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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Pedantic? Yes. Still, some in the media once cared.

The Caduseus should not be used to symbolize medicine.

Not being up on ancient symbols and Greek mythology, I once thought the winged staff with two intertwined serpents was nothing more than a visually balanced, slightly fancier version of a simpler symbol with a single snake wrapped in a similar fashion about a staff. Both symbols are associated with medicine and health care but one is wrong.

The symbol with two snakes on a winged rod is the Caduceus or the magic wand of the Greek god Hermes, who, according to the Toronto Police, under the Romans morphed into Mercury, the God of Commerce. The police, in explaining their logo online, make no mention of any medical connection. (Click the link and scroll to page nine.)

The simpler symbol is the staff of Asclepius, the early Greek God of Medicine. According to an Internet site English-Word Information, legend has it the physician Asclepius cured so many people that Pluto complained to Zeus that Hades was becoming under populated.

Angered at the physician tampering with life and death, Zeus struck the good doctor with a thunderbolt.

After death, Asclepius became a god. The sick and maimed visited his temples to pray and give sacrifice, trusting the physician/god would cure them. If temple records are to be believed, thousands and thousands of sick people throughout the centuries were freed from pain and restored to health. (Maybe Asclepius should be the god of the placebo.)

So how did the Caduceus become the symbol of medicine? Well, according to Dr. Lanny Close, writing for the Johns Hopkins Medicine Magazine:

"The misconception that the Caduceus is the symbol of medicine stems from the adoption of the Caduceus by a U.S. Army Medical Corps officer in 1902 as a symbol for that group. Since the Caduceus is associated with commerce, theft, deception, and death, we, in medicine, are well advised not to use it to represent our profession."

Are folks who worry about this just being pedantic? Maybe. But, a lot of folk in the medical profession get their knickers all in a knot over the use of the Caduseus. The Amercian Medical Association went so far as to drop the winged wand with two serpents from their logo almost nine decades ago.

The Royal Army Medical Corps (Britain), Royal Canadian Medical Corps and just about all medical doctors and clinics, at least, in Europe use the single snake symbol.

And how did I become aware of this controversy? Some years ago one of the American networks announced it was no longer using the intertwined snakes symbol, the Caduseus, as their on-air symbol for medicine. They said those in the know convinced them the Caduseus is tainted. It is associated with theft, deception, and death.

I'm going to leave the last word to Dr. Timothy Rodgers:

"In these days of malpractice suits, HMO’s, avaricious insurance, pharmaceutical companies, and societal values where cosmetic surgery seems to be more important than health care, the cynic might say that the Caduceus is the more representative symbol of modern medicine."

Hmmm. Maybe The London Free Press wasn't so far off after all.

Now, the use by the Toronto Police maybe another matter. I wonder if they know about the theft and deception connections?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Don't baby boomers ever die?

Don't baby boomers ever die? Reporter Dan Brown of The London Free Press warns readers of The London Free Press that by 2061 aging "so-called baby boomers" will  make up "24% to 28%" of Canada's population. Among other things, all these seniors will put a huge strain our health care system.

Actually, I don't think Brown should be too concerned. The youngest baby boomers will be about 95 years old by then and the oldest will be about 114. I don't like foretelling the future, but in this case I feel safe; By 2061 there will not be enough centenarian boomers to stress our health care system.

Brown, without knowing it, ended his curse-of-the-baby-boomers story on an upbeat note: Japan's population is already old folk heavy today. 25 percent of the population is seniors, according to Brown. Why is this a hopeful sign? Well, despite the heavy burden of seniors, Japan spends less per capita on health care than Canada while the average life expectancy is longer.

At this point, Canada has a full 48 years to catch-up with the Japanese.
Comparing International Health Care Systems_PBS NewsHour

Saturday, November 23, 2013


English/French actress Jane Birkin puts a jazz twist to a song written by Englishman Eric Maschwitz who was suffering from his break-up with lover, Anna May Wong, a Chinese/American.

There are concerns being expressed by some members of my family that sending my granddaughter, Fiona, to a French language school may separate her from her culture. The worry is that she may miss out on such important cultural milestones as Shakespeare. Some fear she has been removed from her cultural surroundings, cut loose from her English-culture anchor. They may be right.

Still, I was quite excited on learning Fiona's parents were attempting to enroll the little girl in a French language school. I was proud of my granddaughter when I learned she had been accepted; She had to show a strong aptitude for language and she apparently did. She cleared the big hurdle of a face-to-face interview. Impressive. I was so taken with the possibility of her enriching her life with the addition of a second language, a second culture, I totally forgot time spent on French culture is time not spent on English.

I've thought a lot about this 'problem' and I've decided that today it is a non-issue. Culture today is not what it once was — take my grandfather. He was born in Princeton, Ontario, in 1876. This was a time when it was not uncommon to be born, raised, mature and die all within the same little hamlet.

My grandfather was among those that broke the mold; Well, at least he bent it. He went off to university to become a pharmacist. He took a job in Chicago with the then young Cunningham pharmacy chain, but the draw of his own country, of his small town ambitions, of his Southwestern Ontario culture, drew him to Brantford, Ontario, just a short drive from his hometown.

My grandfather spent most of the remainder of his life in Brantford. He traveled little, not even on vacation. He married and remained married to the same woman until his death in his 90s. He raised four children and two remained close to home. One even became a pharmacist and worked for years for and with granddad.

I compared my grandfather's experience with those of many of the kids with whom I went to school back in the '50s and '60s. My best friend in high school was an Armenian girl born in Cairo. Rose was a rich mix of cultures. She spoke English, Armenian, Egyptian Arabic, French and smattering of Italian. Born in Cairo, Egypt, but raised in Windsor, Ontario, she loved to spend summers in Montreal. The French/Anglo metropolis was simply so cosmopolitan, she said. Today I believe she lives in Los Angeles, California, another cosmopolitan city. Rose has lived a life deeply enmeshed in international culture and benefited from the resulting cultural richness.

Today cultures no longer just collide but they also mesh, they butt up to each other and blend, forced together by the great mixing of people on the move, by movies and other forms of entertainment which span the globe, and by business demands . . . Do I hope Fiona will read Shakespeare and watch a Shakespearean play? Yes, of course.

But I also hope that someday she will watch movies like the little French/English film Daddy Nostalgia. Directed by French film director Bertrand Tavernier and co-written by his English-born ex-wife Colo Tavernier O'Hagan. The film features Dirk Bogarde, born in England but who had his ashes skattered in France, Jane Birkin, another actor with strong British/France connections and the French actress and cabaret singer Odette Laure. Both Bogarde and Birkin were fluent in both English and French and it shows in the movie. What isn't so evident is that Bogarde was gay.

The film was beautifully filmed but not by a man but by a woman: Solange Martin. This is important because Martin, a woman, is not only a cinematographer but also a director as well as a screenwriter. In the culture in which I hope Fiona will live, women will tackle whatever interests them. Being a woman will not be an impediment blocking certain avenues of interest.

Daddy Nostalgia was also released under the title These Foolish Things. Roger Ebert wrote in his review: "That (title) refers to the song that haunts the movie, with some of the most bittersweet lyrics ever written, about how these foolish things remind me of you. Bertrand Tavernier’s whole movie is told in the tone of that song, as a fond, elegiac memory."

That song, These Foolish Things, was written around 1935 by Eric Maschwitz with music by Jack Strachey, both were Englishmen. The lingering tone of loss, of heartache, were said to be inspired by the feelings Maschwitz had for Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong. While working in Hollywood, Maschwitz loved Wong but they separated with Maschwitz returning to England. The words to These Foolish Things were a very public expression of his loss. (Adding a little extra to the cultural soup, Maschwitz was the son of a Lithuanian Jew.)

I hope little Fiona grows into big Fiona, culturally rich Fiona, a young woman confident in herself and fully at ease in her world. I do hope she knows a little of Shakespeare, I do, but I also hope she knows a lot more about a lot more.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Bistro dining on a budget

A cottage roll with vegetables done in a slow cooker makes for an inexpensive bistro meal.

Sometime ago a reporter with the local paper moaned about the prospect of eating pet food in retirement. Stories about the high cost of food are popular in the media and how the unemployed and struggling, retired seniors are forced to eat pet food. What silliness.
My wife watches the food ads carefully. About twice a year she picks up some cottage rolls for about $1 to $1.25 a pound. Three pound cottage rolls can be picked up for as little as $3 and what cannot be used immediately can be frozen for later. I confess that I paid a little more for the one in the picture but it still came with a big discount. It was near its best before date.

I placed the three pound cottage roll in a crock pot, surrounded it with chopped onion (1), chopped celery (2 stalks), chopped carrot (4) and chopped potato (4 peeled). I poured in a litre of vegetable broth and added enough water to just cover all. I didn't salt the cottage roll. It didn't need it. I did pepper the meat and float a dozen pepper corns in the liquid. Six hours on high and the bistro quality meal was ready to serve.

All the vegetables plus the broth were bought on sale. I like to stock up on boxed broth, low sodium version, whenever it is on sale. When stocking up on sale priced food stuffs, all must have a good shelf life, but done with care this can help slash your food budget.

We'll get about ten meals from my slow cooker dinner. I'll bet these meals are costing us less than some popular pet foods. Truth be told, if you want to eat pet food in retirement it will cost you. Pet food is not inexpensive. You will do better learning how to cook.

p.s. If you watch the sales at the LCBO, you can pick up a box of Shiraz containing a mix of Canadian grapes and imported grape concentrate, often South American, and for about a dollar you can enjoy a small glass of wine with dinner. We like the offering from Jackson-Triggs.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Where's Santa? Where's an editor.

The Free Press story claimed for adult Londoners this was a parade that "took them back childhood."

Years ago I taught photography to students in the MA journalism program at Western, the university in London, Ontario. I stopped teaching because I burned out. Bluntly, the last classes I taught stunk. Yet, even those classes touched on the obvious failings of the Santa Claus parade picture published online by The London Free Press.

Newspaper sales are down. Responding to falling readership numbers chains like Sun Media, owned by Quebecor, have been slashing jobs. Sadly, along with slashing jobs they have been slashing professionalism. But the loss of professionalism starts at the top. The published picture is a snap shot and the story is filled with errors but the responsibility for this debacle should be dumped at the feet of the newspaper chain owners.

With the photo staff in tatters and the editorial staff equally hard hit, people at newspapers are simply too hard pressed. There was a reason why in the past publications insisted that those taking photographs understand photography and halftone production. There were reasons stories were given to story editors and checked by proof readers.

Jonathan Sher is an excellent investigative reporter. He is an award winner and rightly so. But force Jonathan to take the photos, to write the story and to get the whole package up and onto the net ASAP, along with whatever other assignments he had that day, and errors will not creep in but flood in. It will be an embarrassment. And newspaper people from the past, those with years of experience in the business, could have told Quebecor what was in store.

I took a few moments to attempt removing the yellow cast.
A reader, Maureen Cartmell-Smithers said it all: "The writing of this article is full of very poor grammar. Would have been nice to see some of the floats in the article. Thank you."

An editor would have cleaned up the prose, adding missing prepositions, etc.

A photographer would have supplied a real picture, something that told a stronger story. And a photographer would have not have handed in an image with a garish, yellow colour cast.

The Sun Media and Quebecor owners should be ashamed.

I shot the Hyde Park parade last year. See what a retired Free Press photographer captures with a small point and shoot when he is out recording memories for his family's photo album.

If The Free Press reporter could have shot RAW with a fast lens, he could have told a lot more of the parade story. He could have shown smiling, excited faces, parade floats, candy tossers and candy catchers; He could have shown us images of the folk in the story; And speaking of those in the story, he could have shown us Santa Claus.

There are reasons for our newspaper's shabby coverage but none of the reasons provide an excuse.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

▶ Alvin Lee, the blues and upcoming heart surgery

▶ Alvin Lee(Ten Years After) - The Bluest Blues - Vidéo Dailymotion
To hear Alvin Lee, click the link and be patient. This loaded slowly on my computer.

I'm going into the hospital in mid-December. I must have ablation surgery to put an end to the arrhythmia that has affected my heart for the past few month. I'm getting a little tired of doctors working on the old ticker. It's beginning to wear on my nerves. I'm looking forward to life without the arrhythmia but I am not looking forward to the ablation, the physical destruction of the electrical pathway that carries the flutter signal.

Trying to take my mind off the upcoming surgery I decided to listen to some old rock artists. I started with Lou Reed, worked into Savoy Brown and continued on to Alvin Lee of Ten Years After fame. I learned that Alvin Lee died this spring in Spain of complications from surgery to correct an arrhythmia.

So much for taking my mind off my upcoming surgery. Oh well . . . best just to listen to Alvin Lee and rejoice in his life. The man played a great blues guitar.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

What do babies think?

A very young Fiona entertaining herself with a book.

I've been intrigued by the babies that have recently entered my life: Fiona, Eloise and Isla - my three granddaughters. All show signs of doing a lot of thinking long before they are able to share those thoughts with others.

When Fiona was still a little baby, scooting about the house on her little bum, Fiona could communicate, she could make me aware of her desire to go outside. 

One day the little girl dragged my heavy, winter coat to where I was working on my computer. She left the coat at my feet, scooted from the room and returned almost immediately with my boots, then my gloves and finally my camera bag. I bundled her up against the cold and off I went with little child held tightly in my arms. I almost never used a stroller -- too impersonal.

When I saw this Ted Talk video I immediately wanted to share it. It isn't overly long. Enjoy.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

When myths take over

The headline read: "When The Kids Take Over." According to the article in The London Free Press, aging baby boomers will soon lose control of the housing market as their children, the echo boomers or generation Y, become the local real estate market movers and shakers.

This is undoubtedly true. The echo generation is a big one, almost as big as the baby boom. At 9.1 million, it falls just half a million short of equaling the baby boom. Some of those echo "kids" are already 41 years old, so it is no surprise they are buying homes and raising families.

Still, it will be awhile before the old timers are no longer a major market force. According to Stats Canada, "over three quarters of Canadian households own their homes by the age of 65." It is important to remember that the youngest boomers are only 49 today. Many face years of monthly mortgage payments before taking full title to their home.

Despite all the stories about aging empty-nesters moving to retirement communities, the truth is older folk love their family homes. As baby boomers reach 65, these seniors are not going to immediately start contemplating the sale of their fully-paid-for-homes. Mortgage free homes are often inexpensive places to live and so it should come as no surprise that home ownership among seniors doesn't begin declining in any meaningful way until after age 75. There are nine years remaining before the first wave of baby boomers hits that 75 year mark and even then many will hold onto their homes.

I doubt Sean Quigley, executive director of Emerging Leaders, is correct when he says echo boomers are not as likely to buy suburban homes as their parents. Echo boomers will prefer to live in a downtown neighbourhood according to Quigley. I lived in a neighbourhood almost downtown when I was in my twenties and thirties. My home was by Labatt Park, but that didn't stop me from buying a home in Byron when I needed a place suitable for my aging mother and my growing family. A fifteen minute commute was not a deal breaker.

Still, I wish he was right, it would lessen urban sprawl, but I'm sure he is wrong. I can see little to gain by living in the core. Downtown London, like so many downtowns in cities right around the globe, is broken. Millions have been spent in an attempt to fix the core but at this time the money has only succeeded in applying some expensive band-aids to the crippled neighbourhood.

Unlike the downtown, damaged by the passing years and all the accompanying changes, the suburbs were built damaged. If we are going to have a better city, fixing the downtown while ignoring the suburbs is not a complete answer.

I'm lucky. My Byron home is well situated. I can walk to stores and restaurants and parks. If I decide to drive, I can go to the grocery store and be home within five minutes as long as there is no long line-up at the check-out.

Suburbia in London is not the same as suburbia in Toronto or other major cities. By many definitions of suburbia, my Byron home is in the city and not in the suburbs at all.

A young boy from next door shovels my walk.
I agree with The Free Press that echo boomers are buying homes in the core and in Old South, but echo boomers are also buying homes in Byron and the other so-called suburbs. Already, I believe, almost 40 percent of the homes on my court are owned by young couples who are the sons and daughters of baby boomers. These "kids", as the paper calls them, have chosen to raise their families outside the core.

And for me, this is a good thing. The neighbourhood teens shovel the snow from my walk in the winter, rake the leaves and crab apples from my lawn in the fall and cut my grass in the spring and summer. Young people give my neighbourhood a sense of life, of continuity.

And those echo boomer children are making staying in the family home just that much easier for my wife and me.