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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Rethink London: Concrete towers an international style

Cherryhill: a mix of apartment towers, an indoor mall and a commercial complex.

Recently I saw the following Twitter tweet: "A new arrival from Australia points out how much Cherryhill looks like Chernobyl." I was shocked. Cherryhill is a successful residential development in London while Chernobyl is the name of the Soviet era nuclear power plant closed in 1986 after fire followed by an explosion damaged the plant, killed two workers and blew a massive cloud of radioactive debris high into the atmosphere.

Contrary to popular mythology, Pripyat and Chernobyl are completely different cities. (I first learned this while taking pictures for the local paper of children from the region who were visiting London.) Chernobyl is NOT the city built some two to three kilometers from the plant in the late '60s and early '70s to house plant workers. That place is Pripyat. Pripyat is the city that was emptied completely of residents immediately after the nuclear disaster. The place has sat abandoned for 26 years.

While there is a town of Chernobyl, it is about 14km from the nuclear power plant. It had no commercial links to the Soviet power station. The actual town of Chernobyl attracts very little attention. It is just one more little, regional town left almost deserted after the nuclear disaster contaminated the entire region.

Today, a few hundred inhabitants still live in Chernobyl. They post signs in front of their homes saying: "Owner of this house lives here." Finding pictures of the little town, with a recorded history going back to 1193, is almost impossible. I'd post a picture if I could. This link may show an abandoned Chernobyl home. Or go to the bottom of this post. I've posted a link to a few seconds of video shot driving through Chernobyl on the way to Pripyat.

Straight street, overgrown from lack of use, in Pripyat.
The roads in Pripyat grow narrower and narrower every year as grass and weeds encroach on the long straight expanses of pavement. Abandoned for decades, the apartments of the Soviet planned community are now missing windows and doors. Pripyat is often compared to cities in the American rustbelt: Detroit, Buffalo, Cleveland . . . Talk about the residential area carelessly known as Chernobyl and you are talking about post-nuclear-disaster Pripyat.

When I objected to the comparison of Chernobyl to Cherryhill, the writer tweeted that he found "the physical resemblance was uncanny." I finally understood. The fellow was talking about the architectural style of the Pripyat buildings. He was confusing the name of the power station with the name of the community.

Photo of Pripyat swimming pool structure by Timm Suess
The writer voiced surprise that buildings almost on opposite sides of the world would resemble each other. "Uncanny," the writer wrote.

I agree with the writer, except for the uncanny bit. The apartment towers in Pripyat do share a look with the apartment towers in London, Ontario — as well as with towers in Paris, New York, Vancouver, Calgary, Tokyo, Nairobi and thousands of other cities and towns around the globe.

The resemblance isn't uncanny, it's expected. The large, concrete slab towers, built all over the world, all exhibit some adherence to the international modernist style.

What is the international modernist style. This is what Emily Tyrer of Wesleyan University wrote:

The International Modernist Style developed out of a search for a building style unique to and expressive of the modern world. Modernist architects’ work expressed the technology, materials and functions that were new to the twentieth century. The resulting architecture was thought to be inevitable: based on function, technology and the spirit of the times. 

It adhered to the American architect, Louis Sullivan’s dictum, “Form follows function.” The style is characterized by architecture stripped of extraneous ornament, historical references and traditional symbolism. It demanded amnesia relative to history. 

The Modernist style was considered a mark of high morality; historical types and styles were “a lie,” in Le Corbusier’s words, and ornament was a “crime,” according to Adolf Loos. Instead of incorporating ornament or using historical typologies, they attempted to give aesthetic value to functionalism. The naked function and bones of its structure would be the final form. 

Mies van der Rohe’s famous phrase, “Less is more” represented the minimal ideal of Modernist architects and their buildings. They aimed for purity: sheerness, flatness, and smoothness. They aimed for a new style that could be relevant universally, based on inevitable, scientific facts of construction and human behavior.

If you got here because of an interest in ReThink London, you should follow the following link and read: tower renewal project: plasticity revisited by Graeme Stewart. Stewart writes:

The modernist concrete slab or tower in the park type apartment building, “is perhaps the most successful typology of the modern movement”. . . . this opinion reflects the remarkably global scope of the implementation of the ubiquitous modern tower. From Soviet mass housing, European post-war reconstruction, North American urban renewal, the utopias of Brasilia and Chandigarh, and Hong Kong’s super-blocks, this modernist machine for living is truly a global type, and has largely filled its mandate of providing well serviced and equitable housing for tens of millions of people.

One last thought: the 140 character limit imposed by Twitter, can limit thoughtful discussion.

Looking for a Chernobyl (Pripyat) look-a-like, look to the American rust belt.
Known as the Brewster-Douglass Project in Detroit, the straight roads, overgrown vegetation and abandoned apartment towers really do resemble the look of neighbourhoods in the former Chernobyl Territory of the old Soviet Union.

Why the projects in so many American cities failed while developments like Cherryhill in London, Ontario, succeeded is the really important question urban planners must answer. (If you are going to try finding the answer, google Sam Katz as a start. Sam Katz is a big reason for the success of Cherryhill and I may post more on Sam Katz soon.)

If you'd like to see a very short video shot in the Town of Chernobyl, check out the following:

Sunday, December 16, 2012

In 2008, every three hours a child or teen killed by gunfire

I haven't followed the Connecticut school shooting story. Too difficult. Too sad. And all too common. Yes common. The shooting of 20 children is almost a daily occurrence in the States. Reportedly, in 2008 it took only two and a half days on average for gunfire to kill 20 children and teens.

That's right: Every two and a half days there were 20 more children and teens murdered by guns. A total of 2947 died from gunfire in 2008 and another 2793 in 2009.

In 2008, 88 preschoolers were killed with guns and in 2009 another 85 died. These numbers are nearly double the number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty in that time.

According to the Children's Defense Fund:

  • Recent data from 23 industrialized nations shows 87 percent of the children under 15 killed by guns in these nations lived in the United States. 
  • The gun homicide rate in the United States for teens and young adults ages 15 to 24 was 42.7 times higher than the combined rate for the other nations.
  • Of the 116,385 children and teens killed by a gun since 1979, when gun data by age were first collected, 44,038 were Black — even so, more White than Black children and teens have died from gun violence. 

What can be done? Banning weapons more suitable for war zones than American homes would be a start. Getting handguns out of circulation might be another. But a dialogue must be opened and answers must be found. 

Of course, it would help if the media would stop, do some research, and report the story, the arguments for and against gun ownership, with accuracy. Sadly accuracy is one of the first victims in a story like this. 

At first, it was reported that the school principal had buzzed Adam Lanza in (past school security) because she recognized him as the son of a colleague, Nancy Lanza, the shooter's mother, who worked at the school.

Later, we learned the gunman forced his way into the school by shooting through glass, breaching school's security system. The principal was shot, along with the school psychologist, trying to tackle the gunman and protect their students, according to later reports. And there was no connection between Adam Lanza’s mother and the school.

And what did the gunman use to kill the children. First reports said a rifle. Corrections then appeared, such as this one from The New York times claiming "the guns used in the school shooting were both handguns." Today the BBC is reporting, "The gunman shot all the victims at the school with a semiautomatic rifle . . . "

That facts surrounding this event should change, be corrected and then be corrected again, is not surprising. What is surprising is that the media have not learned this and learned to be more careful in their reporting. The media shows no restraint. In the end beating the competition is the biggest driving force behind the reporting of events such as this. Speed trumps all.

Consider the error-filled, fast-off-the-mark response of syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer:

"Think about the details of the crime, he (Adam Lanza) began by shooting his mother . . . and then destroying everything precious to her, her colleagues and her children, and then killing himself."

If I could advise my American friends how to approach this tragedy, I say approach this carefully, thoughtfully, try to find answers that are not steeped in ideology. Refuse to be rushed. Do not follow the path blazed by your media.

If you do step back, using reason and not emotion, you might (underlined) discover the truth surrounding gun control laws. You might, as a nation, shed light on a pressing global issue. You might discover how to prevent the senseless deaths of your young people who are dying a the rate of about one every three hours from gunfire.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Alcohol based hand sanitizer: Good or bad?

I took a friend to the doctor today. On entering the medical office my friend immediately sanitized his hands. He rubbed both hands together for a few seconds with a squirt of an alcohol based hand sanitizer found on the counter at the reception area. I didn't follow his lead. I could see no need. My hands were, I believed, clean. A half hour before, my hands had been deep in hot, soapy dishwater.

My friend gently chastised me for not using the supplied sanitizer. He told me a story about being at a facility hard hit by the Norwalk virus and how he escaped coming down with the gastrointestinal illness by wiping his hands and arms frequently with hand sanitizer gel.

Maybe it was a good idea there and then but here and now? I wasn't convinced. He assured me that health departments promote the use of these gels and that one had to follow the guidance of the health officials. I still wasn't convinced.

The queasiness in my gut was not from a gastrointestinal illness but out of concern that sanitizer gels may be rather inefficient killers of bacteria. I was worried the wide spread use of these gels might be contributing to the development of another strain of super bugs. The result being increasing rather than decreasing the incidence of illness.

Turning to Google, I quickly learned the Norwalk virus exhibits strong resistance to alcohol-based hand sanitizer (ABHS). A full minute of contact time with 70% ethanol is required to inactive a norovirus. If an 85% ethanol gel is used, stronger than that commonly available, the contact time need only be 30 seconds.

In some studies, twenty seconds spent washing the hands with soap and water has been found to be superior to ABHS. The use of an ABHS alone may increase the risk of infection during an outbreak.

While most soaps and sanitizers are considered antibacterial, Norwalk infection is caused by a virus. With soap and water, the infectious agent is rinsed off; With an ABHS, the microbes remain on the hands and are possibly spread over a greater area of skin.

On the positive side, my friend was correct. Many health professionals do advocate the use of ABHS gels — not as a replacement for soap and water but as a supplement when soap and water are not handy.

There are three important considerations when using an ABHS:
  • Is the concentration of alcohol greater than 60%? If it isn't, go wash your hands.
  • Are you applying enough?
  • Are you using it long enough?

So, how much gel should you use and for how long? According to The New York Times, one should vigorously rub all sides of one's hands with enough gel or foam to get them wet, and rub them together until they are dry. If one's hands are dry within 10 or 15 seconds, you haven't used enough.

One last thought, some hand gels/foams contain triclosan — and to be completely honest, so do some hand soaps. Many believe triclosan is contributing to the problem of antibiotic-resistance bacteria. If you'd like to read about superbugs, use this link to a CBC article.

Other sources: Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs

ReThink London must address urban myths

In early September my wife and I spent the better part of a week in Montreal, Quebec. Wonderful city. It is one of my favourites. I spent a lot of  time walking about the Côte des Neiges neighbourhood where my wife and I were staying with friends.

I have been following the oh-so-long London Free Press series examining London and I have been involved with ReThink London, a year-long review of the city's official master plan. The goal of ReThink is a new urban plan good for the next 20 years.

London is not Montreal. That said, there is a lot that London can learn from La Métropole. Let's begin.

Myth: Cars or people. One must make a choice.

Côte des Neiges is filled with people and cars. The area is alive.

All too often one reads stuff on how to make better people places. Add trees and flower beds while subtracting car traffic — is a good start, or so we often are told. Bunkum!

I've seen this done in Paris, France, too.
I was raised in a walkable neighbourhood. No car was needed but that did not mean there were no cars. It was the early '50s and every passing year brought more and more traffic. I lived near King's highway 39, a truck route through Windsor, Ontario, but even a busy highway did not hinder walking.

The Côte des Neiges neighbourhood continues that tradition. It is very walkable but filled with cars: cars on the roads, cars parked on both sides of surrounding side streets, and cars beside homes and even under them.

But, unlike the neighbourhood of my youth, Côte des Neiges has retained its rich mix of businesses. One reason might be the high residential density — approximately 20,000 residents per sq. km. There are lots of customers within walking distance and there is adequate parking for those who choose to drive.

What can London learn?

We must increase the density of our city. London has a published density of about 871 per sq. km. This number is probably low because a great amount of London is still undeveloped. Compared to Côte des Neiges we are very thinly populated.

Myth: London cares about increasing urban density

What's missing? Answer: Apartments above these box stores on Wonderland Rd.
London talks the talk but fails to deliver. When it comes to use of land, London is a pig. We come no where near maximizing our use of land. Increasing residential density is very important. It enables public transportation to become competitive and it makes the development of walkable commercial areas possible.

Not London: Note apartments above stores.
The planning committee rejected staff recommendations when they extended the "community enterprise corridor" on Wonderland Rd. The committee also loosened the grid patterns for residential development.

The Free Press reports that city planner John Fleming warned members the innovative nature of the original plan could be killed.
“You either have a plan or you don’t have a plan,” Fleming said.

What can London learn?

London has to spend some time looking at what other communities are doing to bring residents into commercial areas. The people making the decisions have to look to both older communities like Montreal and newer developments. Moving too fast may well saddle London with poor, low density developments that will be a blight to the community for years.

Myth: London has too many railroad level crossings

London does have a lot of streets intersected by railroad tracks. This is true. Still, everywhere there is a level crossing there is at least a crossing. The Montreal folk I talked to said they had too many cul-de-sacs, the result of street closures where a railroad cut through the neighbourhood.

Not the best example, an underpass is nearby, but the cul-de-sac results from tracks.
Depending on where you live in Montreal and how far you must walk or drive to get across a set of railroad tracks, you may think Londoners are lucky to have so many level crossings.

I worked for more thirty years as a news photographer for the local paper. I was inconvenienced by slow moving freight trains now and then but generally level crossings were not a huge problem. In fact, I saw them as a benefit.

Which is better: A street blocked by a passing train occasionally or a street blocked 24 hours a day by a fence-lined railroad track?

What can London learn?

There are some level crossings that should be eliminated. Let's focus on the problem spots, while taking pride in the fact that London has fewer cul-de-sacs thanks to our abundant use of level crossings. All level crossings should be controlled by gates with flashing warning lights.

Myth: Industrial areas in residential areas should be eliminated

Residential, commercial, industrial and religious uses mix on this Montreal St.
If the industry is loud, dirty, or smelly, it doesn't belong in the middle of a residential neighbourhood. But we should not be too quick to prevent industry and commercial areas from bordering on, or even mixing with, residential areas.

It was done with success in the past and is being done again in some large urban centres in the United States. London has an old, mixed use area in east London. Think of the abandoned McCormick's plant. McCormick Boulevard, behind the plant, has a number of manufacturing operations.

If the city has its way, the beautiful, historic terra cotta biscuit factory will be demolished and the land behind it redeveloped for housing. What a shame.

Why not allow the small industrial area to remain? If someone wants to walk to work, they can. Isn't that one of the goals of new urbanism?

The Montreal street shown is but a short walk from Côte des Neiges. It has residential units, commercial businesses and some industry.

It even has a rich mix of buildings devoted to religious activities. A resident assured me there is no move being made at this time to "clean up the area."

What can London learn?

Mixed use works in other communities. Maybe we can do it better in London. When I was a boy there numerous manufacturing plants in my neighbourhood. These businesses made an effort to blend in with the neighbourhood. I recall one plant that had a flower garden out front filled with colourful snap dragons. I used to see workers walking to work, a lunch bucket swinging at their side.

Myth: A simple grid pattern yields the greatest resident density

This just isn't true. It is easy to get from A to B when streets are arranged in a simple grid, but CMHC has devised a better approach when high density is the goal: The fused grid.

To learn more about the fused grid approach please read my blog: ReThink London: The answer is "fused grid".

What can London learn?

Having spoken with the city planning staff, I know that some planning officials in London are well aware of the fused grid. Yet, I went to a ReThink London meeting where city planning staff left mention of the fused grid out of an answer given a woman interested in knowing what urban street pattern was best at maximizing density.

London planners have to boldly step up and share their rich, urban planning knowledge with interested Londoners. ReThink London must be willing not only to be challenged but to do the challenging at times. London planners must not be timid when it comes to leading.

Myth: Cookie cutter homes unique to suburbia, especially '50s suburbs


A row of homes in North London.
Cookie cutter homes have been around literally forever. They are not unique to suburbia. The Côte des Neiges neighbourhood has a lot of houses of a similar design — mostly duplexes. But it is still an interesting area for a stroll.

Why is it interesting? The homes have nice touches. One home has a gorgeous wooden door in a beautiful stone enclosure. Another home has an interesting decorative treatment above a featured window.

Truth is that many of the duplexes in this Montreal neighbourhood seem to be little more than tract housing for the masses. Yet the years have been kind to the neighbourhood. Upkeep is important and many of these homes have been maintained with money, and more importantly, with respect.

What can London learn?

Insulting descriptions of neighbourhoods can often be the sign of a weak argument. When you hear the argument that a suburban neighbourhood is merely a collection of cookie cutter homes, feel free to ask: "And your point is?"

Add your own myths to my list.

There is a ReThink London meeting tonight and I want to get this posted. I encourage you to think about what you believe about cities, what you have been told, and to ask yourself, "Is this true?"

Think about the stories you may have read in The London Free Press about heritage buildings being demolished because they were impossible to save. The paper is often quite willing to simply report the words of those destroying the old structures; The paper rarely gives the other side of the argument.

Let me give an example from Montreal.

I understand this old home Victorian home was threatened with demolition. It was saved after the local community protested its planned destruction.

The home sits behind a Petro-Canada station. It appears to sit sideways on its lot — the front yard has been taken, or sold or something. Still the home has presence. It may be hidden but it cannot be missed. It may be white but it adds colour to the neighbourhood.

What can London learn?

Older neighbourhoods should be respected. And heritage buildings should be retained. If you want to create a people place, respect the history of the area.

I look forward to seeing many of you at the ReThink London meeting tonight.

Monday, December 10, 2012

File art has no place in news story

The London Free Press online teaser warned of freezing rain. The picture indicated, that for some Londoners, freezing was already here. Clearly, a Free Press photographer or reporter had shot a picture of an icy mirror.

As a former Free Press photographer, I spent a lot of time driving about the area on treacherous winter roads taking pictures for the paper. Freezing rain and ice slicked roads were my biggest fear.

According to Texas A&M, "Freezing rain is difficult to forecast because just one or two degrees in temperature difference can mean either rain or snow or freezing rain. Freezing rain is very dangerous because it tends to coat roads with ice first. If the surface it hits is 32 degrees or lower, it will quickly freeze on contact, and the resulting ice storms can shut down an entire city very quickly."

Warning readers of dangers in life, such as the possibility of freezing rain coating the area, is what online newspapers should do. The stuff can instantly render a road too slippery for walking let alone driving. No one should drive on the stuff.

When I used to be sent out to grab a picture showing London in the middle of a freezing ice storm, I used to wish there was another way to get an image — a way that did not involve me driving on wet, icy roads. Well, today there is!

Thanks to photography having gone digital, a reader living in an affected area can take a picture showing the ice with their cell phone and transmit it to the newsroom. I can recall the newsroom phoning readers in areas hit by something like an ice storms and gathering information for a story from the safety of the York Street building. Photographers didn't get off so lightly.

News photos are not simply shims for a page, although that is the way they were, and are, all too often used. Nor are news photos simply illustrations to enliven the visual appeal of a story. That is why editors usually insisted on fresh art for a story. The Free Press was a N-E-W-S-paper.

Many of the editors I had the good fortune to work with over the years would not have risked frightening readers with an image misrepresenting the news. The image of an ice encrusted driver's outside mirror would have had to show a moment from the day.

Look carefully at the image. There is no credit given. When I clicked on the image and went to the linked story, I noticed no credit appeared beneath the image running with the story. Odd.

I thought whoever took this picture was very, dare I say, lucky. You see, I spent the day driving about London doing Christmas shopping. I watched the temperature gauge on my dash very carefully. Sometimes it registered three full degrees Fahrenheit above freezing. At no point did I come across freezing rain.

At night I had to drive from southwest London to northwest London and by that time the temperature was rising. With the temperature well above freezing, the warning of freezing rain was lifted.

Still, hours after the warning was no longer in force, the local paper was still carrying the story on their website. Why had the picture and story not been taken down? Worse, the story had evolved. Freezing rain was now falling well to the east of London leaving highways dangerously slick. The was no mention of this.

A little sleuthing revealed that the image of an icy mirror also ran Sunday in the Sarnia Observer with an ice storm story.

There are indications the image is a file photo from the Sun Media archives. Maybe I am wrong about the source of the image, but I wait to be corrected.

Newspaper sales are down. No wonder. Newspapers are playing fast and loose with the news. Running an uncredited file picture with a news story is not journalism.

Sun Media and Quebecor need to hire more staff. They need more reporters and photographers, and editors too. Sadly, that won't happen until hell freezes over.

Addendum: This is not the only instance of the paper under Sun Media and Quebecor using questionable file art. Recently, a serious story on Canada's top court handling the appeal of a lower court 'bawdy house' ruling was accompanied with a silly piece of file filler.

And the very worst example of faux photojournalism that I have come across was the use of hired models to illustrate a story on going topless at the beach. The Ottawa Sun faked a number of images and then moved them to the Canadian Press. CP in turn moved them to the Associated Press.

Years later one of the images popped up in The New York Times as visual proof that women with breasts bare are commonly found on beaches near the Canadian capital.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Mr. Burns explains the fiscal cliff

Mr. Burns, the billionaire Scrooge in The Simpsons', makes a public service announcement explaining the fiscal cliff.

I believe the Rethugs are in control of the car. Is that house speaker John Boehner at the wheel?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

ReThink London limits discussion: Part One

A slide show was shown at a recent ReThink London event with those attending being asked to vote. That slide show is now online and we are again being asked to view the pictures and indicate our preferences. Unfortunately, we are not given the chance to answer: "None of the above."

Ideally this voting activity would have been, at a minimum, a two stage project. First, Londoners should have been encouraged to scour the Internet for images depicting an urban landscape they would like to see emulated here in London. The best images would have been presented for consideration and voting.

Click on the image below to enlarge it and see my improved "ballot."

As I recall image A and image B did not garner many votes. Clearly the audience  preferred the modern townhouses (C) and the apartments located above commercial space (D). Now that we know the preferences, let's give folk some better choices.

The image, second from bottom on left, is the Norwalk Town Center in Norwalk, Connecticut. This $200 million initiative looks rather grand for a town of only 86,000 where the estimated per capital annual income in 2009 was only $39, 695. Still, as best as I could determine, the plan is moving ahead.

The image to the immediate right is an artist's conception of a proposed new town centre in Clayton, Ohio. A new urbanist experiment in suburban planning, some of the proposed buildings have been built already. Below is map with inserted illustration of the development.

Clayton, Ohio
At the bottom left is an example what comes from using form-based code. This is a method of regulating development with the goal of achieving a specific urban look. Since the goal of this ReThink London project is to develop a new urban plan, maybe Londoners could take some inspiration from the Birmingham planning design guide released in late 2006 and available online.

Lastly, on the bottom right is the new apartment/commercial complex on Dundas Street in Old East London. How many votes do you think this image would attract?

Now, to move on to question two of the ReThink London ballot.

It is interesting to look at the apartment buildings shown and then consider the apartment buildings built recently in London. And then to give some thought to how other southern Ontario cities have approached apartment/condominium designs.

Think of Mississauga. Wanting to make a splash internationally, a development company, Fernbrook/Cityzen, sponsored an international design competition in 2005 for the condo towers it planned for the town centre.

The resulting skyscraper was called the “Marilyn Monroe” by locals for its voluptuous curves.

Read what The New York Times had to say about the Absolute Towers:
"People looking for the latest in twisting, gravity-defying architecture might start with the international cities of the Middle East or China, but you wouldn’t expect them to look here, in the suburbs outside Toronto.
. . . designed by the Chinese architect Ma Yansong, assisted by his partner, Qun Dang. Sales were so brisk in the 428-unit “Marilyn” tower that the developers asked the architect to deliver a second, 50-story high-rise with 433 units."
Like to know more? Watch the video. Mississauga and Fernbrook/Cityzen certainly generated buzz.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Successfully raising a grandchild

When I gushed over her art, Fiona told me firmly: "Gug-gah, I scribble."

A lot of psychologists have come out against praising children, or more accurately against heaping too much praise on children. According to these experts too much praise doesn't build self-esteem but diminishes it. It's a confidence killer.

Originally I had another title on this post and then I read The New York Times article. I immediately shifted gears and my post took off in a new direction. Madeline Levine wrote:

Dr. Carol Dweck, a social and developmental psychologist at Stanford University, takes young children into a room and asks them to solve a simple puzzle. Most do so with little difficulty. But then Dr. Dweck tells some, but not all, of the kids how very bright and capable they are. As it turns out, the children who are not told they’re smart are more motivated to tackle increasingly difficult puzzles. They also exhibit higher levels of confidence and show greater overall progress in puzzle-solving.

This may seem counter-intuitive, but praising children’s talents and abilities seems to rattle their confidence. Tackling more difficult puzzles carries the risk of losing one’s status as “smart” and deprives kids of the thrill of choosing to work simply for its own sake, regardless of outcomes. Dr. Dweck’s work aligns nicely with that of Dr. Baumrind, a clinical and developmental psychologist at the University of California, who also found that reasonably supporting a child’s autonomy and limiting interference results in better academic and emotional outcomes.

All my life I've been known as a tough critic. My nieces and nephews had to work to impress me, and work they did. Now, as a grandfather, I fear I have lost my harsh edge. I fear I've grown soft. I have turned into a push-over.

Praise, to be beneficial, should be genuine, focused on the child's good effort and hard work and not necessarily the outcome. I read numerous posts on the Web, all agreed the important word here is sincere. Children can sense insincerity. Artificial praise risks damaging trust.

Music playing, Fiona spins as she performs her little dance.
My granddaughter loves to make scribbles in pen and ink and then together we colour some of the open spaces. She picks the colours and the spaces, and I do the colouring. I have really liked some of the art we've created together.

I love the shapes she draws. I love the way she puts pen to page and the bold way she attacks the blank sheet of paper. I've tried emulating her approach; I can't. I over-think my scribbles.

The other day I was gushing over one of her sketches when she turned to me and stopped me dead by telling me firmly, "Gug-gah, I scribble."

Hmmm. Maybe it is time to dial down the praise a notch or two. It might make her a bolder child, willing to tackle the truly challenging stuff — like dance.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Women in Afghanistan: Then, Now, Tomorrow

Aesha is a shy 18-year-old Afghan woman sentenced by a Taliban commander to have her nose and ears cut off as the penalty for fleeing her abusive in-laws.

Aesha posed for the Time magazine cover photo because she wanted the world to see the effect a Taliban resurgence would have on the women of Afghanistan. Or this is the story being reported by the American media.

Today Aesha has a nose, but only a prosthetic nose. As of May 2012, the psychological damage suffered by the young woman has proven more destructive than her disfigurement. She has mood swings – violent tantrums. According to the British Mail Online, "Her plastic surgery had to be delayed because (she was emotionally not ready to cope with) the painful and lengthy surgery required."

Aesha is in ruins, physically and emotionally, and so is her homeland.

For another media report, try this link to a New York Times story on another young girl attacked and left for dead in an honour killing.

The last I heard, all Canadian military will be out of Afghanistan after 2014. Canada will continue to financially support the Afghan military for three years with an annual payment of $110-million, but our military presence will be over.

Canada claimed one of its priorities in Afghanistan was to help Afghan women. Are we abandoning this goal as we prepare to leave the Asian country, its society and culture in tatters after decades of war?

I understand the Canadian military is in favour of this action and I can understand why. The story we are told is that Afghanistan is a battle that cannot be won. And they are right, at least when it comes to the present military battle.

Supposedly the country is a brutal, tribal land ruled by vicious war lords. Foreign armies foolish enough to invade, it is said, find themselves mired in a crushing, unending war impossible to win. The history of foreign engagements in the country over almost the past two centuries seems to support this belief.

Afghan women, I've been told, are treated cruelly but that is the Afghan way. There is nothing we can do to save these women. This is a problem that can only be solved by the Afghans themselves.

I'm not a war booster. I find the entire idea of marching off to war repellent, although sometimes it is necessary. As a young man I considered myself very luck to be Canadian and not compelled to fight in Viet Nam like so many of my American friends. I didn't support that Southeast Asian war.

The invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent war seems somewhat similar to that long over Southeast Asian conflict. The sooner the Western military is out the better. Still, Afghanistan seems different from Viet Nam. Under the Taliban Afghanistan seems more like Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge.

According to the Cambodian section on mekong.net

There is nothing unique about government-sponsored violence. There is, in fact, nothing especially unusual about widespread killing, or even genocide. The rallying cry heard in the wake of World War II — "Never again!" — is a noble sentiment but not a reflection of reality. Ask the Indonesians, or the Timorese, or the Salvadorans, or the Rwandans, or the Albanians . . . or the Cambodians. (Allow me to add, the Afghans to this sad list.)

I'm troubled by our leaving of Afghanistan. It will not be long before all Western armies will have departed. Were we wrong to have entered Afghanistan? Probably. Are we wrong to be leaving? Probably not.

Still, leaving Afghanistan in ruins, its culture and traditional society destroyed, is to leave a vaccuum that may well be filled by the Taliban, religious fanatics, or by the criminal warlords once decried and now, in many cases, enjoying begrudging support by the West. This is a Gordian that cannot be cut, the result simply unravels, we must find a way slowly to untangle the mess that the British, the Russians, the Americans, even the Afghans themselves have created.

I worry I don't know enough to make a thoughtful decision. I do know that every time I try to learn a little about Afghanistan, I come away more confused. What I discovered when I start researching this post didn't  jibe neatly with the stories I usually heard and always claimed to reflect "the truth."

Sgt. Kimberly Lamb U.S. Armed Forces-Released by U.S. Army: ID 120627-A-LE308-091
First, the country is not all a complete desert waste land. There are large swaths of the country that one could call lush. Think of the United States. If you have ever traveled the American West, you know what a large chunk of the U.S. is arid desert. But no one would call the United States anything but blessed when it comes farmland. Countries are big places.

Afghanistan is in many ways a blessed land. It was not always hell. Many would argue strongly that the West brought and installed hell in Afghanistan. Is there anyway that as we remove troops from the country that we can take the hell out of the little country as well?

When I began asking questions about women and their place in Afghan culture I found the following published by the U.S. Department of State:

Prior to the rise of the Taliban, women in Afghanistan were protected under law and increasingly afforded rights in Afghan society.  Women received the right to vote in the 1920s; and as early as the 1960s, the Afghan constitution provided for equality for women. There was a mood of tolerance and openness as the country began moving toward democracy. Women were making important contributions to national development. In 1977, women comprised over 15% of Afghanistan's highest legislative body. It is estimated that by the early 1990s, 70% of schoolteachers, 50% of government workers and university students, and 40% of doctors in Kabul were women. Afghan women had been active in humanitarian relief organizations until the Taliban imposed severe restrictions on their ability to work. These professional women provide a pool of talent and expertise that will be needed in the reconstruction of post-Taliban Afghanistan.

Islam has a tradition of protecting the rights of women and children. In fact, Islam has specific provisions which define the rights of women in areas such as marriage, divorce, and property rights. The Taliban's version of Islam is not supported by the world's Muslims. Although the Taliban claimed that it was acting in the best interests of women, the truth is that the Taliban regime cruelly reduced women and girls to poverty, worsened their health, and deprived them of their right to an education, and many times the right to practice their religion. The Taliban is out of step with the Muslim world and with Islam.

Afghanistan under the Taliban had one of the worst human rights records in the world. The regime systematically repressed all sectors of the population and denied even the most basic individual rights. Yet the Taliban's war against women was particularly appalling.
Is the above all true. Yes, but the story is getting some spin.

According to Huma Ahmed-Ghosh: "Afghanistan may be the only country in the world where during the last century kings and politicians have been made and undone by struggles relating to women’s status." But he does agree with the Yanks when he says, "Women in Afghanistan were not always oppressed by fundamentalism as occurred under the Mujahideen and the Taliban."

I know arguing for any continuing involvement by Canada in Afghanistan is not a popular position. I know that few question the wisdom, the morality, of pulling our troops out of Afghanistan. It is not a welcoming country for our military. Still, does our total abandonment of the country after a few additional short years demonstrate wisdom or morality? Would our feelings change if our wives,  daughters, granddaughters were threatened by the violence of the resurgent Taliban?

Wanting to know more about Afghanistan, both the history and the present situation, I am posting links to a number of important documentaries that I tracked down on YouTube. The first two are historical and were originally broadcast by the BBC. The next four are the work of two excellent Canadian journalists, David Pugliese and Scott Taylor, who travelled about war torn Afghanistan carefully documenting what they found. Talk about guts. These are two incredible journalists. (I worked with Dave Pugliese when he was a reporter for The London Free Press.)

One approach to assisting the Afghans with minimal military involvement is the use of PRTs (Provincial Reconstruction Teams). The Canadian reporter, Scott Taylor, interviews a Turkish chap about his country's PRTs and their success. Canada supports a number of PRT projects in the Kadahar region.

I found a number of good videos on Afghanistan but the links keep breaking. I am supplying the following plus links but be warned all embedded video and all links may not work by the time you visit.


For part two you will have to google it. Good luck. Also, google Rory Stewart. He is not simply a talking, media head. His views carry weight.

One  America woman interviewed in the Canadian documentary, Sarah Chayes, wrote a book, The Punishment of Virtue, detailing her experiences in Afghanistan. We learn from her Internet site:

 "The story Chayes tells is a powerful, disturbing revelation of misguided U.S. policy and of the deeply entrenched traditions of tribal warlordism that have ruled Afghanistan through the centuries."

"She reveals how the tribal strongmen who have regained power-after years of being displaced by the Taliban-have visited a renewed plague of corruption and violence on the Afghan people, under the complicit eyes of U.S. forces and officials."

This is a link to a review of her book in The New York Times.

When you consider the time and money that the West has dumped in Afghanistan, how does one explain that this little Asian country has the highest infant mortality rate in the world. No place one earth equals Afghanistan at 121. 63 deaths per 1000 live births. Its neighbour, Turkmenistan has a rate of approximately 40, while Uzbekistan is about 20.

But death doesn't just stalk the very young in Afghanistan. The life expectancy at birth is only 49.72 years.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

ReThink London: Reviving a downtown

Older, original downtowns throughout North America were attractive places. One reason was the unity of the architecture. All the structures dated from approximately the same era. Often the building material, the local brick or stone, was a uniting feature tying the entire streetscape together.

Today we have a plethora of theories on how to make failing downtowns successful again. Saving historic buildings, or at a minimum their facades, is often heralded as one answer. Sadly, many of the facades are gone, the architectural flow broken. But, there is an answer.

First, forget trying to bring back what was lost. If a beautiful, cut granite building facade was demolished, accept it. Such facades are often out of reach cost-wise today. But don't fill in the gaping break in the streetscape with an oh-so-out-of-place modern, glass structure. Reach back into the past, find a much cheaper alternative to the original structure, but an alternative with roots in the last century, and lay some brick.

Brick is not that expensive and brick can be laid in a multitude of patterns making a  new facade blend with older buildings. What goes behind the facade is another matter. With modern construction hidden behind the facade, the new building can be both beautiful and practical.

Even better, let the facade skin a structure only three or four stories high, don't make that structure too deep. Keep it shallow. With the feel of the street restored, build a much higher, multi-storied building behind and welcome increased office space and a growing number of residential units to the revitalized street.

How do we encourage such an approach? Think form-based code. I've written about this in the past, click this link, ReThink London suggestions, and go down to the sixth suggestion.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Margarine vs. Butter

I like margarine. The soft stuff in the plastic tubs. The ones made with a little olive oil are my favorites. Butter is for cooking; margarine is for the table. (My wife has gone on to prove that a good margarine can work very well for cooking, too.)

I have some friends who seem to believe margarine is made from petroleum products. I say seem because they are very bright and may be just making the claim to annoy me.

I've had robotic heart surgery. I had an ICD with a pacemaker inserted into my chest. I've spent a lot of time chatting with heart doctors. On one matter all agree: use soft, non-hydrogenated margarine, and use it in moderation. Go light with fat but don't fear fat.

And so I did some googling. I found the following — Myth busting: butter versus margarine.

  • Margarine is one molecule away from plastic: myth.
  • Margarine increases risk of heart disease: no. (Not if it's the non-hydrogenated kind.)
  • Margarine was originally made to fatten up turkeys but instead it killed them: wrong again.

No one, other than my friends, seems to have heard the myth that margarine is made from petroleum.

OMA recommends taxing junk food

Did you know a half litre of chocolate milk has 12 1/2 tsp. sugar?

Recently the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) held a press conference at which the province's doctors came out in favour of increasing taxes on junk food, while at the same time decreasing taxes on healthy alternatives. The OMA went so far as to suggest placing graphic warning labels on pop and other high calorie foods having little or no nutritional value.

The graphic images presented were pretty horrible. I am sure the OMA hoped to grab media attention by juxtaposing an image of an ulcerated foot with that of a juice box. If that was their intent, they were successful. (Read Ian Gillespie's opinion piece in The London Free Press.)

Taxing high calorie food is already being done in Denmark, Hungary and France. Peru, Ireland and the UK are considering such taxes. Maybe it is high time for Ontario to consider following suit. Research indicates the tax must be 20 percent or higher in order to cut consumption. The levy should be accompanied by subsidies on healthy foods. Research indicates those with low incomes benefit the most from these measures.

One juice box may contain 36 grams of sugar.
According to the OMA obesity in children is at epidemic levels. 26 percent of Canadian children between two and 17 years of age are considered overweight, 8 percent to the point of obesity. These numbers are almost double what they were a little more than three decades ago.

The trend is staggering. Statistics indicate 75% of obese children will become obese adults. We may be raising the first generation of children to not outlive their parents.

All this is very important to me; I have two lovely granddaughters. I look at the stuff that can sneak into their diets, stuff that wasn't around when I was a boy, and I worry. We are learning how to manufacture some pretty awful stuff and call it food. And reporters, like Luisa D'Amato of The Record, are quick to jump to the defence of this true junk food.

"A carton of grape juice is not the same as a carton of cigarettes. Not even close," she writes.

I think most of us would agree with her, and most of us might be wrong. Take Welch's Healthy Start Grape Juice. A 200 ml juice box contains more than 31 grams of sugar. Now you know why the OMA warns against excess consumption of grape juice, even 100 percent grape juice with no added sugar must be consumed in limited amounts.

And we aren't even looking at grape drinks (grape drink as opposed to grape juice). The added sugar can push grape drinks into the bad nutrition stratosphere.

D'Amato suggests we resist overeating despite the temptation posed by our cheap, abundant food. D'Amato misses the point. Way too much of our oh-so-abundant food is incredibly calorie rich and a lot of what is being offered our children is nutrient deficient junk food. With foods high in fats and sugars, we do not have to overeat to pack on the pounds, clog the arteries and overwhelm our bodies.

When I was a boy I ate Kellogg's Krumbles for breakfast as kids had done since 1912. Krumbles were a  toasted whole wheat cereal lacking the sugar coating de rigeur today. Krumbles disappeared from store shelves decades ago. Some of today's cereals, like Kellogg's Honey Smacks and Post Golden Crisp, are more than 50 percent sugar (by weight) according to an article that Consumer Reports ran in 2008.

The same CR article states that such sugary cereals are heavily marketed to children, to the tune of about $229 million advertising dollars per year. With that kind of money driving sales, maybe the doctors are onto something when they suggest using the tax code to apply the brakes to sales.

Many of our processed foods add solid fats along with added sugar. Together, solid fats and added sugar are known as SoFAS.

To cut back on SoFAS the Mayo Clinic advises limiting table sugar, desserts, pizza, sausage and similar fatty meats, sweetened beverages, stick margarine and butter, and candy.

A tax applied in a reasonable manner would not price food out of reach of the poor but encourage companies to beat the tax by offering nutritionally rich food products at prices reflecting the tax-free status. My wife's homemade pizza goes heavy on the artichokes, tomato slices, broccoli and colourful sweet peppers and it is light on bacon, sausage and cheese. No warning is needed on my wife's Mediterranean diet pizza - a pizza inspired by our visit to southern France and Italy.

There is no hotdog stuffed crust to be found sullying real Italian, oh-so-healthy, pizza.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease affects up to 25% of folk living in the States.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Art: A child could do it

I'm always partial to works by Fiona, my three-year-old granddaughter.
Friday my wife was given a piece of art. It was a blank sheet of white paper with four little, green lines drawn in the middle of each of the sheet's four sides. My wife thought it was rather "cute."

Think of Nothing To Be Afraid Of V 22.8.69
I didn't know what to think. Heck, when I was in art school back in the '60s, this would have been a brilliant piece of minimalist art. Think of Nothing To Be Afraid Of V 22.8.69 by British artist Bob Law.

Law, who died aged 70 in 2004, was one of the founding fathers of British minimalist painting. When he died he left his 9ft by 7ft “painting” (white apart from the date and a black border drawn with a marker pen).

So, who was the creative artist that gave my wife the gift? It was a little girl not quite five at the school where my wife works.

I told my wife that if that piece had been eight feet by ten feet and not eight inches by ten inches, it would have been a totally different art piece. Size matters in art. She wasn't buying it.

This wasn't art that a child could do, this was a child's art.

If I can find the piece, I'll iron it (my wife let it get wrinkled) and I'll post the work of the little genius. I wonder if the kid needs an agent.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Newspapers shape our view of the world

When I worked in the media there were things that one simply did not do. If you did, you risked a reprimand or worse.

I can recall being assigned to illustrate a story on prostitution and the desk actually arranged a meeting with a real streetwalker. I met the lady on Dundas Street at Rectory at dusk and shot pictures of her from some distance using a long lens.

The resulting pictures showed the silhouette of a heavy lady in too short a skirt standing alone on a dark street waving to passing vehicles. We didn't want to make her identity too clear. She wasn't concerned. Her friends and family knew she earned her money hooking, still using some discretion seemed wise.

I never liked faking pictures. Fake a shot and you simply reinforce the standard, hackneyed take on a story. For a case in point, look at these two screen grabs. Today The London Free Press may illustrate a news story using a royalty free stock image. This one is from Fotolia.

I understand Fotolia is a fine company and a good source of stock images. Yet, are images like this one what should be illustrating our newspapers and shaping our view of the world?

Friday, October 19, 2012

London: a fine, friendly city_ and not in the least bit dull

The other night I attended a ReThink London event held in the Wolf Auditorium at the Central Library in London, Ontario.

Leaving the event I bumped into an old acquaintance, a woman I've known and admired for years, a woman I met through my former job at the local paper. We chatted briefly, bringing each other up to speed on the changes in our lives since we last bumped into each other. (We do bump now and then as we seem to have interests that intersect now and then.)

I told her about my two granddaughters and how Fiona, the oldest, is now more than three. The woman's eyes lit up, sparkling more than usual. I've got just the thing for a little girl; I've got a great little book. "Have you ever heard of 'A House Is a House for Me'?"

It seems this woman had three copies for some reason and had recently given one away. She said she'd love to send Fiona here last spare copy. She took my address and a few days later the book arrived.

I have a plastic turtle that I was given when I was about Fiona's age. It, too, was a gift from a stranger. I still have that turtle and it still makes me smile. It represents the friendliness of strangers. The world is not a cold place and this truth is embodied in my turtle.

Now, Fiona has a gift that carries the same message. Nice.

London, like most cities, is not cold. London is a friendly town. Just ask Fiona.

Fiona liked this art we made together so much that she took a picture.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Art? A three-year-old could do it!

Flowers: a water colour by Fiona Blair, 3

I love the art often referred to as "modern art." I'm attracted by the splashes of colour, the bold application of paint, paint applied so thickly that the painting has a veritable sculptural quality on the picture plane.

One criticism one oh-so-often hears is: "A child could do it." So? Your point is?

Actually, the chance of a child turning out a Willem de Kooning style work is somewhat hard to see. But, after enjoying a de Kooning one is better positioned to enjoy a child's art on a whole new level.

Rainbow: a water colour by Fiona Blair, 3

Monday, September 24, 2012

You can't pump your own gas in Oregon

Before 1947 there were no self-serve gas stations.
You read correctly. Drivers can't pump their own gas in Oregon. Self-serve gas stations are illegal. I'd forgotten this weird little fact until Sunday when I listened to some folk discussing their recent road trip through the American northwest. They were surprised to be told they could not pump their own gas in Oregon. It's been illegal in the state since 1951.

It was just four years earlier, 1947, that Frank Ulrich, an independent gas station operator in Los Angeles,  opened the first self-serve gas station. His mantra was: “Save 5 cents, serve yourself, why pay more?” He sold half a million gallons in his first month.

It took more than two decades but eventually almost every state and province conceded that do-it-yourself gas pumpers would not blow themselves up. Today, only two states remain solid hold-outs: Oregon and New Jersey. Both have looked at rescinding the prohibition but both ran into fierce opposition. Apparently people in those states don't object to forgoing the pleasure of pumping their own smelly gasoline.

So, are their any advantages or disadvantages of having such a law? One person thought it was a great idea as it provided jobs. And they were right. There are approximately a whopping 8000 gas pump attendants in Oregon pumping an estimated $160 million into the Oregon economy.

Some take offence at the fuel pumping restriction and belittle the job creation claim. The ban may create thousands of jobs but they are working-poor-poor type jobs --- and these jobs are created at a very high cost, or so goes the argument. If gasoline in Oregon costs more than in surrounding states, this extra expense is the cost to society for providing folk with substandard jobs.

The argument sounds reasonable but it may not be true. When it comes to salary, the top 25 percent of gas pump attendants in Oregon earn more than $25,250 with those at the very top of the range are taking home something north of $30,000. Tips from appreciative drivers bump the gas jockey income up another notch.

The median salary for pumping gas in Oregon is about $20,000. This isn't surprising as the minimum wage in Oregon is about $9 an hour. This translates into a full-time wage in the neighbourhood of $18,500 annually. (The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) places the poverty level in Oregon at $11,170 for a single person, $15,130 for a couple and $19,090 for a couple with one child.)

As for the burdensome cost to society, if there is a burden, it is nicely hidden. In New Jersey, the other state where self serve gas stations have been outlawed, the price of gas is consistently less than that charged in surrounding states. In Oregon the cost of gas is not high in comparison with neighbouring states. This fact is confirmed by my friends who recently traveled the roads of Washington state, Oregon and California.

Oregonian reporter Joseph Rose wrote a column on the longstanding law. He recalled an evening from his youth when he and five friends pulled into an Exxon station in need of gas. A lanky figure with a greasy wool cap stood next to the pumps. The man was Rose's dad. Desperate for a paycheck, his dad had taken the only job he could find: Pumping gas.

I read many other similar stories on the Net. Sometimes getting a simple gas jockey job can be a godsend.

When I was in Oregon two years ago, I did pump my own gas. I thought the attendants were worried about spilling fuel on my antique Morgan. Nope. It turns out motorcycle drivers and heritage car owners both enjoy an exemption. I hear diesel drivers are also allowed to pump their own fuel. I fully understand the thinking. I belong to all three groups and can assure you that these are all exceptional people.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Newspaper filler isn't filling

If you take a daily newspaper, you may well have read how awful the returns are on one's investments today. And the poor returns of today are not going to improve in the future, or so we are told. I wouldn't bank on it.

I heard from one reporter who took offence at my position. This reporter had written one of the "investment world is coming to an end" pieces that so offend me. No one knows the future when it comes to investment returns. Frightening people with negative scare stories, making them feel powerless when it comes to investing for their future is wrong. It is just completely wrong.

We should be encouraging people to take an active role in managing their retirement funds. They should know enough to judge whether their investments are performing well or not. And if they are not, and they know it, they can take measures to improve their portfolio's performance. No one need accept three percent growth. No one.

The reporter who wrote me was very defensive about a piece they had written on the diminished returns to now be expected from RSP savings. This reporter told me: "I'm not going to tell you I am some financial whiz or pretend to be. I am a middle-class [person] trying to make ends meet.  I was told to get something together under deadline, the same day." They went on to say, "I was assigned [this] out of the blue."

The reporter seemed to think that it simply wasn't fair for me to criticize. I don't work to a deadline. They told me that I have " months to fume, ruminate, dissect and ultimately write" my opinion pieces. Yes I do. And it is a luxury. I admit it.

Still, what the paper ran was wrong. Quite wrong. And I can prove it. I opened a tax free savings plan some months ago and it has done very well indeed. It has delivered fine gains plus very nice dividends. I am up 18.59 percent

My tax free savings plan is up almost 19%.
And how did I pull off this miracle? I went to the library. I took out some books on investing and read them. And, most importantly, I didn't read the newspaper for advice. Unlike the authors of the books I read, newspaper writers (by their own admission) are pumping out words to deadline to fill column inches. All too sad. When I started in the newspaper business in the early '70s, financial page writers were knowledgeable folk who spent their time ruminating on the stuff about which they would eventually report. (My much larger RSP portfolio, with about 32 different investments (stocks, ETFs and mutual funds), is sporting approximately a 8.8% annualized return at this moment. It rises and falls with the market.)

I have heard from readers who protest that those who opened RSPs in the years right before the massive crash of 2008 and 09 are still struggling to recoup their losses. Earning more than six percent annually on their retirement funds is but a distant dream for these people, I'm told.

Curious, I calculated the outcome for a young person who started saving for retirement on January 1st, 2005. This is just a few short years away from the global financial meltdown to come. A conservative type, my young saver put the money in the TD Monthly Income balanced fund and reinvested the monthly payments. (A DRIP plan) They made annual contributions at the first of every year. Today, less than eight years later, they have earned the annalized equivalent of 6.1%. If they'd have put aside $3000 annually, today they would have $46,301.79. They would be well on their way to a successful retirement.

Please read this paragraph from an e-mail from a reporter working at a daily paper.

"You quickly forgot the pressures and stress associated with modern journalism. This ain't the so-called good old days. There aren't 150 people in the newsroom anymore. Our deadlines aren't the next day, they're now. We write for the web, produce videos, tweet and ultimately write at the end of the day for the print record. We cover what we can and work with what we have . . . "

They went on to say that they think they do a fine job. I think, when you take into consideration that they are understaffed, overworked and undertrained for the rich mix of professions they must now juggle, that they do do an amazing job. But amazing is not always fine.