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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.