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Monday, July 30, 2012

. . . but I know what I like.

To paraphrase a famous retort about art knowledge, "I don't know about child psychology but I know what I like (when it comes to raising kids.)

No, I've never actually heard that exact response but I have heard folk claim they don't give two hoots about what experts say about child rearing but they are quite sure how to do it. The opinion of the experts is held in such low esteem that the experts are not consulted nor given even a cursory reading. All this is not all that surprising considering that there is all too often a wall of misinformation surrounding experts and their opinions: Take B.F. Skinner.

The glass wall removed, Deborah enjoys her mother's touch.
Some years ago B. F. Skinner, of behavioral modification fame, wrote a utopia themed book titled Walden Two. I read Walden Two while staying with a far left leaning family in Berkeley, California, in the late '60s. A core theme of the fictional work was the controlled behavior modification of the community children.

A close friend, who was studying psychology, had made me aware of the Skinner box used in the training and testing of pigeons and lab rats. But, Skinner was famous for another box, one used in child rearing. This box is often known as the "Skinner baby tender."

Skinner put his daughter Deborah into a Skinner baby tender in her early years . . . an air-conditioned crib with see through walls. By Deborah's own account, her crib provided her a place to sleep and to remain warm without the rashes involved in being wrapped within numerous layers of clothes and blankets. Deborah slept in her novel crib until she was two and a half years old, and by all accounts grew up a happy, healthy, thriving child and is now a successful artist living in London.

Despite the success of Skinner's Air Crib, false and oh-so-nasty stories circulated about the baby tender, Deborah Skinner and her father. The most damning and most inaccurate stories were spread by author Lauren Slater in her 2004 book Opening Skinner's Box . . .

Deborah Skinner has a website where she talks a little about her childhood and the Air Crib. There are no bad memories. In fact, I believe her sister, Julie, used an Air Crib with both her daughters, Lisa and Justine.

Deborah Skinner also uses her site to showcase her art which can be purchased online. To view her horse drawings follow this link: Horses by Skinner. To view her landscapes click here: Landscapes by Skinner.

If you are interested in reading more about Deborah Skinner and her response to the error filled  stories shrouding her early childhood, read: I was not a Lab Rat.

There is a warning in this tale: Be cautious. Do not be too quick to believe what you read. Furthermore, do not be too quick to dismiss what you haven't read.

Addendum: I believe my wife, without knowing it, is using Skinner operant conditioning to toilet train our granddaughter. Whenever Fiona uses the potty she is rewarded with some M&Ms. Shades of the Skinner box and its food pellet rewards used to teach pigeons and rats to pull a lever, yes?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Koans and the search for enlightenment

I have known a number of practising Buddists. Young people drawn to this Eastern philosophy, I hesitate to call what they were seeking religion, were especially common in Berkeley in the late '60s.

One goal they all shared was a search for enlightenment. One thing I never heard anyone talk at length about was reincarnation.

Last night, at a friend's home, we somehow got into a discussion of religion. My friend said he would never consider Buddhism as he could not get past the belief in reincarnation. I told him how I had had some interest in Buddhism but never got passed the koans. Koans are short, sometimes confusing, stories told by Masters to encourage thinking, to awaken new ways of approaching the problems of life. They are a powerful tool used by Masters to instruct students in the value of creative thinking, of intuitive reasoning, and to move them towards enlightenment.

For me, all this brought to mind the following koan:

A certain monk lived for one thing and one thing only: enlightenment. He worked day and night, endlessly, to reach the fully awakened state. But, his frequent, intense bouts of meditation instead of bringing him closer to his goal appeared to be playing havoc with both his mind and his body. Suffering mentally and physically he sought the guidance of the Master.

The Master taught the monk the theory of reincarnation. He patiently explained that this present life would be followed by many more. If he lived a life sotted by spirtuality, this would be carried over into the next. The Master advised him to ease up, to step back and find the natural order of life. When he was not overstressed by arduous mediation, when he was not trying to drive himself  forcefully forward, he would find enlightenment. Only by looking away could he hope to see.

The monk followed his Master's instructions and rapidly made great spiritual progress. He let go of his obsessive push for enlightenment and stopped focusing on the future and instead dwelt on the moment and enjoying the present. His mental and physical health improved greatly and the monk was very happy with his progress. He was so happy that he shared his Master's teachings with his friend Toto, a man, although also interested in enlightenment, had a much different temperament than the monk. The friend set off to visit the Master.

At the meeting Toto confessed he meditated irregularly, indulged in pleasures of the body and left his mind unchallenged. Toto talked of his friend the monk and how an understanding of reincarnation had turned his present life completely around. Toto said that he understood it was the Master's guidance that had led to the monk's improved state in both mind and body.
The Master frowned, telling Toto flatly, "There is no reincarnation. It is a lie. The greatest sin you can commit is losing focus and squandering the opportunity for enlightenment offered by this life."

The Master came down hard on Toto for his laziness and for his view that reincarnation offered all a second chance. "There is no reincarnation; You are simply lazy; You are wasting a precious life."

Jolted by the Master's words, Toto reacted immediately. He straightened himself up, abandoned his vices, gave up all his indulgent ways. His spiritual progress reached new heights with regular and intense meditation.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Questions swirl about Fontana

Update 2:

There is a Dec. post on the blog The closer you look . . . examining Trinity Global charitable work. It is a good read.  Unfortunately, this blog now requires a password to access. Strange. This closer-you-look blog broke some of the early stuff in the Fontana story. I left the link but it seems to be a deadend today. I wonder who is behind this blog.
Accounting on World's AIDS Day.

And here is a link to a February 21, 2013, story in The London Free Press. Chip Martin is doing a great job covering this story. Read: Feds target charity chaired by Fontana.

Older update:

The Sat. Aug. 18, 2012 edition of The London Free Press carried an article by Chip Martin under the headline: Fontana-led charity threatens lawsuits.

According to the Martin piece, a charity (Trinity Global) headed by London Mayor Joe Fontana has threatened to sue the London daily and two city hall bloggers - Gina Barber and Phil McLeod - over stories they all ran about the charity and the mayor.

The London Free Press online headline that drew the lawyer's attention read: "Fontana's connections draw scrutiny, Foundation chaired by mayor founded by securities fraudster."

Chip Martin reported:

Fontana is chairman of Trinity Global Foundation, a charity established by a boyhood chum who faces accusations of fraud and misleading investors of $19 million. Fontana's son, Ugo Joseph, is president.

Joe Fontana joined the board of Trinity Global in 2008. . . . He joined at the invitation of his boyhood friend from Timmins, Vincent Ciccone, who founded it a year earlier.

Ciccone left Trinity Global after Ontario securities regulators said he defrauded and misled investors with his private investment firm, Ciccone Group, to the tune of $19 million between 2008 to 2010.
"Vince is a friend and always will be," Fontana said. "What people do in their private lives is their own business. I'm not associated in that respect."

Reading this story brought to mind another story in which Joe Fontana and Vince Ciccone featured prominently. Read the following from Hansard for October 26, 1988:


Mr. Pope: My question is to the Premier and it concerns exactly his new standards. It is with respect to a decision made by the former Minister of Housing, the member for Scarborough North (Mr. Curling), and implemented by the current Minister of Housing (Ms. HoŇ°ek), concerning just who exactly profits from his nonprofit and public housing programs in this province.

Specifically, I am referring the Premier to a controversial construction project in the city of Timmins that has been before the city of Timmins council in the last week. Can the Premier justify the awarding of a Renterprise approval in Timmins to his campaign worker, Joe Fontana, and his associate, Vince Ciccone, both of London, and allowing them within one minute on September 3 to flip land for a profit of $66,820?

Hon. Mr. Peterson: I have no knowledge of the matter the honourable member is speaking of. If he wants to give me the details, I will obviously look into it.

Mr. Pope: Not only was the land acquired in one minute and disposed of the next for a profit of $66,820, but can the Premier explain to us how someone like Joe Fontana, who professes to be one of his campaign workers, with no development experience, no construction experience and no site available, would ever be approved for a Renterprise loan in the first place?

Hon. Mr. Peterson: I have absolutely no knowledge of the matter my honourable friend is talking about. I can assure him we will look at it. Somebody just handed me a note, and if I can understand it, I will read it to him.

Mr. Pope: The fact of the matter is that over the past few months this project has been beset by deficiencies in construction, stop-work orders, construction liens, poor quality workmanship, still not completed, occupied by tenants on a rent subsidy basis that his Minister of Housing is involved in. His Minister of Housing approved financial support to the tune of $310,000. Now they are attempting to convert the project into condominiums to get out from under.

Can the Premier explain to the tenants of Timmins, who need this housing desperately, why he has allowed deterioration in the administration of the Renterprise program in this province, and specifically the disgraceful events that went on in Timmins with respect to this land and his campaign worker?

Hon. Mr. Peterson: As I said, I will look at the facts and share them with my honourable friend. He may well know something I do not know.

At the time that this appeared in Hansard, The London Free Press chased the story and ran an interview with Lionel Bonhomme of Timmins,  the original owner of the land at the centre of the controversy. A reference to the article can be found in Hansard.

Joe Fontana has had a colourful career since he appeared on the City of London radar many years ago when he led a group opposed to the locating of a federal prison in the London area. Fontana was successful; A prison was not located here.

If you are interested in the tax shelter angle to this story, here are some links:

The mayor was the focus of a post, Something smells, by Gina Barber, formerly a member of the old Board of Control. This article on Barber's personal blog drew the following comment. (Please note: I (Rockinon) googled some stuff stated in this comment. I found no solid support for the claim that there was anything legally inappropriate going on between Neil Friesen and Associates and One World United.:

I have invested in the company you [Gina Barber] mention in your article "Something Smells", dated Jan 3, 2011. . . . CEO Derk Maat , hasn't honored paying the promised dividends in January 2011. I invested in 2008 and never once received any financial statements , audited or unaudited, no Annual Report or any analysis done by a professional. This has been requested recently, but instead of coming up with the above, I am thanked for my patience and received some more empty promises. The contracts were handled by Neil Friesen and Associates from Winnipeg and they even have trouble finding the "exact" person that handled the transaction. The company came highly recommended as an institution run by Christians...I find this very ironic. I have just started to get behind all this and your article made a few very interesting points such as the fact that nobody really knows where GPEC is and exactly what it is they are doing. It is all stipulated on their website, but once you try to follow up, the only valid link is KMW energy. Their CEO, Mr Rosen also responded very favourably to Joe Fontana's intentions of cleaning up the city...Nothing wrong with that, it just seems like a strange chain. Not too long ago Friesen's involvement in the One World United scam, raised concern. What can I say, something smells....very bad indeed...  [

One could argue it is not fair to the mayor to have all these nebulous accusations swirling about, he deserves a full, in-depth, public examination to, let's say, clear the air.

Monday, July 23, 2012

3 year old tantrums

A common Google search is "3 year old tantrums."
My granddaughter is a perfectly normal 3-year-old; She throws tantrums.

She has emotional meltdowns and subjects all of us, parents and grandparents, to the turmoil.

Concerned, I typed "3 year old" into Google. The search engine ventured to guess my next word would be "tantrums." Clearly, I am not alone.

I quickly learned that temper tantrums are normal. In fact, they are to be expected from toddlers and older children learning to handle frustration.

Truly problem children may be those who are no problem. Unfailingly obedient, they like to play it safe and avoid conflict by never disobeying. According to Alfie Kohn, author of Unconditional Parenting. Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason,

"When I ask parents, at the beginning of my lectures, what their long term goals are for the children, I hear words such as ethical, compassionate independent happy and so on. No-one ever says mindlessly compliant."

A compliant child becomes a particular concern, Kohn says, when they reach adolescence. "If they take their orders from other people, that may include people we may not approve of. To put it the other way around: kids who are subject to peer pressure at its worst are kids whose parents taught them to do what they're told."

I laughed out loud when I read the following in an article run by The Guardian.

There seems to be a real fashion for taming children and the reason seems to be fear: It's not that most people are worried about one incident of wall-scribbling, but that they seem to fear what this behaviour will turn into if it's not kept in check, as if all children are just waiting to grow up into sociopaths. One of the comments I get a lot, at the end of my columns for the Family section of The Guardian (when I have advocated understanding and a more what would be called 'softly softly' approach to a child) is something along the lines of 'they'll turn into a monster if you don't put your foot down/show them who's boss'.

"It's not based on empirical evidence," argues Kohn. "It's a very dark view of human nature."

I'm with Kohn, and so is my granddaughter. She shows no signs of being anyone's future door mat, and no signs of being the next Bad Seed as played by child star Patty McCormick. Fiona my have a bit of rebellious spunk, but she is still a wonderful little girl who shares her "Emma Ems" and delights in helping around the house. She throws a proper tea party that would make Strawberry Shortcake proud.

Having embraced tantrums as a necessary stage in growing up, what's the best way to respond to these angry outbursts fueled by frustration? Sometimes a simple reminder to "use your words" is all that is necessary. For a full-blown tantrum, a timeout may be demanded. (One minute for every year of age is the timeout rule of thumb.)

Although we cannot eliminate tantrums, we can encourage better behavior. I've gleaned the following from the Internet:

  • Be consistent:  Establish a routine for your child so that they know what to expect. Nap time and bedtime should be part of this daily routine.
  • The flip side of the above is don't worry if you child must deal with different rules in different homes. Parents and grandparents don't have to be on the same page, just read from the same chapter. As long as all parenting approaches are reasonable, go with the flow. Think of this as one more lesson on getting along in life. 
  • Plan ahead:  If you need to run errands, go early in the day — when your child isn't likely to be hungry or tired. If you're expecting to wait in line, pack a small toy.
  • Encourage the use of words:  Toddlers and young children understand many more words than they express. As communication skills grow, tantrums tend to subside but with one caveat: For this to happen, you've got to listen and respond. Many kids go through an "I'd-like-to-do-it-myself" stage. If they communicate this feeling, the game has shifted into your court. It is up to you to build the time into the day to give them the opportunity of putting on their own shoes. Tantrum avoided.
  • Give your child a sense of control, let them make choices when appropriate. You are in charge. Use that power to give your child the chance to make decisions. Instead of saying, "Time to get dressed!" say, "Do you want to wear the blue blouse or the green one?" Instead of "Time to go to bed!" try "Which book shall we read before bed — this one, or that one?" Keeping the choices to two is generally best. Your child is less likely to feel bossed around. Another tantrum avoided.
  • A corollary to the above is: Compliment your child on his or her choices.
  • Praise good behavior:  Offer extra attention when your child behaves well. It may seem like standard, appropriate behaviour to you, an adult, but performed by a toddler or young child good behaviour earns a little hand clapping.
  • Use distraction:  If you sense a tantrum brewing, distract your child. Try and change the focus of the moment.
  • In the same vein as above, avoid situations likely to trigger tantrums.
  • Resist the temptation to give in:  Giving in to your child may quiet things down for the moment, but may teach them that tantrums work. Don't lay the foundation for future tantrums.
  • Lastly, take a deep breath  — both you and your child need to do this. Your child needs to regain control and you've got to keep control. If you are both upset, it's only going to make things worse.
We're all familiar with time-outs, but are you familiar with time-ins? Dr. Lawrence Kutner says,
"As children reach the preschool years, their interactions with their parents change. Because they are becoming more competent at dressing themselves and using the toilet, parents usually touch them much less. That means that older children do not get the rewards of physical attention that they once did. Yet they still need and crave lots of brief, affectionate contact throughout the day. That is where time-in fits. It is a way of lowering your child’s frustration level and averting some potential behavior problems. Throughout the day — perhaps 50 times a day or even more — when your child is behaving in an appropriate way, take two seconds to let her know in a nonverbal way that you approve. You can do this by briefly giving her a hug, stroking her hair, scratching her back, planting a kiss on the top of her head, or anything else that does not interrupt what she is doing but still gets the message across. In other words, you are reinforcing her when she is handling things well."

The most reassuring thing about tantrums? Most children outgrow them by age 4 or 5.

Give the child a sense of control and avoid a few tantrums.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sharing a moment

It's Sunday. I'm busy. But, I'm taking a moment to share this image with you. I loved the light and the moment. It is, by the way, my granddaughter.


Friday, July 20, 2012

Giving trolls exactly what they want; Well, maybe not exactly.

Nicola Brookes of Brighton, England, had her life upended by the Internet. Trolls publicly attacked the innocent English lady on Facebook. Brookes fought back. She petitioned the high court to force Facebook to release the identities of the trolls and won. Facebook has agreed to comply with the court order.

Brookes plans to bring a private prosecution against at least four alleged Internet trolls. "They wanted a reaction from me and now they have got it," Brookes said.

Internet trolls, like the ones that attacked Brookes, are not brilliant Internet hackers, despite often being portrayed that way in the main stream media. They are cowardly bullies, often attacking people they don't know, emboldened by their poor understanding of the anonymity of the Web.

These bullies are rarely anonymous. Their identities are known, not just publicly. They usually leave an easily followed trail. As I said, these are not brilliant hackers. These are jerks hiding behind the anonymity offered by Facebook or Twitter or the like.

In most cases, Facebook and Twitter know these bullies identities but keep the information guarded for legal reasons. Now, a pattern is emerging showing how to use the courts to pry this information free.

As Brookes so succinctly put it, these folks want "a reaction", they crave attention, let's give them what they want and give it to them in spades.

If you are thinking of setting up an online memorial, check out the linked post by The Cyber Safety Lady: Problems with Trolls and Facebook Memorials and Tribute Pages.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Welcome to the third world

A tourist assists in cranking open a lock on the Trent-Severn Waterway.

Years ago I used to say, "Don't bother visiting the third world. Just wait. The third world is coming to a neighbourhood near you." I had no idea how right I was.

On the weekend my wife and I drove to Peterborough for a family event. Saturday was free, so we drove about the city doing some touristy stuff. For instance, we checked out the local locks on the Trent-Severn Waterway.

The TSW has a history predating Canada itself. The canal has roots going back to about 1833. But the waterway is no longer needed for the transport of goods and has attracted the attention of the federal government budget cutters.

I talked to two tourists who had assisted staff with cranking open a lock. The tourists thought it was great fun. The lock staff appreciated the help. The lock staff is short handed.

The story I heard from locals was that the government was cutting the period of canal operation from 16 weeks to 8 weeks. Tour boat operators and canal boat rental companies would be hard hit financially if this comes to pass. They may not be able to make enough in such a short period of operation to remain in business.

You can read more about this by following these links:

Like I said, "Welcome to the third world."

Monday, July 9, 2012


My granddaughter in a kaleidoscope produced image.

When I was a young boy, one of my favorite toys was a kaleidoscope. It worked with a rotating ring and small pieces of randomly tumbling bits of coloured plastic. Then in the '60s, well into my teens, I discovered kaleidoscopes that break the world into a kaleidoscopic image. I thought this was really cool.

These units were inexpensively made out of a cardboard tube, a plastic lens and three little mirrors taped together; yes, I took one apart to inspect its innards.

I was so impressed that I bought one for each my nieces and nephews. I took them for a walk around their neighbourhood and we viewed their usual world in an unusual way.

The other day I found my old '60s kaleidoscope forgotten in a box in the basement. I wondered if I could capture the images it created. I positioned the lens of my point and shoot in front of the viewing hole and voila I had a picture.

I know there are apps available for the iPhone to manipulate images and give them the kaleidoscope look, but I enjoy watching the images form and evolve on my camera back. If the idea of an app interests you, check out Kooleido for your iPhone.

I'm wondering how hard it would be to make a proper little kaleidoscope to attach to the front of my point and shoot. There are instructions on the Internet for the old-fashioned children's toy and even suggestions on making one for use with a camera. If I make one that works, I'll post some pictures.

For high quality results, Photoshop may be the best answer. Start with a fine quality image and let Photoshop take it from there.

Flowers on the patio as seen through my kaleidoscope.
To see my best efforts, check out these. I tried my little gadget on my lilies.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Higgs Boson

This is a fine little animated feature explaining the Higgs Boson. The feature starts about forty seconds in. Cheers!