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Friday, February 28, 2014

Capitalism: The best system?

I posted this some time ago. Recent business closures in London, and the responses claiming capitalism is still the best system bar none, have made its reposting appropriate.

"Even Paul McCartney has admitted capitalism is the best system. And he was a big pinko back in the day." [source: Dan Brown of The London Free Press]

I groaned when I read Brown's claims and then I thought this could be a blog post — and it is.

Paul McCartney caused a stir in 1972 with his song "Give Ireland Back to the Irish." The song was banned on the BBC. I'm old enough to recall all sorts of silly stuff being said about the Beatles when they were at their peak, but I don't think Paul McCartney was ever a communist — but that's just my opinion. Go google this and get back to me. I did, and failed to find a solid connection.

But, I don't think McCartney's politics are really relevant. You might say this talk of his being a pinko is a bit of a red herring. The statement in which we're really interested is: "Capitalism is the best system." True or false?

This is a hard one to answer, especially for someone who is not an economist. I'll attempt answer, of sorts, but I'm going to come at the answer sideways. I'm not looking to get deep into an economic or political argument.

My first thought is that when I was young I would have agreed rather quickly with the statement. But with the passing of sixty some years I've changed and it is has not only me that has changed but capitalism. Capitalism today is not the capitalism of my childhood.

I believe the boosters of capitalism would say this is a strength of the capitalist system. It adapts to meet the demands of the day. This sounds good on the surface but what does that mean in reality? Have the changes I have experienced during the passing of some six some decades made capitalism better? If not, maybe the best system was some version of capitalism now adapted out of existence.

My grandfather was born on a farm in Princeton, Ontario. He was an outstanding student and I understand that at his graduation it was said he was the youngest pharmacist in the province of Ontario. It's hard to prove the truth of this statement as he graduated back in the early 1890s. Let's just agree that he was one very bright young man.

On graduation, he went to the States to work for Cunningham Drug Stores. This was an up and coming chain. My grandfather had a chance to get in on the ground floor, make big bucks, but he declined.

He moved back to Canada, to Brantford, Ontario, where he started his own independent neighbourhood drugstore. He didn't get rich but he did have a beautiful wife and he raised a fine family. He never owned a car; he didn't need one as he walked to work. He lived in the type of walkable neighbourhood that is today thought so desirable. It was a different world.

Today, a young man graduating as a pharmacist would have a difficult time starting his own independent corner drugstore. The large chains pretty well control everything in the pharmacy business.

The Cunningham's Drug Store chain, the one my grandfather snubbed, went on to become one of the major players in the American Midwest but a few decades ago it was taken out by another player in the capitalist game. A lot of people lost their jobs.

When I was a boy, my neighbourhood had a least three independent drugstores. Each one employed people in the neighbourhood while providing an important service. There were no big parking lots at any of these stores as big parking lots weren't necessary. Most people walked to these drugstores — even the staff.

I worked for one of those drugstores. It became one of the first Big V pharmacies. Big V was formed by a small group of independent Windsor, Ontario, pharmacists intent on saving the neighbourhood drugstore. A few years ago Big V was taken over by the giant Shoppers Drug Mart chain. In 2013 Shoppers was bought by Loblaws in a deal worth about $12.4B.

Capitalism, the best system? I'm not sure that my grandfather would recognize today's capitalism. And I honestly believe that he would tell you the system under which he started his business, a business that lasted him a lifetime, was better.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Found a neat site featuring documentary films

While searching for something I would have thought was quite unconnected, I discovered a site called Top Documentary Films. I would tell you more but, other than the fact that the posted documentaries are free, I know very little about the site or the videos posted there.

After I have viewed some of the videos, I may reopen this post and add some more information.


Check it out,
Top Documentary Films

For lovers of French

As readers of this blog will know, I've been trying to learn French. Why? One, because I like the language, two because I find TV5, the French television network available on cable, is an excellent source of both movies and documentaries and three because my granddaughter is attending French public school. I wish to support the little girl in her effort to learn another language.

When it comes to reading French, I do fairly well. I often watch French movies and catch the gist of what is being said by turning on the French subtitles for the hearing impaired. Unfortunately, a lot of the newscasts are not subtitled.

What has me truly stymied is understanding spoken French. The words seem to fly by, merging together. To get past this hearing boondoggle, I have been listening to French songs and other sources of spoken French.

For my own education, I have posted a video of the French song Tu Trouveras sung by Natasha St. Pier. I have also posted the lyrics both in French and translated into English with links to the source on the Web. (I would appreciate any suggestions on improving the translations.)

If interested, listen to the song, check out the vocabulary and then take the test posted on Quizlet. Bonne chance! (Good luck!)

Lyrics to Tu Trouveras:                                         Lyrics to You Will Find:

Comme tout le monde j'ai mes défauts                  Like everybody I have my faults
J'ai pas toujours les mots qu'il faut                        I don't always have the right words
Mais si tu lis entre les lignes                                 But if you read between the lines
Tu trouveras dans mes chansons                           You will find in my songs
Tout c'que je n'ai pas su te dire                             All that I don't know how to say to you

Il y a des fautes d'impression                                There are wrong impressions
Des "Je t'aime" un peu brouillon                             Some "I love you's" a little muddle-headed
Malgré mes accords malhabiles                              Inspite of my clumsy chords
Tu trouveras dans mes chansons                            You will find in my songs
Tout ce que je n'ai pas osé te dire                          All that I haven't dared to tell you

Tu trouveras . . .                                                  You will find . . .
Mes blessures et mes faiblesses                             My wounds and my weaknesses
Celles que j'n'avoue qu'à demi-mot                        Those that I only say in a low voice
Mes faux pas mes maladresses                              My slip-ups, my blunders
Et de l'amour plus qu'il n'en faut                             And more love than is necessary
J'ai tellement peur que tu me laisses                      I'm so afraid that you are leaving me
Sache que si j'en fais toujours trop                        Know that if I'm always trying too hard
C'est pour qu'un peu tu me restes                          It's to make you stay with me a little
Tu me restes                                                          You stay with me.

Il y en a d'autres que tu aimeras                              There will be some others you will love
Bien plus belles, plus fortes que moi                        More beautiful, much stronger than me

[Je leur laisserai bien sûr la place                            Of course I'll give them my place       
Quand je n'aurai plus dans mes chansons                 When I don't have in my songs
Plus rien à te dire en face                                        Anything else to say in front of you
Le temps vous endurcit de tout                                Time makes you stronger
Des illusions, des mauvais coups]                             From illusions, from hard blows

Si je n'ai pas su te retenir                                        If I didn't known how to retain you
Sache qu'il y a dans mes chansons                            I want you to know that in my songs
Tout c'que je n'ai pas eu le temps de te dire             Is everything I didn't have time to tell

Le temps vous endurcit de tout                               Time makes you strong
Des illusions, des mauvais coups                             From illusions, from bad beats
Si je n'ai pas su te retenir                                        If I wasn't able to make you stay
Sache qu'il y a dans mes chansons                           I want you to know that in my songs
Tout c'que je n'ai pas eu le temps de te dire             Is all I didn't have the time to tell you

{au Refrain: x3}
Tu trouveras . . .                                                  You will find . . .
Mes blessures et mes faiblesses                            My wounds and my weaknesses
Celles que j'n'avoue qu'à demi-mot                        Those that I only say in a low voice
Mes faux pas mes maladresses                                My slip-ups, my blunders
Et de l'amour plus qu'il n'en faut                            And more love than is necessary
J'ai tellement peur que tu me laisses                     I'm so afraid that you are leaving me
Sache que si j'en fais toujours trop                       Know that if I'm always trying too hard
C'est pour qu'un peu tu me restes                         It's to make you stay with me a little
Tu me restes                                                        You stay with me.

[ These are Tu Trouveras lyrics on http://www.lyricsmania.com/ ]

The fable of the plant closure

Once upon a time there was a little widget factory operating in a not-so-little town. The factory made good widgets, not great ones, but they were good quality and the price was right. The business flourished.

The widget factory owner, his wife and all his children flourished. All the widget makers at his widget factory flourished. The little town, which had lots of little factories like this one, flourished. All was good.

Then one day the widget making factory owner was approached by a beautiful temptress. The factory owner fell for her charms and tumbled into bed with her. He had an affair. His wife discovered and she left him. What she didn't leave was her half ownership in the widget factory.

The factory owner had to face the shocking reality that he wasn't the sole owner. He and his estranged wife were co-owners. What was he to do?

The factory owner hired good lawyers -- good for him, bad for his wife. It was soon learned that in another city in a country not all that far, far away there was another widget maker. A greedy widget maker who grew his business by buying other widget factories that, for whatever reason, could be bought for a song.

The big widget maker was known as Mr. Acquisition because he had grown his business into one of the biggest in the entire world by buying one after another competing businesses. He had acquired dozens and dozens and dozens of both small and large widget-making plants.

The little widget factory operating in a not-so-little town was sold to Mr. Acquisition. The money paid was split between the divorcing couple. The husband opened another widget factory, a smaller one, and named it Widget Factory Two. The lawyers fashioned all this so that the cheating husband was able, as they say, to stick it to his wife one last time.

As for Widget Factory One, the little factory operating in a not-so-little town, well Mr. Acquisition continued on his buying spree until his business got too big and too complex. His prices were too high and his quality too low. The value of his company crashed. Mr. Acquisition was forced to close Widget Factory One.

Mr. Acquisition had taken a lot of his profit in shares in his once ever expanding business. This meant that as the share value of his Big Widget Company collapsed he lost millions. He began closing plants all over the world. His grossly inflated business had burst like an overfilled balloon. Workers and shareholders around the world were left, as they say, high and dry.

Mr. Acquisition, in trouble financially, was himself acquired -- or at least what remained of his widget business. But don't worry about Mr. Acquisition. The new owner gave the former owner a handsome golden parachute worth many millions of dollars. As you can tell, it wasn't really a parachute but it was handsome and it was golden and, as they say, two out of three ain't bad.


This little fable was inspired by stories still being played out in the real world.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

There's nothing here. It's just scribbling.

Rainbow by Fiona.

I have been amazed at the art done by granddaughter now four. I really like some of the stuff she has done. But others in the family have not been so kind. I have been mocked for my open enthusiasm. "It's is not art, Ken," I've been told.

The other day Fiona saw a water colour by another young child. Fiona looked at the painting on a large sheet of paper and she shook her head. "There's nothing here," she said. "It's just scribbling."

I shook my head in disbelief.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Hospitals too full to be safe? Not in London, Ontario.

The front page headline warned: " Hospitals too full to be safe." A follow up online story delivered the second punch to the gut: Overloaded wards likely contributing to spread of dangerous superbugs, says head of infection control for London hospitals. On reading the story I was surprised to learn infection rates have not been on the rise generally in London hospitals and in some cases rates have actually declined. A concerted effort at infection control led by Dr. Michael John is credited for the surprisingly good numbers.

Maybe it's just me and my personal bias when it comes to London hospitals and health care in Canada but I thought the newspaper missed the story. Many experts believe hospital acquired infections (HAI) increase when bed occupancy rates climb above 85 percent. Rates in London have surpassed 100 percent at times, and yet there has not been a corresponding increase in HAI rates.

Dr. John revealed to the paper that "beds have been fitted with hygienic liners that can be disposed, new disinfectants kill spores and patients who can’t be isolated are given separate commodes." Chalk up a win for Dr. John and the health care staff in London.

For some reason, the reporter seemed intent on focusing on the shortage of hospital beds. By comparing the number of hospital beds per thousand in Ontario to the average number available in Europe, a huge mix of countries, the reporter made the shortage seem even more dire: A classic "comparing apples and oranges" error.

Let's try comparing apples to apples: countries to countries. According to the most recent numbers released by The World Bank, Canada has 3.2 beds per 1000 people. Both The United States and Britain had a smidgen less at 3.0 beds per 1000. Sweden fared even worse with only 2.7 beds.

There are more than 50 countries listed by The World Bank with fewer beds per 1000 than Canada. Admittedly, for the most part, having bed numbers that are better than these 50 is not a surprise. Still, Canada can take solace in the fact that Norway has only  3.3 beds per 1000 or a mere .1 more beds than Canada. Norway has some excellent health care numbers despite having a low bed number.

According to the newspaper article, Ontario has only 2.4 hospital beds per 1000. It sounds bad and it is bad but Ontario does not sport the worst numbers on the continent. For lower numbers look south. Ontario has more beds than almost 40% of the American states according to The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Oregon only has 1.8 beds per 1000 and California, Hawaii and Vermont have numbers that are little better.

A more telling number is the percentage of Americans reporting that in the past 12 months they failed to see a doctor despite needing one because of cost. In some regions of the States the number of people who have stopped seeking medical help despite needing it is more than 1 in 5. That is downright frightening. The link provided takes one to a page with some very conservative numbers.

Researchers with The Commonwealth Fund in the United States calculated a much higher number. 37 percent of Americans in the Commonwealth survey went without recommended health care, not seeing a doctor when ill, or failing to fill prescriptions because of costs.

The number of hospital beds per thousand has been dropping all over the globe for years. As can be seen by the number in London, the medical profession is trying to rise to the challenge, and it is a tough challenge.

Recently I had an ablation procedure performed at University Hospital in London. After being sedated by an anesthetist, a heart specialist threaded thin, flexible wires from my groin up through my body to my heart. The surgeon guided the wires into my heart where heat was used to destroy the heart muscle causing my cardiac problem.

Today this procedure is often done as day surgery. My procedure was done in the morning and I was home for dinner. One way to cut down on hospital acquired infections is to get the patient out of the hospital quickly. My recovery bed was my own.

Are more hospital beds needed? Of course, there's no argument there, and the shortage is neither new nor news. The big story is how well those in the health profession in Canada are delivering some damn fine health care despite facing some pretty daunting problems.

We may be short of beds and our ER departments may take far too long to see all patients, but in the end the important numbers are good. For instance, we live longer, healthier lives than our neighbours to the south.

I tip my hat to the fine Canadian doctors and nurses without whom I would not be here today. I truly owe them my life. Thank you.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

She said, he said: A lame excuse for balance

It was a small post. A reporter at the local paper claimed to have balanced his coverage of a political speech by seeking out and publishing the comments of a well known political adversary of the speaker.

Did the reporter question the speaker's statements? Did the reporter think the claims being made were simply bold-faced political puffery? Why did the reporter not simply report what was said and move on? Considering the source for the alternate point of view, I really don't know the answer. The reporter consulted Joe Fontana, the present Mayor of London, Ontario, a man who needs no introduction, as they say.

In my original post, I called the balance obtained by contacting Fontana an example of faux balance. A more accurate label of what was done might be "she-said-he-said-journalism." How does this work?
  • Take a public statement and create a dispute.
  • Conflicts make news; The created dispute will be newsworthy.
  • Make no attempt to assess validity of claims, claims which are the very essence of the story.
  • The symmetry of two sides provides the necessary faux balance.
And how do reporters respond to criticism like the above? They attack the messenger. Newspaper reporters believe this is good journalism. It is balanced.

Balanced? I am left shaking my head in disbelief.