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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Detroit: Send a poet, not a reporter

The Michigan Central Station is a sad reminder of  Detroit's former glory.

Detroit — It wasn't so many years ago that Detroiters called their booming town "The Third City." They proudly bragged that when American cities were listed in order of greatness Detroit had a firm hold on third place after New York and Second City (Chicago). And those Detroiters would have been right. Back then Detroit was also known as "the Paris of the Midwest". But that was then and this is now.

It is all too sad. And, for me, it's an eye-opener. As a child I wondered how the Roman Empire, so big and so powerful, could collapse so quickly and so completely. It was unfathomable. From my perspective, so many centuries after the fact, it seemed to have happened almost overnight.

Today I have the answer. The urban fabric is fragile. For proof, I simply look at Detroit. It was the perfect city of my youth. It offered something for everyone. It was, in the words of today's city planners, one big example of placemaking.

An abandoned dental office in Detroit.
What makes Detroit stand out is the utter collapse of its economic underpinnings. Proud buildings were abandoned essentially over night, and with no money to demolish them they were left to slowly decay.

Along with the economic collapse, there was a vast upheaval in the social fabric of Detroit itself. As jobs left, the upper and middle class left. Poverty and the problems associated with poverty became the blight.

Detroit neighborhoods suffering from the blight rotted and died. And the blight was infectious; It spread into adjacent neighbourhoods. Hardly a neighbourhood was spared.

On the 25th anniversary of the Detroit riots, The London Free Press sent a reporter and me to Motown to discover what had changed with the passing of two and half decades. The reporter didn't have a feel for the Detroit of the past. He didn't share my sense of loss. It was an assignment for a poet and not a reporter. He missed the story.

I took this shot back in the mid '60s in Detroit.

Please take a look at the posted pictures from a new book, The Ruins of Detroit. Read about the authors in this The New York Times post. The accompanying NYT slide show is good but it duplicates some of the shots from the first link. Or read Ruin with a View, a NYT review of two books examining the collapse of a Detroit: The Ruins of Detroit and Detroit Disassembled.

Quoting the last paragraph of the NYT review:

"Ruins are a loaded subject, one that puts metaphor within easy reach. Marchand and Meffre show us a flag lying on the floor of a deserted church. The images here constitute a requiem for an American empire in a state of precipitous decline. Both books feature the same clock on a classroom wall, its frozen hands and melted face right out of a Dalí painting — as if time in Detroit had ticked to a halt, distorted, when in fact, with our gridlocked government and blind faith in our own exceptionalism, time is passing us by."
London train station build in1886-7 and demolished in 1937.

Truth be told, most of us don't have to look as far as Detroit to see the fragility of our civilized world. We only have to look at our own cities and towns. Try to recall what has been ripped from your city's fabric over the years. I warn you this can be tricky; We have very short collective memories.

Documenting my own city's disappearing heritage is far harder than documenting Detroit's. In some ways it is even harder than documenting the losses suffered by ancient Rome. In London, Ontario, we tear down and replace and then tear down again. The station pictured above stood at the south-east corner of Clarence and Bathurst Streets and was designed by F. H. Spier, a famous Detroit architect. It was demolished in the '30s.

Waiting room of '37 station
After the loss of this little jewel, CNR built a passenger station nearby in 1937. The new station had "broad landscaped station grounds extending from Clarence to Richmond streets. It has a semi-circular concrete driveway and walkway approach to the main entrance. It has shrub-topped terraces . . . "

This new jewel didn't last three decades. It was replaced by a couple of structures, one being the 10 storey CN Tower Building, which has now also been demolished.

Today London has a new station, and it has already undergone changes since its opening. Few remember the now gone food counter which graced the new station on its opening, even fewer recall the rich history of prior railroad stations. I doubt many passengers realize the underground route to the VIA trains is a last, lingering memory of the long gone '37 station.

On the bright side, the newest London station, although possibly influenced by fast food restaurant design, is a better train station than many found in Canadian cities.

One last note: This post sat queued, forgotten and unposted for many weeks. I have to thank a Montreal reader for jogging my memory. This reader sent me a link to the Quebec blog Ma Revue. Many of the photos of Detroit shown in that Ma Revue post are ones I had linked to earlier. Thank you D.N.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Deadlines in the 140 character world

While reading The New York Times op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd, I thought about the similar constraints affecting newspaper writers, Twitter posters and Internet bloggers. All face the constraints of time and space.

With the Internet there is a great push to get it, whatever it is, out there immediately. There is a rush to publish. Newspapers suffer from this same pressure. Newspapers have even given this rush to publish a name: The deadline. Putting out a paper is no different than putting out any other product from a highly automated plant. To deliver the product on time, in this case the newspaper, one must meet deadlines.

Dowd quotes Nicholas Carr, author of “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.” Carr claims technology amplifies everything, good instincts and base. While technology is amoral, he says, our brains may be rewired in disturbing ways.

“Researchers say that we need to be quiet and attentive if we want to tap into our deeper emotions,” he said. “If we’re constantly interrupted and distracted, we kind of short-circuit our empathy. If you dampen empathy and you encourage the immediate expression of whatever is in your mind, you get a lot of nastiness that wouldn’t have occurred before.” 

One would never describe newsrooms as quiet spots of gentle contemplation. The best newsrooms are high energy places, pressure-cookers for ideas. Dump ideas in, turn up the heat, and serve almost immediately. The results may not be perfect but the system is fast and what is served, the daily news, is amazingly "nutritious" for a "fast food."

Now add the constraint of space to the constraint of time and you have the ingredients for a serious problem. If you have every found yourself hamstrung by the 140 character limit imposed by Twitter, you have gained a small insight into the problem newspaper writers face daily.

On returning from a story a reporter may be told, "Quick. We're ten minutes from deadline. Give me seven inches. Maybe we can expand your story for City." (But reporters know that editors can only redo a limited number of pages for City. If the other pages are more important, the original seven inches will be it. So, reporters must do the best job they can in eight minutes. A few minutes must be left for editing and placing the copy on the page before being released to the back shop.)

I often hear folk talking about the 24-hour news cycle. Just last night I had a guest for dinner who works in the media industry and he blamed the 24-hour news cycle for a lot of the problems facing the industry today. Maybe, maybe not.

He also said how once something is up on the Internet is there forever. Maybe, maybe not. When I left The Free Press I started a blog that I soon took down and it is gone. Not even I can bring it back. It has vanished from the blogosphere.

Today newspapers should enjoy a 24-hour addition and correction cycle. Deadlines should be dead. Post just the minimum and then "Think." The Internet is always open to revision.

Unfortunately, many newspapers have not realized this fact and once they post something, even if it later proves to be balderdash, they feel they are stuck with it. They aren't. Newspapers can keep a record of changes made to a story, and I suggest this is a good idea. But truth and accuracy should have a path to the top.

As for the uncalled for nastiness that sometimes creeps into copy, enabled by too little time spent thinking and before speaking, maybe the years of meeting deadlines have rewired the brains of newsroom folk. Maybe its time for some new wiring, some new thinking, in the newsroom.

Dowd ended her piece:

"Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic, recalled that when he started his online book review he forbade comments, wary of high-tech sociopaths.

" 'I’m not interested in having the sewer appear on my site,' he said. 'Why would I engage with people digitally whom I would never engage with actually? Why does the technology exonerate the kind of foul expression that you would not tolerate anywhere else?' "

When it comes to my newspaper, I am sometimes appalled by the nastiness I find there. Why would I engage with people over my breakfast table who voice the kind of foul, angry expression that I would not entertain anywhere else?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Who is Eric Duhaime, freelance editorial writer for The London Free Press?

Today's Free Press carries an editorial on the Comment page: "Right-wingers aren't the scary ones." It was written for the paper by freelancer Eric Duhaime.

I've been suspicious of right wing-left wing labeling since watching Mort Sahl on the family black and white television decades ago. I sat transfixed, sitting on our patterned faux carpet, it was actually linoleum, while watching Sahl explain and clarify the right-left political divide using his trademarked blackboard.

Saul would quickly scribble a name above a line representing the political continuum, placing the name to the left or right of centre as demanded by the person's stated political beliefs. As I recall, the simple exercise soon expanded past the boundaries of the original blackboard and two more boards were brought on stage to handle the overflow. (Maybe Glenn Beck could be hit for copyright infringement.)

In the end, the names written on the far left and far right of the original board appeared more central after the addition of the two extra blackboards, one to the right and one to the left of the original board.

To add to the chaos, as Sahl recalled more statements from well known politicians he would erase their names and reposition them. Sometimes Sahl found it impossible to simply place a person on one point on his line. For these folk Sahl wrote their names on the political continuum line in several places. On this issue they were right but on this one left and on this one they were really on the extreme right.

I decided to google Eric Duhaime.

I discovered that Eric Duhaime is not a Londoner. He's a Montreal-based writer. The Toronto Star says "Duhaime is currently a political consultant and columnist for Quebecor’s papers." I wondered why The Free Press didn't say so.

If you are interested in knowing more about Eric Duhaime, here is a link to the Toronto Star article:
Quebec's 'Tea Party" is born

I also found an attack on Duhaime, but it is way more personal than I like. Still, I found one line in the post on Sister Sage's Musings that made me think. I had read: "Eric, in your right winged world, folks are supposed to work for a living, but it helps if there are actual jobs; companies that are hiring."

This brought to mind the more than 250 workers at Le Journal de Montreal who are now well into their second year of a lockout at the hands of the media giant Quebecor that controls The London Free Press

I thought how the largest French language newspaper in North America has been published for the past two years in what many argue is in defiance of the Quebec labour laws in order to maintain a lockout. I understand many in Quebec see Quebecor's use of its QMI news organization as an end run around labour laws written decades ago, before the birth of the Internet.

Click on image to enlarge and view.
If this sounds like a big story, it's not. Or at least, it is not a big story in the eyes of The London Free Press. The Le Journal de Montreal story has gone almost totally unreported in my local paper. I can't help but wonder if this story is dead because of its negative Quebecor connection.

If interested, you can read a recent article in The Montreal Gazette: Péladeau would welcome Labour Code changes to trim union power.

Now, what was it that Duhaime was saying about right-wingers not being the scary ones?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Free Press not accepting any blame for fluoride controversy

One angle to the present fluoridation controversy missing in the recent Patrick Maloney and Ian Gillespie articles is the part played by what is now called the Main Street Media in this whole messy argument.

There are people who  fear fluoride because they get very mixed messages from the media about fluoridation's value and it's dangers. These concerned readers don't have to look farther than the pages of Sun Media and the QMI news group.

According to Canoe health expert and Sun Media columnist Dr. Gifford-Jones, the fluoridation of water is useless and fluoride toothpaste is a dangerous biological poison. This newspaper columnist said in a Quebecor Media distributed story that several studies involving as many as 480,000 children found fluoride provided no protection against tooth decay.

Gifford-Jones even went so far as to raise the spectre of childhood death in his column. He claimed a 3-year-old died after swallowing fluoride at a dental office.

Gifford-Jones argues many European countries do not fluoridate their water and yet have have rates for dental carries that are comparable to ours. He fails to mention that many large European countries fluoridate salt and milk.

Click on image to read.
I'm posting the whole article here as I sometimes find links to Free Press stuff broken. Please click on the image to enlarge. Once enlarged you may have to click on it once again to make legible.

Some of those opposed to fluoridation are extreme; No doubt. But many others are simply people old enough to remember lots of half researched stories in the media which were written in support of stuff that later proved to be bunkum.

If you believe in fluoridation, then you accept the arguments for putting fluoride in tap water. If you are concerned, often the answers do not seem so convincing — especially as the answers keep changing.

According to online information which I downloaded just today and published by the Ontario Dental Association, the maximum acceptable concentration of fluoride in the United States is 4 ppm and in Canada 1.5 ppm. This huge divergence of opinion as to what is safe causes concern in those opposed to fluoridation. (Many would argue that the ODA is wrong, and way on the high side, when they claim 4 ppm is acceptable in the U.S.)

Last month the EPA in the States, along with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), lowered the recommended maximum acceptable level for fluoride in tap water to .7 ppm.

The joint HHS/EPA announcement only fanned the flames of doubt in the fluoridation opposition by stating: "The new EPA assessments of fluoride were undertaken in response to findings of the National Academies of Science (NAS)" in order to avoid the unwanted health effects from too much fluoride.

Moves such as this make fluoride opponents worry that adding fluoride to our water may be a decades old practice but it is still not one that is totally understood. For them this is not good enough.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

On giving your head a shake

There are those who believe I don't like newspapers because I often blog on published stuff that I see as downright shoddy. Those folk are wrong.

Recently a columnist for The London Free Press mocking those who use the Internet as a research tool wrote, "if you do more Internet 'research', you'll also discover 'experts'. . ." With less than 10 words and four quotation marks Ian Gillespie mounted a full frontal attack on the perceived foe of the newspaper industry: The Internet. With those quotation marks he questioned the validity of Internet research and the knowledge of those experts found on the Internet — at least the research and experts not in agreement with the clearly well thought out views of reporter Gillespie.

And what is the source of a lot of the information on the Internet? Newspapers. And who are the experts being quoted? Newspaper writers. And because of the way the Internet works, it is not uncommon for the ideas expressed by newspaper writers to be picked up, repackaged and republished online by someone else who may not properly credit the source, but that is a whole other post.

Years ago newspapers flogged what was fanned into a major story: UFFI (urea formaldehyde foam insulation.) I covered a lot of UFFI stories at the time and took a bigger than usual interest in the stories as I had had UFFI blown into the exterior walls of my home.

The media — newspapers, television, magazines — all got the story wrong. They also got the story right. But the correct story was buried in the back pages of papers or hidden in articles in the Home sections of newspapers. (If any reporter wants to argue this point, I still have some of hard copy from those days. Some day I may blog on the UFFI story and run pictures backing up my position.)

One reason why the UFFI story was, and still is, so poorly reported is that papers do not pay enough attention to what is in the newspaper. The well-known investigative journalist I.F. Stone knew this. He broke some very big stories not by having WikiLeaks style informers but by simply reading daily papers very carefully with an eye for the details being missed by what is now called the Main Stream Media (MSM.)

Back in the early '70s I worked at a small, northern Ontario newspaper, the family-owned Sault Daily Star (now called  just the Sault Star.) That little paper had a newsroom of more than 50 editorial employees. Today, thanks to massive cutbacks endured under the ownership of both Sun Media and Quebecor, the mighty London Free Press has a newsroom about the size of the Sault Star's from 40 years ago.

Newspapers are bit full of themselves — puffed up with self-importance. But this is to be expected. How could they function if they didn't have almost unbridled confidence? And, to some extent, their big egos are not misplaced. Newspaper folk, including Ian Gillespie, are awfully bright people.

But sometimes they are blinded by their very own brightness. This is why it is so important to have lots of folk, especially thoughtful editors, working in a newsroom. The Free Press, like so many papers, has slashed the number of editors.

Ian advised those who disagreed with him on fluoridation to "C’mon folks. Give your head a shake." This is what good, feisty editors do to reporters. They give cocky reporters a head-shaking.

A solid library staff is also a prerequisite for a good newsroom. The once incredible Free Press library is now just a memory; It's functions now handled out of Toronto.

Ironically, when Ian Gillespie needs to do some research, he must use the Internet.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

An open Letter to the Editor of The London Free Press, a Sun Media newspaper

This is an open Letter to the Editor of The London Free Press.

Click on image to enlarge.
According to Canoe health expert and Sun Media columnist Dr. Gifford-Jones, the fluoridation of water is useless and fluoride toothpaste is a dangerous biological poison. This newspaper columnist went on to say in a Quebecor Media story that several studies involving as many as 480,000 children found fluoride provided no protection against tooth decay.

The QMI "expert" even raised the spectre of childhood death in his attack on fluoridation. I wrote expert in quotation marks to indicate my disdain just as Ian Gillespie did to indicate his disdain for some supposed "experts" in his recent column.

It is time for Gillespie to take his own advice and give his head a shake. The Free Press columnist need not look to the Internet for "ignorant fear-mongering at its worst." I think it is clear from the above that he can find it in the pages of his own news operation — Quebecor Media Inc.

The beauty of the Internet is the free flow of ideas and information. If you can't get a letter to the editor published, post it.

Use enough hooks and someone using Google, or another search engine, will stumble upon your letter. Also put links to your Facebook page and Twitter account in your post. If you get enough hits your blog post will gain importance and may appear near the top of the list returned by a search engine query.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Ian Gillespie asks, "What next? Fluoride killing polar bears?" According to The Free Press, the answer may be young children.

Aiming his well-known wit at the anti-fluoridation folk, Gillespie misses mark.
A recent opinion piece by The London Free Press journalist  Ian Gillespie has further muddied the already murky fluoridated waters.

I was very disappointed by his ad hominem attacks on those with whom he disagrees. Instead of using facts to disprove the anti-fluoride position, Gillespie attacked those holding those beliefs. He painted them as crazy conspiracy believers. And in cases where his opponents based their arguments on expert opinions, Gillespie ridicules those experts as well.

Ian mocks London city councillor Denise Brown for suggesting to The Free Press, "If you do any research on the Internet, you’ll find scientists believe there are health risks.”

Click to enlarge.
Ian's witty retort: "And if you do more Internet 'research,' you’ll also discover 'experts' who argue that aliens hijacked the Voyager 2 spacecraft, Paul McCartney died in a 1966 car crash, Elvis Presley is alive and the Apollo moon landing was a hoax."

And if you, Ian Gillespie, do more research you will find the following published by Sun Media, written by Canoe health expert and columnist Dr. Gifford-Jones, and found on The London Free Press Internet site:

"It's shocking that 25% of North Americans over age 43, and 42% of those over 65 years of age, have no teeth!

"(The doctor featured in the article carried by The Free Press) Dr. Judd also believes that the fluoridation of water and the use of fluoride toothpaste is a useless, dangerous biological poison. He says calcium fluoride seeps into enamel, making it weak and brittle, destroying 83 enzymes along with adenosine diphosphatase.

"I couldn't agree more. (Dr. Gifford-Jones writes.) Look at the warning on fluoride toothpaste. Parents are told to watch children under six years of age while they brush their teeth. To be safe, only a tiny amount of toothpaste is used, and none should be swallowed. That should tell you something! In 1974, a three-year old child had fluoride gel placed on his teeth. The hygienist handed him a glass of water but rather than rising out his mouth, he drank it. A few hours later, he was dead.

"If fluoride toothpaste is the answer to dental decay, why is it that 98% of Europe is fluoride-free? Sweden, Germany, Norway, Holland, Denmark and France stopped using fluoridation 29 years ago. These are not backward, depressed nations.

"The sole argument for fluoridation is that it reduces tooth decay. But several studies involving as many as 480,000 children found no beneficial evidence between fluoridated and non-fluoridated communities.

"Dr. Hardy Limeback, Professor of Dentistry at the University of Toronto, says children under three should never use fluoridated toothpaste or drink fluoridated water, and mothers should never use Toronto tap water to prepare baby formula."

I want to go on record as saying I am not frightened by the amount of fluoride being put into London's water. I believe dangerous concentrations of fluoride are only found in drinking waters contaminated with unregulated, naturally occurring fluorides. London is very conservative when it comes to the amount of fluoride added to our drinking water.

But many people are concerned. As long as papers, such as The London Free Press, are telling them a young child died from a fluoride treatment, some folk will use bottled water rather than tap and try their best to stay clear of all fluoride -- even that found in toothpaste and mouthwash.

At one time, it was believed that fluoride only worked topically. It was said that once ingested, as in drinking water, its ability to fight dental caries was curtailed. That belief is now in question.  But,when I worked at The Free Press the only-works-topically mantra was still being repeated. I chatted with a professor at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University who confided that putting fluoride in water was inefficient as it only works topically. But he would not go on record with such a view. The whole issue was simply too emotionally charged.

My point? The anger, distrust, public ridicule surrounding this issue all work to prevent discussion. Journalists are a big part of this problem. And that is sad. Journalists should be advocates of reason and independent thinking. Instead, all too often journalists are herd animals.

I expect more from my daily paper and I certainly expected more from Ian Gillespie. The Free Press is a paper sadly in need of some thoughtful writing and solid editing. This column of Gillespie's should have been spiked. Wait. The spikes left with the editors.

As I said, I am not concerned about the amount of fluoride found in London Ontario tap water. Just last month the EPA in the United States lowered the maximum recommended concentration of fluoride for drinking water. London was ahead of the EPA. Our fluoride level is inline with the new proposed U.S. guidelines.

But, and it is a big but, if you are already frightened by fluoride in your water, the recent move by the EPA does nothing to allay your fears. Learning that after decades of use the correct amount of fluoride to be added to drinking water without causing any health problems is still being adjusted is downright worrisome. These people need their fears addressed in an adult manner. Condescension is not called for nor is it productive.

Gillespie quotes UWO professor Tim Blackmore, who teaches media and information studies:

“Ignorance is a lot easier and a lot more convincing than knowledge. Knowledge takes time, it takes thinking and it takes figuring. Ignorance doesn’t take any of those things. It just takes belief.”

Ian, I think the professor may have been talking about you.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Good news, bad news

Some stuff is all good; No taint from bad news at all.
Today I had my annual eye examination. I got some good news and some bad news. The good news was that my exam only cost $35. OHIP picked up the balance of my tab. The bad news is why OHIP stepped up to the plate; my right eye has a serious cataract problems and this made my eye examination eligible for government health care coverage.

Earlier in the day I had another good news bad news bit of news. The good news was that I am getting a full refund for the pain pills I took for my strained back. The bad news was that the reason I am getting my money back is that the pills have been recalled. They might be contaminated with ingredients from other pills.

Tomorrow I go to the hospital to have some blood taken for DNA testing related to all my heart problems. I guess the good news here is that the doctors care enough to do the testing. The bad news is that the tests have to be done at all.

Oh well, Fiona was here when I got home from the optometrist. She was sleeping in her car seat with Yummy Bear sleeping upside down beside her. Yummy may well be one dizzy little bear when the two wake up.

The nice thing about Fiona news is it is always all good. There is no down side to Fiona.

Reluctantly I say: "Take the fluoride out of our water."

Drinking water with fluoride doesn't scare me. I don't get concerned when my young granddaughters drink a glass of London Ontario tap water containing fluoride. Yet, if it came to a vote, I'd vote against putting fluoride in our tap water.

Why would I vote against fluoridating tap water? Because a lot of bright people worry about fluoride in their water and their fears are often supported by stories published in local, and even national, newspapers.

It's sad but the media scares the public and then turns around and attacks those folk it left frightened. Even more common, is the weak support for fluoridation found in the media. Taken together, fear-generating stories plus weak positive stories, it is no wonder there is a big block of readers who do not support fluoridation.

According to an article in The Globe and Mail:

"Scientists now believe that the main protective action from fluoride does not come from ingesting the chemical, with the teeth absorbing it from inside the body, but from direct absorption through topical application to teeth.

This means swallowing water is a far less effective way to fight cavities than brushing with fluoridated toothpaste. That may explain the steep decline in cavity rates observed in industrialized countries since the 1970s, irrespective of whether they fluoridate water. Almost all of Europe does not, and yet has seen a sharp reduction in dental caries."

People read stories like the above and then other journalists react with horror when encountering those who fail to see the pressing need for fluoridation. Hey, they may have read the Globe article.

Until newspapers tell a clear, lucid, fact-based story in support of fluoridation, I cannot feel good about putting fluoride in tap water. No one should be frightened of their tap water. Let's get the truth out, without insulting those who believe the confusing stories found in the media. For another look at this problem, read my response to Ian Gillespie's rant "What next? Fluoride killing polar bears?"

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A new take

Shot in 1999 with an Olympus clamshell.
Coming up with a new take on the Eiffel Tower in Paris is bit of a feat. But Straight Dope pulls it off.


Monday, February 7, 2011

LFP, Sun Media, Canoe, QMI: All scooped!

In the end, Kinsella got it wrong.
The headline read: "Beware the Culture of Exaggeration." It was a warning from Warren Kinsella of Quebecor Media and I read it on the Comment page of The London Free Press.

At first, I agreed with what Kinsella was saying. He mocked the media overreaction to the recent snow storms and to over-blown winter storm stories in general. "It's February! We live in Canada, people! It snows here," Kinsella wrote.

Somehow he segued from this into a discussion of today's media publishing virtually anything out of fear of being scooped. If it's inaccurate or exaggerated, no matter. The important thing is not to get scooped.

Kinsella called this the 'Culture of Exaggeration.' As an example, the QMI Agency writer mentioned the "widespread claims Fox News owned or controlled the forthcoming Sun News Network." Kinsella pointed to the "Stop Fox News North" petition signed by tens of thousands.

Whoa! I believe Kinsella may just have slipped over the line into the Culture of Exaggeration himself. Oops!

I've read about the Stop Fox News North movement and I have even gotten some mail asking me to join, but it was always clear that attack was against the soon to launch Sun TV News channel. Referring to the Sun TV News channel as Fox News North was a bit of a joke; It was a way to tar Sun TV with the same right-wing brush as is used on the U.S. Fox News channel.

In Kinsella's defence, he was not alone in not getting the joke. Apparently Margaret Atwood didn't see the humour either. "Of course Fox and Co. can set up a channel or whatever they want to do, if it's legal etc.," she told The Globe and Mail in an email. To underscore her point the Globe told us that the literary icon had signed an online petition aimed at keeping a "Fox News North" channel off the air in Canada.

Both Kinsella and Atwood should read the Wikipedia entry on the Sun TV News channel. Atwood especially should read the piece as she got a lot of 'ink' in the Wiki report.

I thought Kinsella would have been on safer ground if he had talked about the alleged luncheon meeting held in New York and attended by Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and by Chairman and CEO of News Corporation Rupert Murdoch, and by the creator of the Fox Broadcasting Company and the President of Fox News Roger Ailes and by Kory Teneycke, a Harper aide who led the Pierre Karl Peladeau move to launch Sun TV News, the Fox News-style network, in Canada.

I read about the meeting on some Internet blogs and pooh-pooh the story. If true, this would be an amazing story. I searched The London Free Press and drew a blank. It appeared nothing about such a meeting had been reported by The Free Press.

Until I read Kinsella's column today, I hadn't given the Harper-Murdoch-Ailes-Teneycke meeting story a moment's thought. It never happened, right? Wrong! To write this blog, I had to do some research and I discovered that the story is true! The story was broke by Canadian Press investigative reporter Bruce Cheadle.

The London Free Press was scooped! Sun Media seems to have been scooped! Canoe didn't apparently carry the story. Scooped again! But the Calgary Beacon didn't get scooped. Read its story: Harper's Meeting with Rupert Murdoch.

I guess this disproves Kinsella's argument that the important thing today is not getting scooped. But all this does leave me wondering, just what is important to the papers under the Sun Media/Quebecor umbrella? And maybe, "Fox News North" is not a joke.


After writing this post, I got up the next morning and wondered if I googled "Fox News North" and "The London Free Press" if I would discover that the once fine little paper was being unjustly maligned. I had simply used the paper's own search field earlier.

I wasn't being unfair. The meeting of Harper and Murdock, et al., appears not to have been reported and the phrase Fox News North apparently only appears in stories and columns defending the right-wing news organ from criticism.

I did find this little post (Propaganda, Inc.: The Dawn of ""Fox News North") on the blog This Way to Progress by a former intern with the Kingston Whig Standard. And I found lots more online addressing the issue.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Stay alert: keep your baby safe and healthy

I worry about Miss Baby. Oh, I don't mean I lose sleep with concern. I believe the little girl is quite the healthy child. She eats well — hey, any 16-month-old who enjoys chopped black olives on pizza has a healthy appetite. She is never lethargic but when her activity spring unwinds she is not all that difficult to put to sleep. In fact, when tired she will tap my knee and immediately rest her head on my shoulder when picked up and cuddled; She clearly indicates when she wants to go to sleep to take a needed nap.

So, why do I say I worry about the child? Well, she is just so small. She seems so delicate. And sometimes she takes falls that leave me simply aghast. She's pretty good on her feet, and she doesn't have far to tumble, but she does take a tumble now and then. All kids do.

We took down the glass table that sat for years in our living room. The almost invisible top had hard edges that could inflict real damage if a child were to strike their head. The table now sits, disassembled, in our basement.

I know about shaken-baby syndrome and I worry if a child can be seriously injured by a shaking without making actual contact with a hard surface, could a child be injured falling hard and striking their head while simply learning to walk. How much force does it take for a small child to suffer a minor concession? (In the early days of Miss Baby's walking adventures I never let her walk through our tiled foyer. That floor was just too hard.)

What spurred me to post this was a story in the New York Times magazine, Shaken-baby Syndrome Faces New Questions in Court. One thing became very clear to me while reading that piece: One must monitor a child constantly. Watch for anything that seems out-of-the-ordinary. Babies and toddlers can`t tell you when something is wrong; You, the caregiver, must be alert.

Put baby locks on kitchen cabinets.
And in doing a little research for this piece I stumbled upon this on child safety. This piece is a must read. The corollary I took away from the child safety article was that one should not just believe that a baby product is safe because it is on the market. Stay alert. Watch for poorly designed hinges, sharp edged molded plastic products, and the like.

Personally, I believe even socks can present a danger to toddlers just learning to walk. Socks must have sticky bits on the soles. When wearing slippery cotton socks, or footed toddler sleepers, a young child can have their feet simply slip out from underneath them without warning. The child may not have time to raise their hands and protect themselves as they fall.

Am I overly-protective? Gosh, I hope so. (Please check out the link: child safety.)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Biz Monday still looking tired

Biz Monday is no longer a tabloid-sized insert.
For years Business Monday, or Biz Monday as it was later rechristened, was a loser. It usually featured something of interest but all-too-often the stories were unfinished, incomplete. Biz Monday was a frustrating read.

Well, the tabloid version of the little insert is finally gone. Good riddance. The London Free Press new editor-in-chief Joe Ruscitti wrote about the tabloid's demise. He admitted Biz Monday was looking a little tired.

The broadsheet-sized Biz Monday is now a reality. Features, columnists and reporters have migrated from the tabloid to the broadsheet. Unfortunately, the tired feeling has also made the transition.

Ruscitti promised the weekly centerpiece [sic] will be a full-page profile. The first "and you are?" was full-page but that was about all that was full about it.

David Taylor, the chief executive and founder of Pacific & Western Bank of Canada, was featured in an amazingly incomplete profile. Taylor is a really interesting man and this comes through in the newspaper's feature but great chunks of the rich, complex Taylor story are left untouched.

Taylor is well-known and, from everything that I know of him, well-respected. In fact, Joe Ruscitti and David Taylor have something in common. Ruscitti is on the board of directors of the London Community Foundation, while Taylor is on the foundation's investment committee.

In fact, the Taylor name is so well thought of in some circles that one investor I know invested in Discovery Air after learning that this aviation start-up was a creation of Taylor's. On the strength of the Taylor name this investor bought a few thousand shares. And over the course of a few months lost a few thousand dollars.

Now let me make this very clear. I like David Taylor. Although I don't know him personally, I have met the man and I know some folk fairly well who are quite close to Taylor. I have never heard anything bad about the man. Nothing.

The value of DA.A stock is starting to recover.
But sometimes being good is not good enough. Despite Taylor's extensive background in aviation and finance and his ties to Canada's north, Discovery Air has had a very rough flight. Check out the attached graph charting the history of its rapidly descending stock price.

The story of Discovery Air was featured in Up Here Business, The Magazine of Canada's Enterprising North, and the story, Things Fall Apart by Jack Danylchuk, is worth a read. This is the important business story missing from The London Free Press feature.

Despite its penny stock status DA.A is profitable.
As I believe I have made clear, I am an admirer of David Taylor. When stock in the high-flying Discovery Air crashed in value, I became interested. Taylor is one smart fellow and after some research I found nothing to justify the incredibly low stock price. When Discovery Air (DA.A) was trading around 16 cents I thought it was time to buy. (Unlike some of my other smaller investments, Polaris Minerals for instance, Discovery Air is a profitable company. Nice.) I even told a retired friend to buy into the little Canadian airline. He didn't; I did.

My DA.A shares up 137.17%.
Yes, I know that Taylor was squeezed out and is no longer at the helm of the company he created. But you wouldn't know any of this from The London Free Press article. The entire Discovery Air story is missing from the Biz Monday profile. A business which once reportedly consumed almost as much of Taylor's time as the Pacific & Western Bank didn't even rate a footnote in The Free Press article.

And how did I do with my purchase of Discovery Air? In the interest of full disclosure I sold half my holdings when the price doubled and completely recouped my initial investment. I still hold some shares and at the moment they are up 137.17 percent. I'm happy. This investment is now all pure profit.

I wonder how many shares of DA.A The Free Press writer owns? My bet is none. When I worked at the paper I learned that one of the business reporters didn't follow the stock market and had no opinion on anything related to stocks. This reporter confessed to letting his wife manage their investment portfolio. Maybe that lady should have edited the David Taylor's profile. She might have noticed the missing airline.

Some observations about the Biz Monday article on David Taylor and the crying need for thoughtful, intelligent editing.

When I see assumptions stated as facts in newspaper articles I find myself opening a new page and googling the claim. (Yes, I read most of my news online. If The Free Press stopped printing tomorrow, I wouldn't miss the paper edition.)

The article tells us, "Unlike most baby boomers, Taylor is quick to embrace new technology and apply it to his bank and personal interests." Hmmm. I seem to be able to come up with quite a list of tech-savvy boomers: Richard Branson, Steve Wozniak, Eric Schmidt, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates. Maybe its just me, but I know a lot of tech-savvy boomers. I read that by the end of 2009 nearly 47% of baby boomers were actively maintaining a profile on Facebook. When I think of my Facebook contacts, this sounds quite plausible.

When you think of new technology do you think iPad? You should. According to Gizmodo and others, "The iPad is for old people."

I don't know about you, but when I think about a man as bold and creative as David Taylor I am not at all surprised to learn that he "is a pilot who designed his own plane, a mechanic who owns seven motorcycles, a techno-geek who built his own computer and a biology graduate who majored in fisheries." When the paper tells me that this is "not exactly the skill sets you'd expect", I beg to differ.

Taylor has an outstanding resume. Let's take a look at another CEO's background, say Paul Tellier, a man who has been president and CEO of both Bombardier Inc. and Canadian National Railway Co. In a Canadian Business Online article Tellier reveals:

"I couldn't stand high school — it had too many rules, some not logical. After I failed a year, my dad put me in boarding school. I couldn't stand it either, so I quit and stayed on after Christmas break as a ski patrol at Tremblant. The pay wasn't too bad, something like $5 or $6 a day, plus room and board. But my father thought I was in school. When he found out I wasn't, we had a conversation."

Compare David Taylor's skill set to other successful CEOs and Taylor's background seems perfect. If he starts another business, I'd consider investing. (And I'd keep an eye on Paul Tellier, too.)