocked the opposition from attending the UN conference in Durban, South Africa . . . "

The National Post reported: "Trudeau became incensed after Kent suggested that Leslie should have been in Durban for the UN meeting, despite the minister banning all non-government MPs from Canada’s official delegation." As one source put it, "the minister (refused) them seats on the empty government Airbus!"

I think we can all agree Trudeau's angry reaction defending the NDP member was not a parliament-ready response but it does appear on close inspection that he was stating the truth.

Read this from Hansard

Mr. Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, during question period the Minister of the Environment chided the member of Parliament for Halifax for not having attended the conference in Durban after he prevented any members of the opposition from attending in Durban. Therefore, I lost my temper and used language that was most decidedly unparliamentary. For that I unreservedly apologize and I withdraw my remarks.

Hon. Peter Kent (Minister of the Environment, CPC): Mr. Speaker, I too rise on a point of order. I understand that the third party, the Liberal rump, is somewhat out of sorts as this government corrects one of the biggest blunders the previous Liberal government ever made.

    I am not particularly troubled by the unparliamentary language hurled at me by the member of Parliament for Papineau, but I believe he owes this House an abject apology-- 
The Speaker: I believe the hon. member for Papineau just did that.

Read Kent's words carefully. You may come away feeling the Kent uses the approach of a manipulative child feigning to take the high road while carefully hurling insults. In the end, many folk would give Trudeau the nod as the better mannered MP. Trudeau's language was coarse but Kent's words were slimy.

And The Free Press/Sun Media team knows a thing or two about feigning a reaction. In keeping with the we-are-not-amused tone of their story, Trudeau's words were printed by the paper with red-faced, embarrassment. The paper reported than Trudeau called Ken "a piece of s---".

The use of a row of hyphens is out of character for both The London Free Press and the Sun Media chain. A bit of googling shows Sun Media owned papers use the full word, shit, in print and online with regularity. The (Welland) Tribune reported the words of rocker Kim Mitchell without feeling the need to resort to hyphens. They quoted Mitchell: " I don't really give a shit about sales and I don't really give a shit about money . . ."

I even quickly uncovered the offending word in an online post by Free Press columnist James Reaney. Granted Reaney, a class act, ran "language alert" at the top of his post: Raw Power Thought for the Month. He quotes Iggy Pop: "This shit really sizzles . . . "

But I thought that the really interesting story coming out of the house Wednesday was the following.

New Westminster MP Fin Donnelly fed the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans a baited hook and the hon. Keith Ashfield bit. Donnelly asked Ashfield, "Why is the minister bullying DFO employees?"

Ashfield replied, asking rhetorically, "Do I look like a bully?"

Newfoundland MP Ryan Cleary stepped up, set the hook and landed the fish. Mr. Speaker, the answer to the minister's question is, "Yes sir, your department and you, sir, are a bully".

Cleary was smooth, but not smooth enough for the Speaker of the House. He had to apologize. On the other hand, Donnelly had carefully skirted calling Ashfield a bully directly. I do not believe he was required by the Speaker to apologize.

Mr. Ryan Cleary (St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I wish to apologize for using a word that I have been told is unparliamentary. The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans asked a question. He asked this House whether he looked like a bully. I merely answered his question. I would answer the question the same way if he asked it again.
The Speaker: I am afraid that is not an acceptable retraction, so the hon. member may have some difficulty getting recognized until he decides that he may want to respect the House.

The question that started this brouhaha was attempting to examine reckless cuts being made by the minister's department. It was claimed that these cuts were putting fish stocks in jeopardy. Ministry scientists, their jobs on the chopping block, were being bullied in to silence.

These two stories demanded better treatment by The London Free Press and Sun Media. Oh, fuddle-duddle.

If you've got the time, and you haven't already seen the clip, watch the old Peter Kent discussing global warming back in his CBC days. There are reasons the new Peter Kent is losing the respect that the old Peter Kent earned over his years in the public eye.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

"Let's make music, Ga-ga."

The electronic drum kit was clearly superior to the metal cookie tin for music making.

Fiona is now a full 27-months-old. She has discovered drumming. Yesterday she flipped one of her grandmother's cookie tins over and happily pounded the shiny metal. "Let's make music, Ga-ga," she cried. (I'm Ga-ga.)

I recalled I had a small, electronic drum kit in the basement. I set off to find it, telling her I'd be right back. "O.K.," she said with a slight note of disappointment in that tiny little-girl-voice of hers.

Disappointment turned to excited interest when I returned with the kit. I plugged it in at the phone table and Fiona dragged a chair over. She climbed up onto the chair and was ready to "make music." She seemed to instinctively understand that the round tips on the drumsticks were for striking the drums.

Was she good? Let's say Fiona makes music like she draws. She shows the same enthusiasm for drumming that she shows for scribbling with one, big exception. She doesn't seem to realize that her scribbles are just that: scribbles. But with the drums, she immediately noted that her drumming was "noise." Nice call.

All this made me curious; How do toddlers approach music?

According to KidsHealth:

"Music contributes to what experts call "a rich sensory environment." This simply means exposing kids to a wide variety of tastes, smells, textures, colors, and sounds — experiences that can forge more pathways between the cells in their brains.

"These neural connections will help kids in almost every area of school, including reading and math. Just listening to music can make these connections, but the biggest impact on comes if kids actively participate in musical activities.

"Between the ages of 1 and 3, kids respond best to music when they actively experience it. Passive listening (like in the car) is fine, but look for opportunities to get your child rocking, marching, rolling, tapping, clapping, and moving to the beat."

The article notes toddlers won't pick up individual notes but they will experiment with different pitches. I've noted that! Fiona loves to sing songs that she makes up with her voice sliding from high to low and back. At this point, Fiona does not have a clear understanding of rhythm. Thankfully, she does have a clear understanding of noise and tries to keep it down.

Giving an older toddler something to bang — a drum or a xylophone — is a good idea. This encourages the young child to discover and experiment with rhythm. By two or three, simple wind instruments — a recorder, pipe whistle, or kazoo — may be appropriate. The only caveat is ensure the instruments are appropriately sized and shaped for little hands and, most importantly, safe for toddlers. No little parts that can be inhaled and choke a kid.

Fiona's mom is quite musically talented. She won an award at a piano competition as a child. Maybe it's time to start thinking of music classes for Fiona, something simple, short and fun. When I worked at the local paper, The London Free Press, I covered a number of recitals by young musicians being instructed using the Suzuki method.

The Suzuki method has a rich and long history in London, Ontario. According to The Canadian Encyclopedia , in 1969, Herman Dilmore began a Suzuki program at the University of Western Ontario.

"The Suzuki method is a teaching system developed by the Japanese violinist and educator Shinichi Suzuki . . . The essentials of the Suzuki method are an early beginning, parental participation, and rote learning. The children look, listen, and imitate. There are regular private lessons and periodic group lessons. Children as young as two-and-a-half or three years old are accepted without any preselection, and introduced to music one step at a time. It is a highly individualistic method in that no child proceeds to the next step until the previous one has been fully mastered, no matter how long it takes."

Come Monday, I'm contacting the London Suzuki Music Centre. No more noise!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Morgan Adventure

My Morgan Plus 4 with a bed roped to its back.
My Morgan has it easy these days. I'm in my 60s and retired; It's in its 40s and is also taking it easy. But things were different when we were young. Back then both of us were up for anything.

In the spring of 1971 my Morgan and I took our annual spring trip south. Starting when I was 16, I had welcomed spring with a long prowl down the back roads of Kentucky, Tennessee, the Carolinas, Georgia, Arkansas and Alabama. Every year it was the same states, somewhat different roads and completely different adventures.

In 1971 the adventure centred around an iron bed. It was old and a little bent but it had all its parts. It had both the head board and foot board, and the bed spring side supports were still intact. With cast iron ends, these bars could be brittle and often broke in use --- and an old bed has seen a lot of use.

I was in northern Georgia, checking out an antique store in an old wood clad home, when I found the bed. It was thick with green paint but that was good. No rust. It was a simple design but I liked it. I asked the owner of the store what he was asking.

"I reckon about ten dollars," he said.

I bought the bed on the spot. He carried my purchase outside, spotted my car, and thought no way this young man is carrying this bed all the way back to Canada with that little car. But, I found a long plank, had the store owner drill a large hole in the middle and I attached the plank to the back of the Morgan. I then rested the bed on the bumper overriders and tied the bed firmly in place.

I duct taped two short metal plates to the bottom of the legs to protect them from being damaged when the Morgan went over bumps. As it was, each time we hit a bump, sparks shot from the sacrificial metal plates. It was rather spectacular at night.

I made sure I got a receipt for the bed. I didn't want to have to pay duty. The owner of the shop took a slip of paper and had me write that this was a receipt for a ten dollar bed. The fellow took the paper from me and put a large "X" at the bottom. He had made his mark. He didn't know how to write his own name! I wasn't all that surprised. This was the south and I was used to stuff like this.

I had been planning to drive to northern Florida but with a bed tied to the back of my Morgan I decided to change my plans and head north. I would head in a direction vaguely towards home. On April 30th I was in Washington, D.C.

I parked the Morgan and went to the Washington monument, taking the elevator to the top. When I got off the elevator I heard loud beeping and noticed a couple of uniformed policemen checking me out. I must admit that my hair was a bit long; Yes, I once had hair. They politely took me aside and asked to check my bag. They were looking for bombs and their instruments indicated that I had an incredible amount of metal in my canvas bag.

The found camera gear: camera bodies, camera lens, a small tripod. But what they really took an interest in was my 300mm lens which I paired with a 2X converter. The police officers took turns looking at the distant city through my "friggin' telescope."

When I got back to the Morgan I found more police were taking an interest in me. It was the bed this time that caught their eye. I had more than a dozen police cars surrounding my little Plus 4. "What's with the bed, young man?" I was asked.

Soon they were satisfied that I wasn't planning on taking up residence in the park and they turned their interest to the Morgan. A steady stream of officers slid behind the giant Bluemel steering wheel. Some toggled the toggle switches. Some asked to see the engine. All, in the end, smiled. Morgans are like that. They make people smile.

"Boy, do you know what tomorrow is?" "May 1st," I replied.

I soon learned that tomorrow was to be a very special May 1st. Large scale civil disobedience protesting the war in Vietnam was planned for Washington, D.C. There would be mass arrests and maybe a few bashed heads. The police officers told me I'd be wise to get in my little roadster and put a few miles between Washington and me.

My long hair, tattered army jacket and weird car with a bed tied to the back would draw attention and tomorrow would not be a day for friendly chatting. They made it very clear that I might get hurt. I started up my Morgan and waved good-bye to Washington. Dozens of boys in blue waved back.

I motored out of Washington and kept going until I crossed into Pennsylvania.

I still have that bed today. It is now beige and sits in Judy and my guest bedroom in London, Ontario. I think it may need a new mattress. Guests have suggested to me the mattress is beginning to feel as old as the iron bed itself.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

hashtag #heblowsalot

I caught a CNN report on Kansas student, Emma Sullivan, 18, who tweeted: "“Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.” Sullivan tapped out her tweet while she and her high school group, Youth in Government, were listening to Brownback speak on stage.

CNN refused to show the complete tweet on air. The wimps, nasty minded wimps, I might add, blocked out the word "blow" from their report. I'm surprised they left the word "sucked" uncensored. They saw "blows" as having a nasty sexual meaning not fit for broadcast. I may be naive, really, I might be, but the first thing that I thought was that the hashtag meant "he's a blow hard." I translated what followed the comma as "in person he's full of hot air" and not that he's enthusiastic at delivering felatio.

Later I heard the young woman explaining that she had not made her mean comments directly to the governor --- nor did she say that she did. Note the comma. It's important. The comments were made about the governor but "at" saves keystrokes, which is so important in the 140 character Twitter world.

One bit of advice I found on the Internet for dealing with teens and their words was:  If something a teen says upsets you, ask them to elaborate further before blowing up. This means before you explode, uh, explode in anger. One's gotta be careful with the word explode. Some may think it has sexual overtones. Can't have that.

Sullivan's tweet was noted by the governor's staff and the staff contacted the young girl's principal --- a principal who was definitely not the young girl's pal. Her principal turned out to be a principal without principles. Instead of tossing the letter of complaint he confronted the teen and demanded she sit down and write some letters of apology. One must go to the governor, she was told.
Emma Sullivan refused to apo

Sullivan dug in her heels, blowing off the principal's demands. That mean ignoring his demands for those jumping to sordid conclusions.

Sullivan refused to apologize. The governor wisely decided that it was he who would issue the apology in the hope the Twitter fiasco would blow over.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

My Klondike property deed is not worthless to me

My deed is worth a lot in memories. Held together by Scotch Tape, I doubt it has any other value.

My wife wants the basement clean and she's blaming me for the mess. Mess? It's filled with valuable stuff, like this deed for one square inch of land in the Klondike. I found my 56-year-old deed as I was rearranging the basement. I'm operating under the theory that if it's tidy, she'll let me keep my stuff.

If you're wondering about the deed, you are not an early born baby-boomer. It was the winter of 1955 when the Quaker company began one of the most successful advertising campaigns ever. As a tie-in to the Sergeant Preston of the Yukon program which ran on both radio and television, the cereal maker gave away 21 million one-inch square plots in Canada's Yukon Territory.

To get a piece of the land claim action, all a child had to do was coax mom into buying a box of Quaker cereal containing a land deed. 21 million deeds resulted in a lot of action and not just for young buyers of the cereal. The oh-so-legal looking deeds kept Quaker busy for year.

Some people took the campaign a little too seriously. The gathered up thousands of deeds with the goal of creating a large, useful plot of land in the Canadian North. If you're curious about the story, I found the following posted on Yukon Info.


DAWSON, Yukon Territory – Once upon a time there was an advertising executive in a city called Chicago. His job was to make children yell, “Mommy, I want Quaker Puffed Rice!”

For many years, this man told the children his cereal was shot from guns. This helped his sales. But other cereals had talking tigers and gave away prizes in every box. This hurt his sales. What could the poor businessman do?

He needed a new idea. Or else he would need a new job. He had to think of something catchy and simple and it had to do with the cereal’s radio show about a Mountie in the Yukon. Suddenly, the man knew!

In each box of Puffed Rice and Puffed Wheat he would give away a square inch of land in the romantic Yukon right here in Dawson where Sergeant Preston and his trusty dog King had their adventures every week. And so began the Great Klondike Big Inch land Caper, one of the most successful sales promotions in North American business history.

For long after all the rocket rings and plastic submarines arid other cereal-box prizes were lost, millions of those official-looking, legal-sounding, gold-embossed deeds to a square inch of Yukon land remained in drawers, albums, safe deposit boxes, scrapbooks, vaults and, more importantly, in the memory of a generation of men and women not so young anymore.

And given the ravages of the years and the current uncertain economic times, a steadily mounting stream of these former children, their attorneys, their widows and their executors are writing to inquire after their “property,” which they assume has increased in value over all these years.

But, alas, the replies carry sad news. Not only do these people not own the land now. They never did, because each individual deed was never formally registered. The Klondike Big Inch Land Co., an Illinois subsidiary established to handle the cereal’s land affairs, has gone out of business. And anyway, the Canadian government repossessed all the land back in 1965 for nonpayment of $37.20 in property taxes.

But still, the cereal saga won’t die. Thousands of “owners” have written to officials in the Yukon. A vast, sparsely populated area that is one of two of Canada’s northern territories. “Please tell them to stop.” pleaded Cheryl Lefevre. a land-office clerk who stores the Yukon’s files on the matter, files now more than 18 inches thick.

Free Gold Rush LandThe land of course, is still here – Group 2 in lot 243. It is a 19.11-acre plot on the west bank of the Yukon River about three miles upstream from town where, according to crumbling old records in Dawson’s land office, Malcolm McLaren first homesteaded back in 1911.

It is a long way from a suburban Chicago home in 1954, the night before Bruce Baker, the adman was to make his promotional presentation. Before he died three years ago, Baker recounted to a friend his side of the Klondike epic.

Baker was nearly panicked for a new idea, any new idea. When the inspiration came to him, he could almost see the ads: “You’ll actually own one square inch of Yukon land in the famous gold country!”

Quaker Oats hated the idea.

Too many potential legal problems, the lawyers said. It would cost far too much to register every deed to every little cereal-eater out there. Baker suggested, then, that they not register the deeds.
And he found a Yukon lawyer who thought it was legal. Baker flew to the Yukon and, after a harrowing midwinter boat journey, saw the land and bought it for $1,000.

Twenty-one million numbered deeds were printed up. And on Jan. 27, 1955, the promotion was begun on the Sergeant Preston radio show. The response was far beyond Baker’s wildest hopes. Quaker’s puffed cereal plant in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, could hardly stuff the deeds in fast enough. Within weeks, every box was sold.

As time went on, Quaker redirected its cereal sales. “We do zero promotion now,” said Kathy Rand, Quaker’s public relations manager. “because we’re not positioned for kids. The cereals are no sugar, salt or additives, so they’re aimed at babies or the diet conscious.”

In 1965, the 19.11 acres were seized. In 1966, the Klondike Big Inch Land Co. was dissolved. There were always some “owners” writing for information. But it built to a flood more recently, involving Canadian consuls general in the United States, the Yukon and even the prime minister’s office in Ottawa. Steven Spoerl wrote Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau to announce he was declaring the formal independence of his four square inches.

Officials in Ottawa, only slightly amused, send each writer a polite reply telling all correspondents to contact the Quaker Oats Co. in Chicago for details relating to the decades old 'promotional gimmick.' Quaker has the unhappy - and the time consuming - task of telling them that the deeds are worthless, that the Klondike Big Inch Co. no longer exists, and that the Canadian government has taken back the land.

Quaker has been threatened with lawsuits over the matter, and is tired of the time and expense required to answer letters. Quaker executives cringe at the mention of the promotion. John Rourke, the company’s public relations director, claims that they "probably wouldn’t get into such a campaign today because of the legal ramifications."

It’s unlikely, however, that a lawsuit would proceed very far, as the Klondike Big Inch Land Co. has been dissolved and there’s nobody left to sue. In effect, it would be like suing a dead person who has left no assets. That’s the bad news. The good news is that, thanks to the nostalgia boom, a number of memorabilia experts claim the old deeds are now worth as much as $90 each to collectors.

Bruce Baker, the man who started it, takes special delight in pointing out that that makes the deeds worth about twice as much as a share of stock in the Quaker Oats Co. So there you have it. No Klondike property but a nice bit of memorabilia, but occasionally it gets worse.

One American gentleman travelled all over the United States collecting these deeds until he had 10,880. He figured that amounted to about 75 square feet of land and wrote to the Quaker Oats legal department wondering if he could consolidate the different inches into one big chunk. He said he would prefer a piece of land "near the water" and "as quiet an area as possible." Needless to say he was quite perturbed when he learned the story behind the deeds.

“The deeds were not meant to have any intrinsic value,” Quaker says, “but rather to give the consumer the romantic appeal of being the owner of a square inch of land in the Yukon.”

Friday, November 18, 2011

Fuel sipping technology is here

Peugeot 3008 HYbrid4: world's first diesel-electric hybid gets up to 74 mpg.

I have never personally owned a car with anything other than a four cylinder engine. I never saw the need. The reason for the awkward phrasing is that my wife owned a used, six cylinder Chevrolet Lumina once.

An early gas sipper from the '60s.
I have always been offended by gas guzzlers. In the '60s my brother-in-law and I used to compete in fuel economy runs. One year the winning entry was a Renault 4. The driver inflated the tires until they were rock hard to lower rolling resistance, he trimmed the carburetor to burn a leaner fuel mix and when approaching a red light he turned the car off, letting it coast. If the light changed while still coasting, he popped the clutch to restart. With all these gas-saving contortions, his little car came close to hitting the magic 100 miles per gallon number.

When I worked at The London Free Press, I drove a lot for work. I experimented for a time with a compressed natural gas (CNG) powered car. I bought an American-made, compact and converted it to a bi-fuel car burning both natural gas and, at the flick of a switch, unleaded gasoline. When I drove outside of London I found I burned far more gasoline than CNG as there were almost no stations offering natural gas.

The CNG conversion was a disaster. It was the most expensive car I have ever owned. It cost a fortune to keep on the road. Whether or not the conversion caused a lot of the engine problems, I will never know. But GM would not cover the costs as the conversion put the car outside of the warranty. The CNG conversion folk said my problems were not their concern. The problem, they said, was with the GM engineering.

But, I do know the engineering of my early compressed natural gas system was poor. The engine burned through fuel at a phenomenal rate. I could fill the CNG tank in my trunk up to three times a day. And it took forever to fill, well five minutes, but it seemed like forever. And the car always reeked of natural gas.

I wish I had had an emission test done on that engine. My guess is it was emitting a lot of unburnt hydro carbons. I'm convinced it a fuel sucking, world polluting pig.

Today, Honda sells a fine CNG powered Civic but not in Ontario, Canada, where I live. It's no wonder they don't sell them here, almost all the stations that once sold CNG are closed. Here, in London, there is only one station left. There aren't a dozen public refueling stations in the whole province. As the technology has improved, the availability of the fuel has dried up.

Now, I'm retired and suffering from a serious heart condition. My car purchase in late summer may be my last kick at the green-car can. I wanted a Prius but my wife hated, absolutely hated, its look. Oh well, I had some nagging doubts about how green all those batteries would prove to be in the end. I bowed to her wishes and scratched the Prius off my list.

In the end, I settled on the latest Volkswagen Jetta TDI (turbo direct injection diesel). All I can say is, "Wow!" In the almost three months I have been driving the Jetta, my overall fuel consumption has averaged 41.3 mpg. (Those are imperial gallons; That's 34.4 mpg in U.S. gallons.) My most impressive number is 55.1 mpg achieved on a round-trip to Sarnia. It was mostly freeway driving but there was a fair amount of city driving in Sarnia on account of construction closing the freeway.

There was one car on my dream list that I had to drop from consideration early on: The Volvo V60 plug-in hybrid diesel. The car will not be released in Europe until late in 2012, and Volvo has announced that it will never be released in North American. Volvo believes the diesel component of this hybrid would kill United States sales. Pity.

I honestly believe that there are technological answers to North America's propensity to guzzle gas. The NA vehicle fleet gets better mpg today compared to historical numbers, but still, we could do much better.

Unfortunately, technology today costs money and with the economy only sputtering along, missing on a number of cylinders, buying a smooth running, technologically advanced car is not an affordable option for many. My TDI was not cheap. It is thousands more than a plain vanilla Jetta with a small gasoline engine.

The newest Mazda 3, when equipped with an optional Skyactiv-g engine, gets up to 55 mpg in Canada. And to get that great mileage, you will be asked to pay a great price.  Like my Jetta, the top-of-the-line Mazda 3 Skyactiv-g is paired with a new transmission. According to Road and Track, "the 2012 Mazda 3 with the new automatic is 21 percent more efficient that the car it replaces."

The 'g' tacked onto Skyactiv with a hyphen stands for gasoline. I understand that in Europe and in Japan Mazda offers a Skyactiv-d engine with the 'd' standing for diesel. R & T reports: ". . . withing 15 to 18 months, Mazda will have a diesel passenger vehicle on sale here in America. We're betting it's the CX-5 with Skyactiv-D."

If you are curious about my TDI and how it is performing, I'm writing a long term blog about owning a TDI. For more info on diesel vehicles, and hybrids, too, check out the HybridCars site. The U.S. government has a page devoted to diesel-powered cars.

3008 HYbrid4 from Pascal BUSOLIN on Vimeo.

In Europe, Peugeot recently released the 3008 HYbrid4, the world’s first diesel-fueled hybrid, returns up to 74 mpg according to some car reviewers. This car is economical – and four-wheel drive. In winter conditions, it can selectively apply the brake to the wheel with the least amount of grip for better control.

Why is this technology only seen on European roads?

For me, when it comes to delivering high fuel mileage wrapped in an incredibly stylish package, the Volvo V60 plug-in hybrid diesel promises to be the car to drool over. (I've posted a video.) Volvo claims 50 km of in-city-driving in the electric powered mode. I could do most of my driving without burning a drop of fuel! In Europe, although not in North America, hybrid diesels are somewhat common in large, public transit buses.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Doctors discover some patients believed vegetative may be unresponsive but not unaware

These patients are trapped in the limbo of the permanent vegetative state (PVS). Unresponsive to everything around them, they appear totally oblivious to the world. But are they?

A new study, led by researchers from The University of Western Ontario, suggests possibly one in five of these seemingly comatose patients may be, in fact, still conscious of the world around them. A report has been released detailing how doctors in three countries, on two continents, worked together to gain admittance into the isolated world of brain-damaged patients trapped in a faux vegetative state.

To read the whole story, please read my report in the Digital Journal.

Adrian Owen, left, Dir. Melvyn Goodale, Centre for Brain and Mind, Univ. of Western Ont.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Filing cabinets for people

I find many London apartment towers are simply filing cabinets for people. Don't get me wrong, lots of these buildings are fine places to live. I especially like the ones with large, indoor pools. Still, viewed from outside, there is little to see.

I did a post on the apartment complex across from The London Free Press on York Street. I recalled how the Homes section fawned over the concrete towers. I recalled how one reader took the paper to task for not recognizing East Leningrad architecture when confronting it.

With my post I ran a picture of a Leningrad apartment complex proving the reader was wrong; Leningrad architecture clearly trumps those towers. 

Since those York Street towers were built, quite a number of apartment towers have thrust their way into the skies above many London neighbourhoods. Some are more than concrete slabs, but many sport a cookie cutter look. The rule seems to be: Design once, build often.

In London one rarely feels an apartment building was constructed to take advantage of a site. One exception may be the apartment complex overlooking the Thames River on Riverside Drive at Wonderland Road.

Soon one of the most dramatic locations for an apartment building in London will be lost — Reservoir Hill. City staff are preparing geological and slope stability reports as they evaluate the site plan.

If the past is any indication, do not expect to be wowed. I live in southwest London and when I read the piece in the local paper calling the the Wonderland Road South commercial corridor a welcoming gateway into London, I groaned. 

I drive that stretch of road and it is neat and tidy with lots of box stores. It is reminiscent of suburban developments right across North America.

The paper talked of gateway apartment buildings for the area. This rang bells in my memory banks. Mississauga held a competition for a gateway apartment tower. I found a picture of the winner.

So, what will be built on Reservoir Hill? What beautiful structure will grace that historic site? Do you really believe the new tower will bring delight with sculptural creativity?

Check the following apartments from around the world.

Living Foz


Turning Torso

VM Apartments

Monday, October 31, 2011

Perspective on a world of 7 Billion

The graphics were designed for a world of only 6.9 billion, not the 7 billion we have now, but I think the point is still valid.

North American urban sprawl is a criminal way to use Space Ship Earth.

For more interesting stuff on cities, population densities, etc., check Per Square Mile.

Links to ghost towns for Halloween

Today is Halloween and a fine time for checking out ghost towns around the world. One my favorites is the San-Zhi pod resort in Taiwan. Check it out.

If you find this interesting check out my other link. It will take you to an article on the 10 most amazing ghost towns on earth.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Art, craft and serendipity

I've discussed this in the past: art. When I was attending art school, I came to believe that art was the creative aspect of a work and craft was the skill that it took to produce the work.

I've know painters who worked for a month or more on a piece only to paint it over. The creativity and skill just didn't gel. This might not have been obvious to the observer; An onlooker doesn't know what the artist intended but failed to createbut, the artist knows. The flawed piece might look awfully good and still be a big disappointment to the artist.

Photography is no different. The photographer sees a scene, like the one featured today, and sees light and dark, highlight and shadow, the push-pull of colour on the picture plane and the contrasting juxtapositon of texture, form and direction and even mood. Like painters, photographers do their best to get all the elements in the image working together to make the desired statement. And, like painters they sometimes fail.

The first thing that attracted my eye to this image was not the colour but the soft, falling branches of the weeping willow in the background. Those branches were the perfect foil for the bright fall foliage in the foreground. The bits of blue sky were an added bonus. The strong shadows and sweeping slopes of the small rises gave the image a strong base on which to build.

I wandered about hunting for the right angle and I had to wait for the sun return from behind some clouds to get the strong, directional lighting that attracted me originally. Pictures, even simple pictures, often just don't happen. They are created.

There's a lot to think about when shooting a picture. This image pulled together nicely. It took only a little cropping to arrive at the final result shown at the top of this post. Having a clear idea of what was wanted helped. Having a number of different interpretations of the vision (a number of pictures from different angles) also helped. And in the end, having a little serendipity on my side also helped.

Do you really think that painters, or sculptures, and other traditional artists don't also benefit from a little serendipity?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Thank you Brian Lilley

I've been following the battle between Quebecor/Sun Media and the CBC for some time but I hadn't formed an opinion on the positions of either media combatant until today. Today I read Brian Lilley's piece, "CBC starting to feel heat at its feet."

Lilley made me aware that the CBC was now aggressively fighting back against the angry claims of Quebecor/Sun Media, which feel that the Canadian broadcaster, with its government backing, has an unfair advantage when competing in the world of network television.

My curiosity piqued, I began googling about the Web. I found lots of posted pages claiming that Quebecor/Sun Media is a media hog slopping back funds from the taxpayer trough. Allow me to quote just one, this one from Macleans:

"In 2010, Quebecor President Pierre-Karl Péladeau threatened to sue the Canadian Media Fund when it refused to pony up money for TVA’s Star Académie, our very own version of American Idol that is, in Péladeau’s words, “the biggest success in the history of Canadian broadcasting."

"Now why would the biggest success in Canadian broadcasting history need even one cent of taxpayer money? Sounds like the kind of hard biting question for Sun News, doesn’t it?"

Thanks Brian Lilley. Without your encouragement, I never would have read the stuff I stumbled upon. If just a fraction of the stuff I read was accurate, man, is Quebecor/Sun Media ever living up to its nickname of Faux News North.

Thanks again, Brian.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

It's hard to be against urban renewal . . .

Urban renewal, urban revitalization, whatever you call it, it is hard to come out against it. It just sounds so awfully good. You've got an area of the city, often the old "heart" of the city, the downtown core, that has fared poorly over the passing years. Buildings are in disrepair, businesses have deserted the area and crime, it is believed, has move in.

I'm retired and at my age I've lived through a lot of fine sounding, filled-with-promise, urban renewal schemes. Some I liked at the time and others had a false ring right from inception. A great many failed. My gut feeling it that the majority of urban renewal schemes fail but I can't say that for sure.

One thing that many of the urban renewal schemes share is cost; they are expensive. And many dip deeply into the public pocket to cover the cost. Like I said, I'm retired. I'm on a fixed income and anything that threatens to put my annual budget out of whack draws my attention and my ire.

Since moving to London, Ontario, I have felt that the city has been on a perpetual urban renewal binge. It hasn't always been the downtown core that has been the focus but there has always been a focus. A few decades ago East Of Adelaide (EOA) drew a lot of the attention. Do you recall when Dundas Street immediately east of Adelaide was ripped up and rebuilt as a wavy stretch of asphalt. Today we have a name for a stunt like this: Traffic calming.

That curving of Dundas St. cost the better part of a million bucks and it did anything but calm the neighbourhood. The area was in decline, that is why it was built. But that roadway became a focal point for the disaster that was the old EOA business district. In the end, the snaking roadway was ripped up and straightened. The cost approached a million bucks, again.

I could never see the connection between a wavy street and a successful department store, but the owner of Hudson's department store was a big believer in the curved street. Hudson's folded. The traffic may have been calmed; It slowed but it didn't stop --- at least not at Hudson's.

Today there is talk about putting in traffic calming measures in the downtown core. The city is examining the possibility of putting in what they are calling, incorrectly I believe, a Danish woonerf. London's not Denmark. I'm not going to say it wouldn't work. But, I'm not going to say that it will either.

The proposed woonerf has something in common with the former Galleria London, now Citi Plaza, popularity among a certain segment of city planners. But not all city planners are enamoured with woonerfs and pedestrian malls.

Randal O'Toole, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, and authof of "The Best-Laid Plans: How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Your Pocketbook and Your Future,"  wrote in The New York Times:

In 1959, Kalamazoo, Mich., tried to help its downtown compete with suburban shopping malls by closing a street to auto traffic and turning it into a pedestrian mall. Over the next 30 years, more than 200 American and Canadian cities created similar malls.

Far from helping retail districts, most of these pedestrian malls killed them. Vacancy rates soared, and any pedestrians using the malls found themselves walking among boarded up shops or former department stores that had been downgraded to thrift shops or other low-rent operations.

Despite these failures, cities continued to create pedestrian malls 25 years after Kalamazoo’s initial experiment. In 1984, Buffalo closed 10 blocks of its Main Street to automobiles only to see its vacancy rates increase by 27 percent and property values decline by 48 percent.

Eventually, most of these cities, including Kalamazoo, reopened streets to auto traffic. Today few pedestrian malls remain, and the handful that could be considered successful are in college towns and resort areas.

I'd bet the sales pitches for all the failed pedestrian malls shared one thing, beautiful artist's conceptions filled with dreams.

Which brings me to the pitch for urban renewal in London. It may be hard to be against urban renewal but it is easy to distrust the artist's drawings depicting life in the reborn city core.

The dramatic Gateway Bridge is in the drawings but not in the plans.

One repeating visual motif in the urban renewal drawings it the new Gateway Bridge. It is a striking structure with a soaring, arching support and stainless steel cables dramatically holding the roadway above the forks of the Thames. It's nice --- a bit of a visual cliche, but it's nice. It is also not in the plans. I asked. It is just in the drawings as eye candy.

So, if we cannot trust the drawings, can we trust the other bumph accompanying much of the urban renewal campaign? This is a campaign clearly designed to get London taxpayers on board.

To a certain extent, I hope we can't trust them. The artist's conception of the SoHo development is, to my eye, boring. London can do better than tall apartment towers, much like the towers that presently dot the city.

We need more imagination. Maybe we could take some inspiration from Steve Jobs and his plans for a new Apple corporate headquarters.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Some question Hamilton demolition

A relief on the Hamilton-Wentworth district board of education building
The London Free Press features a couple of stories today on what two other communities, somewhat near London, are doing to revitalize their ailing downtown cores. Hamilton is stepping up to the plate with $20 million to show concrete support for the proposed McMaster Health Campus. When all the other municipal incentives are factored in, Hamilton may be on the hook for about $85 million in total.

This is good according to The Free Press and I can't argue there. I just don't have enough details. But there are Hamiltonians who are ready to go to battle against the proposal as it now stands. I was surprised to not see one word in The Free Press report on this opposing viewpoint.

The opponents have posted the following video and are working fervently to marshal support to save the building presently on the site. The opponents see the development as a win/lose proposition. They don't understand why the Steel City cannot shift the focus for the facility to some vacant land or, at the very least, towards the destruction of an undesirable, derelict building rather than demolish a perfectly good structure. This is win a new building and lose a good, older building. "Why is this necessary?" they ask.

Link to the Facebook site dedicated to the preservation of the Hamilton-Wentworth district board of education building.

Save The Board of Education Building - Please Share from Matt Jelly on Vimeo.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Kevin O'Leary: More Myth than Magic

Some months after posting my take on Kevin O'Leary, the Globe and Mail ran an O'Leary story. Here is a link: Kevin O'Leary: He's not a billionaire, he just plays one on TV.

For the O'Leary story, the Globe disabled comments. The editor explained:

Comments have been closed on this story because an overwhelming number of readers were making offensive statements about other commentators and/or the individual or individuals mentioned in the story. . . . and so the comment function has been turned off.

Time magazine also ran a piece on O'Leary. Here is a link: No business whiz.

Time said:

Over the years, O'Leary has often been an outspoken critic of fund managers who underperform the market. . . . (O'Leary has been quoted saying:) "There are a lot of idiot fund managers out there who add no value to the process at all." If O'Leary doesn't turn things around at his funds, he can add one more manager to his list.

And now for my take on the O'Leary story. 


Is Kevin O'Leary a successful capitalist? The short answer is yes; Kevin O'Leary is a successful pulled-himself-up-by-the-bootstraps capitalist. But is he a successful capitalist by the standards O'Leary himself has set? The short answer here may also be yes; Google "StorageNow."

On the other hand, the long answer appears to be no. A Google search to confirm the no answer is more complex but is well worth doing.

Recently, O'Leary had an on-air altercation with a guest on his CBC program. He called an American journalist, Chris Hedges, a "nutbar." For this he had his wrists slapped by the CBC Ombudsman: "O’Leary . . . breached policy.” The Ombudsman, Kirk LaPointe, went on to reveal that CBC News issued a private apology to Mr. Hedges after the interview. LaPointe said it would have been better if the apology had been made publicly on-air.

During the interview Hedges tells O'Leary, "Corporations don't produce anything." O'Leary responds, "Oh really?" Hedges continues: "They are speculators. I'm talking about the financial institutions like Goldman Sachs. They don't manufacture. They don't make anything. They gamble. . . "

There are those who would argue that O'Leary, as bright and as successful as he is, has been at times more gambler than entrepreneur, more promoter than producer — and at times, a destroyer rather than creator of jobs. 

It's interesting where a Google inquiry leads when one starts asking the search engine about O'Leary. One quickly learns that there may be more myth than magic in the story of the self-made billionaire. For instance, he isn't a billionaire. And he may NOT have run a successful software business. It all depends on how you define successful.

According to a fine article in Canadian Business by Joe Castaldo on O'Leary, his SoftKey software business, renamed The Learning Company (TLC) after taking over of a competitor carrying that name, was a money losing concern at times.

While TLC grossed US$839 million in 1998, it lost $105 million. It recorded losses the two previous years as well. . . . "That's not true," O'Leary told Castaldo. "The company was profitable when sold to Mattel. Who said it wasn't profitable?" Castaldo read him the earnings taken from the company's annual reports, and O'Leary asked to see the reporter's notes. "You know, I gotta check. This doesn't look right to me," he said. After another moment of scrutiny, he tossed the notes back on the table. "Those were public numbers, so whatever they were, they were," he concluded.

O'Leary holds to his position that his company was a solid performer. According to Castaldo, long-time software executive Bernard Stolar, brought in by Mattel to turn around the new division, disagrees. "It [TLC] was in horrible condition." Stolar believes the acquisition spree was solely to add revenue. "They didn't even care if they were losing money or not."

Mattel's dismal bottom line was exacerbated by a shocking US$105-million loss in the TLC division. Mattel's stock crashed, wiping out US$3 billion of shareholder value in one day. Though O'Leary had signed a contract to stay with Mattel for three years, six months after the deal closed, he was gone. He left with more than US $5 million in severance.

During the interview for Canadian Business, the bravado left O'Leary's face just once. It was when he recounted how the outcome affected his employees. "I feel like I let them down," he said. "They'd worked so hard." But, the sentimental tone didn't last long, Castaldo writes: "That's the thing about business. It's very Darwinian," explains O'Leary.

It's survival of the fittest and O'Leary emerged very fit from the TLC fiasco. His fall was cushioned by a $5.2 million golden parachute. As I write this, O'Leary is serving on the executive board of the Richard Ivey School of Business at The University of Western Ontario and he is the chair of the investment committee of Boston’s 107-year old Hamilton Trust. Yes, he is surviving very well.

TLC Chairman Michael Perik, like O'Leary, also took home a U.S. $5.2 severance package. From a brief reading of my Google hits, it seems Perik has returned to the education software business and is now heading Princeton Review, a provider of test preparation and related education services. There are signs the same stresses that threatened SoftKey and TLC have also put Princeton Review under stress.

Jill Barad, the CEO at the helm of Mattel when the toy company completed one of the worst acquisitions in corporate history lost her job, that should come as no surprise, but she still did O.K. The following is from The Last Male Bastion by Douglas Routledge:

The Mattel board was generous to its fallen CEO. She would pay $1 for her limousine, office furnishings, and 52-doll Barbie collection. She would receive a $50 million severance, including a $598,000 yearly pension, and forgiveness of a $3 million loan. She left Mattel with shares worth $22 million selling at the time at all-time low levels.

There are lots of other names and connections that pop up when one googles the Kevin O'Leary SoftKey story. Although each story is different, there are a couple of common threads running through many of the stories. First, many would argue that these executives were grossly over-compensated when compared to historic rates and to remuneration available in other countries. Second, these executives were not always job creators; they often destroyed jobs, ruining lives.

For instance, after the take-over of Tyco by Mattel, Barad eliminated 2,700 jobs, nearly 10 percent of the combined workforce. A quiet, thoughtful discussion between O'Leary and Hedges on the matter of job creation and role played by large corporations could have made excellent television. Much better than the fiasco that was presented. 

I'd love to watch a rematch between Kevin O'Leary and Chris Hedges. I'm sure Hedges would be prepared. He'd do his research. He might confront O'Leary with some hard truths, and among those truths might be the fact that it is not only American bankers who bleed the capitalist system.

Let's leave this story with these paragraphs from The Last Male Bastion:
[The new Mattel] CEO Robert Eckert, former president of Kraft Foods, wasted no time. He closed Mattel’s Murray, Kentucky, manufacturing facility. Mattel then would manufacture every toy outside of the United States, in China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Mexico.

He quickly put TLC on the sales block, hoping to get as much as one-third of the $3.5 billion Mattel had invested. The divestiture proved to be as big a debacle as the acquisition. Mattel would sell The Learning Company to Gores Technology Group, a closely held Los Angeles “vulture” group specializing in fallen technology companies. Mattel would receive no cash, the purchase price being a share of future TLC earnings, if any. Moreover, Mattel would have to pay off TLC’s $500 million in debt, delivering a debt-free asset to Gores Technology. 

During its brief ownership of TLC, Mattel had absorbed a further $500 million in losses. With the announcement of the sale, Mattel cut its annual dividend from 36 to 5 cents a share, saving $130 million per year. Analysts agree that Mattel’s acquisition of TLC, which cost out of pocket $4.3 billion and resulted in the loss by Mattel of two-thirds of its market capitalization, may have been the biggest “dumb acquisition” of all time.