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Saturday, October 29, 2016

Craig Silverman speaking at Western; worth a listen

This coming Monday, Craig Silverman is speaking at Western. He will examine spreading truth in this age of viral misinformation. Silverman, the founding editor of BuzzFeed Canada, has taken a great interest in misinformation and fake news and how the main stream media makes the problem worse.

To decide whether or not to attend this lecture, I googled Silverman's name and found an article by the man himself: How Lies Spread Faster Than Truth: A Study of Viral Content. I was amazed to discover that Silverman lays much of the blame for the spreading of false information on the MSM. A good call, in my book.

Silverman is a bright guy. Most editors I have known are. If I have any criticism of Silverman's work, it is that he does not go far enough. The MSM not only give Internet rumours legs, the MSM are the original source of some of the worst false news. I say worst because a falsehood spread widely by the media can be far more damaging than an erroneous post uploaded to a Blogger site.

When the MSM make a false claim and it gets carried by both papers and television news, the story can quickly take on the patina of Truthiness, to use the Stephen Colbert term. Think UFFI or head lice or even going topless at a Canadian beach.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Medical wait times in Ontario

Some people I know who live in the States tell me my original post was grossly out of date. Thanks to what is being called ObamaCare, the coverage problems being encountered in the States have changed since my last visit to the States.

For instance, the big increase in premiums related to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is big news. According to the Harvard Gazette, some ObamaCare premiums will rise 25 percent in 2017. This sounds scary but it isn't as bad as it sounds. The article reports the premiums going up are for a very specific subset of the insured: only those getting their coverage through the health insurance exchanges. It’s not about the premiums people pay for employer-run plans or for Medicare or Medicaid coverage.

The Gazette points out most people getting health insurance through the exchanges are heavily subsidized, with premium and cost-sharing subsidies. In other words, the cost to the federal government is increasing.

Hmmm. Increasing government health costs. Sounds like a familiar problem. One being faced by governments around the world.

I believe the right approach to solving our health care issues is to keep an open mind. And I am willing to admit that I too am guilty of closed-mind thinking. We must be both creative and willing to learn from others as we tackle the problem of providing health care in a world where the costs are constantly rising.

The Province of Ontario has a problem and the City of London has the same problem but bigger. The problem? Hospital wait times. The London Free Press has been running an excellent series looking at the lengthy wait times endured by patients waiting for hip replacement surgery.

But as bad as the problem is, and it is bad, I would not be too quick to toss the entire Canadian system and embrace the U.S. model. In 2010 my wife and I crossed the States by car. We stayed in bed and breakfasts and we chatted with a lot of Americans. One lady we met had been waiting more than a year for her joint replacement/repair surgery and she saw no end to the wait time. The boondoggle? Her insurance company.

On that same trip I had a heart event that put me in Marin County General outside San Francisco, California. I was lucky. Marin General is a great hospital serving one of the most affluent areas in the States. Although, I spent less than 48 hours under medical care, I ran up a bill of about $30,000 U.S. And all that money, all the sophisticated tests, didn't find the cause of my heart problem. I was given some pills, metoprolol, and discharged to drive the thousands of miles between me and home in another country on other side of the continent.

Back home, the doctors discovered the cause of my heart problem and an ICD/pacemaker was inserted into my chest. My direct cost in Canada: essentially nothing. My cost for treatment in the States? This too was essentially nothing but it took some eight months, or more, of back and forth with the insurance company and a U.S. based collection agency before all was settled. I had to take some long, difficult phone calls and I had to listen as I heard our retirement security threatened.

If I had been an American, even with insurance, it is possible the source of my heart problem would never have been discovered. I might have fallen through the cracks, as they say. The insurance folk would almost certainly have fought to find a way to drop me from any health plan and with no money there would have been no solution. (Today, with the Affordable Care Act in place, some of this has changed.)

To go full circle, let's return to the problem of wait times and hip replacement surgery. In London, Ontario, the wait time has become indefensible. But as bad as our system is when it comes to this surgery, I wouldn't be too fast to hold the much-faster-on-paper U.S. system up as a gold standard.

Please, follow the link to Free Money for All: A Basic Income Guarantee Solution for the Twenty-First Century by Mark Walker. (If the link fails, google the book and do a search on the word "infinite". You are looking for page 38.)

Walker points out that at the time he wrote his book a sizable percentage of Americans were unable to access the fine U.S. health care system. Being neither rich nor insured, they found themselves unable to pay when it came to elective surgery. They were trapped outside the Amercian health care system to suffer indefinitely. These people were sitting on what I have heard Americans refer to as the infinite wait-list. The wait times endured by these people were not measured in months, the times were not even measured in years. The wait could be infinite.

Has Obama changed the American medical system? Yes, but infinite wait times are still a problem for some Americans and the ranks may grow under a Trump presidency.

 Source of above graph: Commonwealth Fund (Wednesday, November 16, 2016)

Note: The above graph illustrates a complex problem. Use care when interpreting. 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Working on recipe using Bonachia spinach fettuccine

The picture doesn't do tonight's dinner justice. I don't see any walnuts in the picture, and there were lots, and the Bonachia spinach fettuccine can only be seen poking around the tomato and spinach. I'm working on this recipe, fine tuning it you might say, and when I get it right I'll try and take a picture that does it justice.

I'm trying to come up with a relatively inexpensive but very healthy dinner. The Bonachia spinach fettuccine is the most expensive item in the meal. I'm going to try and find some on sale.

The spinach doesn't cost two dollars for two meals. The feta cheese comes from a giant block purchased at Costco. It is mild for a feta made from goat and sheep milk but then it is only Greet style. It comes from Stratford, Ontario. And it when used in small amounts, a few ounces at a time, it is inexpensive. There are not too many tomatoes, nor too many mushrooms, but enough of both to make a tasty, simple sauce.

The next time I'm going to hold some of the feta and some of the pan-roasted walnuts back in order to sprinkle them on the top of each serving. There really are a lot more walnuts and far more feta than it appears in this picture.

The fresh corn was an afterthought. It was only a buck at Remark and may be the last local corn of the year that I buy. It was fresh, sweet and delicious.

Do not tamper with reality.

There was a time when tampering with reality was questionable at papers.

Back when I worked at The London Free Press I was asked to shoot a quick picture of strawberries to illustrate an article on the ripening local crop. I deked out for some berries; they were from California. I told myself that berries are berries. Editor Sue Greer disagreed. Sue rejected my picture. The berries were not from Heeman's, the berry farm mentioned in the story. I drove across town to Heeman's for some berries before reshooting the picture.

In the early days of my career in the newspaper industry, faked and doctored images were always 'questionable'. I use the word questionable carefully. The pictures might make it into the paper or they might not. Such pictures always raised questions. No more.

Today pictures are all too often filler, page art, illustrations. The idea that pictures are simply shims on a  page has never been more true. I have tried to broach this subject with local journalists but have found they completely ignore my comments.

When I got into the newspaper business there was a distrust of those with degrees in journalism. The editors at the first paper at which I worked believed many graduates had picked up bad habits at school along with big egos. It was difficult and time consuming retraining them on the job. A graduate with an English degree was preferred over one with a journalism degree.

The clown image that accompanied a local news story.
Today fake pictures abound in our papers and online and our university trained journalists see no problem with illustrating their stories with stock photography.

Recently in London, Ontario, high schools were threatened with trouble from clowns. The police arrested two kids too young to even attend high school. The paper should have seen this coming; kids, not clowns, are often the source of such threats.

The paper illustrated the story with a cliché image of a horror story clown and my guess is that neither the award-winning, degree carrying, journalist, nor the local university that once granted MAs in journalism saw any problem.

And why is the clown image so wrong? Because it illustrates not just a story but an attitude. And that attitude leads to stuff like the stock art photo used on the left. It's certainly not a news picture. I'd call it soft porn.

And once the ability to question has been blunted the next logical step is faking pictures in-house. When a Sun Media paper couldn't find topless sunbathers at the local beach to illustrate a story, the paper simply hired a couple of models. 

The models took different poses, with one being posed topless, but it was all very tasteful. The topless model was always shown shot from the back. The resulting pictures got wide play. One even ran in The New York Times.

And some at newspapers wonder why more and more readers are questioning the decisions being made by our newsrooms. Heck, if the folk in the media won't ask the questions, some readers will.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Send in the clowns

The news picture depicts a clown, a terrifying clown with a white face streaked with blood and a smile marred by long and pointed teeth. One tooth is blood stained. It would be a great piece of photojournalism if it actually was journalism. But it's not. It's photographic clip art.

Clowns have been in the news lately. Well, at least talk of clowns. It seems clowns, in fact, haven't actually done all that much that's news worthy. It's often kids that are being arrested, if anyone is arrested at all.

For instance, in London, Ontario, after online threats to kill teachers and kidnap students were made, police arrested two kids not yet old enough to be in high school.

So, the London clowns were kids. A picture of a couple of kids laughing and texting on an iPhone would have been a more accurate image than one shown but, as it wouldn't have been the actual kids, it still wouldn't be journalism.

I decided to google this recent clown craze. I found a Slate article titled: The Wave of Evil Clown Sightings Is Nothing to Worry About. It Happens Every Few Years. I learned:

  • May 1981, Brookline, Massachusetts: Elementary school children report two clowns driving a black van offering them candy. A rash of  sightings follows but no clowns are found.
  • March 1988, Louisville, Kentucky: Across a three-county area, children suddenly begin calling police with stories of a malevolent clown offering rides and, in one case, pursuing a child on foot. No arrests are made. The clown vanishes without a trace.
  • Oct. 1991, Chicago: The city police are overwhelmed with reports from  schoolchildren of a man dressed as Homey D. Clown from In Living Color. The clown offers them candy to ride in his van. Children variously report the van to be blue, white, or red, an eighth-grader claims to have punched the clown in the nose and an adult reports seeing a clown abduct a girl. Before the epidemic subsides, clowns are reported in Evanston and Joliet as well as Chicago.  As the panic over clowns drew to a close, not one clown had been placed behind bars.
  • Sept. 1992, Rock Hill, South Carolina: A wave of terrifying clown sightings comes to an end when four teenage boys are arrested. The boys aren’t charged; authorities cannot find a law that has been broken.
  • Oct. 1992, Galveston, Texas: An evil clown reportedly attempted to kidnap a little girl. The police and media are flooded with sightings. A police investigation leads to no arrests.

Yes, I have been selective. And, yes there have been cases of evil doers dressed as clowns. But, if an evil clown is sighted, I would not bet on its veracity too quickly. I'd let the paper to that.