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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Out of 11 Countries Surveyed, U.S. Seniors the Most Likely to be Both Sick and Unable to Afford Care

Despite Medicare coverage, older adults in the United States are sicker than those in other countries and face more financial barriers to health care. Note: When it comes to the problem of high cost preventing access to treatment, Canada rates 6th out of 11 countries surveyed. The U.S. is last by a good margin.

Read more: Commonwealth Fund 2017 International Health Policy Seniors Survey

Monday, November 27, 2017

VW Jetta TDI buyback completed and VW made an I'm-sorry-payment, as well.

Important Numbers: 2017 VW Jetta TSI Wolfsburg Edition as of Sept. 25, 2022

  • Fuel cost per km: .09 cents (Canada, southwestern Ontario)
  • Total cost to run car per km: $0.42*
  • Fuel consumption: 7.86 litres/100 kms (This may climb as I do more in-city driving in the winter.)
Present distance traveled: 54,553 kms
Fuel used: 4,552.02 litres
Fuel cost: $2,288.82
Total out-of-pocket expenses: $22,713.71*
(* The above includes car payments, auto insurance charges, fuel costs, all maintenance charges, car washes, parking, etc.)
* Will change over time as distance traveled increases.

Now, to my original post...

It's gone. VW has repurchased my 2011 VW Jetta TDI. Plus, the German automobile maker paid me a cash penalty to make amends for their TDI sins. All in all, I got $16,700. I put it all into the purchase of a 2017 VW Jetta Wolfsburg Edition TSI.

Fuel economy: 8.22 litres/100 kms at 17,561 kms.
My new car comes complete with Wolfsburg Edition badges on the sides, a TSI badge on the rear of the trunk lid and a TSI four-cylinder engine under the hood. TSI stands for turbocharged stratified injection. This is a technically sophisticated 1.4 litre turbocharged direct injection engine. VW claims it is state-of-the-art engineering. Hmmm. I recall similar claims when I bought my TDI clean diesel.

So, let's cut to the chase. What was the total out-of-pocket cost to put a Wolfsburg VW in my garage and send the oil-burner packing? The short answer: $2500. That's it. And what will it cost to keep it there? That's a good question. For a start, as a gasoline tends to cost more than diesel in London, I expect my fuel bill to grow. As well, I now have a monthly $139.44 car payment for the next 84 months. This payment also includes an extended warranty option. No unforeseen charges for the life of the car.

Originally, I had agreed to an interest rate of .99% with a shorter payback period. But, when the deal was finalized the interest rate rate had fallen to zero. I decided to keep my money in the bank where it can earn some interest in a ScotiaBank Momentum account. I can see no advantage in tying up cash to purchase this car.

What are my first impressions of my new Jetta? Good but then I liked my old Jetta. The two cars are very similar. Where there is a difference, often I see little advantage in the new vs. the old. For instance, I can see no great advantage to the keyless door lock system. And there are some dangers. See: Deadly Convenience: Keyless Cars and Their Carbon Monoxide Toll.

My new radio seems to have possible safety issues as well. It encourages a driver to play with the touch-control screen rather than paying complete attention to the road. To change the sound system volume, a set of controls can be found on the steering wheel. This encourages more gadget fiddling. If the government thinks cell phones are bad, they should take a look at radios like this one in my new Jetta.

Professor David Strayer, at the University of Utah, found in-vehicle information systems — including SatNav, MP3 players, radios, cellphones and messaging devices — take drivers’ attention off the road for too long to be safe, much like texting.

In the following weeks and months, I'll keep my readers posted as to the total cost to keep my VW Jetta on the road. (If you notice anything amiss, feel free to question my figures. I can make errors. I'm not perfect.)

Paint and Clear Coat Warning

If you own, or are buying a VW, pay careful attention to the paint. Mine is terrible. I knew I had a problem right from the moment my wife and I picked up the car. It was almost a day late in being delivered as it took a lot of effort by the dealer to get my new car into ready-for-delivery condition.

Swirls, holograms and oxidation mar surface of my new VW.
The paint has swirls in the finish, left, I assume, by the power buffer used to quickly detail the car before delivery. I thought I could polish these out in the spring. It is now spring and I'm finding removing these difficult.

But there's more. The top of the rear bumper has faulty paint. It looks like there are dried water marks etched into the surface. It won't wash off. I'm worried it may be oxidization.

And it gets worse. There are small, pinhead sized spots that I thought were rust appearing on the lower, passenger-side door. I took the car to a local paint shop for an evaluation. The owner said it was the worst detailing of a new car that he had ever seen. He noted swirls in the paint from the front bumper to the back, plus hundreds of ugly, dull spots in the surface of the paint. On the bright side he said the rust was not rust but large, flecks of dirt deeply embedded into the paint finish. I told him that VW had sent me a block of clay for detailing the car. He said he had never heard of a car manufacturer doing this. Very odd.


When I got the auto insurance bill for my new car, I was in for a pleasant surprise. My annual insurance bill went down $86.00. This left a December insurance installment of $272.50.

I have opened a spread sheet for tracking and calculating all costs. This is far easier and more accurate than trying to do it with pencil and paper as I was doing. The latest numbers are at the top of the post.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

CBC Marketplace and Busting Superfoods

Superfood: a term too good to be true? I thought so. I never bought into the hype. But I guess some folks do and CBC Marketplace set out to burst their bubble: Busting Superfoods.

For the most part, it seemed to be a good show but there were statements that I questioned and not because I am a believer in superfoods. For instance, the program presented a Canadian alternative to some superfood. And what was the alternative: the potato.

I was once a big booster of the potato. Hey, the Irish apparently got by quite nicely on potatoes until the potato famine struck. The lesson seemed to be: oodles of potatoes good, no potatoes, or anything else for that matter, bad.

Well, I was wrong. Oodles of potatoes are not good. One should have a balanced diet. No surprise here. But, and here comes the surprise, potatoes do not necessarily make up a large portion of a correctly balanced diet.

Read this article from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health: The problem with potatoes.

The article, to which I linked, warns "a cup of potatoes has a similar effect on blood sugar as a can of cola or a handful of jelly beans." This is something that I've been told during my visits to various doctors related to my fight against heart disease. Go easy on the potatoes, I'm told.

I'm 70. My body does not need more stress and potatoes, especially a good helping of potatoes without the skins, could put my body under stress as it struggles to cope with the resulting surge in blood sugar level.

So, do I avoid potatoes? No. Potatoes, especially with the skins, are a good source of potassium, vitamin C, fibre and magnesium, plus potatoes are low in fat and inexpensive. Just go lightly on the full fat sour cream and pats of butter. Berkeley Wellness, University of California, has a good article looking at the positive side of the potato debate: Don't Drop the Potato.

CBC Marketplace, like potatoes, not bad, but not super either.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Does the Watchman LAA closure device offer a new approach to fighting strokes?

Remember, I am just a heart patient sharing his story, plus some info gathered during my recent medical treatment. I am NOT providing medical advice. Talk with your doctor if you find anything here of interest. Cheers! 

When I first posted this, I was slated to have a Watchman left atrial appendage (LAA) closure device implanted. To prepare for this heart procedure, I had a transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) performed last Friday. The doctors discovered my LAA had already been modified. It was surgically "obliterated." Clearly, I am no longer a candidate for a Watchman. It is impossible to insert the device into my surgically modified LAA.

I was the first person in Canada to have a leaking mitral valve repaired with the aid of a DaVinci robot. I now know my surgeon not only repaired my valve but, at the same time, he "obliterated" my LAA as well. This was done in the belief that modifying the LAA would lesson my chances of having a stroke caused by a blood clot originating in the left atrial appendage. Up to 90% of blood clots originating from the heart form in the LAA.

I was facing LAA closure to lessen my chance of suffering more transient ischemic attacks (TIAs). Over the last few years, I have suffered a lot of TIAs, also known as mini-strokes. I take Pradaxa, an anticoagulant, plus Aspirin, an anti-platelet drug. This dual drug approach has worked wonderfully at preventing serious blood clot related problems. I must compliment my doctor at the Stroke Prevention & Atherosclerosis Research Centre (SPARC) in London, Ontario, Canada.

So, if my drug therapy is working so well, why implant a Watchman, a foreign object, in my heart? Because I also suffer from cerebral micro-bleeds (MBs). These are small, bleeding areas in the brain that raise the risk of hemorrhagic stroke. A hemorrhagic brain event in the presence of an anticoagulant is fatal in many cases. For this reason, all my doctors agree: stopping my anticoagulant therapy is a reasonable goal.

After a lot of consultation among my many specialists, it was decided to put the Watchman Left Atrial Appendage closure device into my heart. A lot of risks and benefits were weighed and everyone was unanimous in approving the Watchman. Now, that route is closed. Here is an interesting link: Summing up the current data, LAA occlusion is a very promising treatment to prevent AF-related strokes due to its safety, cost-effectiveness and therapeutic success.

Discovering that my appendage has been "obliterated" raises a big question: Why am I having so many TIAs if the surgical alteration of my LAA lowered my risk? One answer: my surgical closure may not have been 100% successful. Many now believe that incomplete LAA closure can actually increase the risk of clots forming in the heart; the clots form in what remains of the LAA. And how often do surgical closures fail? Answer: In some studies the failure rate has hit 80%. The LAA has proven to be a tough beast to tame. Read: Incomplete surgical ligation of the left atrial appendage—time for a new look at an old problem.

Am I worried? Surprisingly, no. I have gone years suffering numerous TIAs and have not had a full-blown stroke. Perhaps the attempted "obliteration" of my LAA, teamed with my anticoagulant therapy, is having some beneficial affects. It is impossible to say anything for certain. It's Christmas and I'm going to go with an upbeat view.

Problems are the price you pay for progress.”—Wesley Branch Rickey


The following is my original post, written before I learned I would have a Watchman implanted and then learned I wouldn't, and couldn't, have one implanted.

I have TIAs. TIA stands for Transient Ischemic Attack. And what, you may ask, is that? Let's just call a TIA a mini-stroke and leave it at that.

My attacks usually last less than five minutes and do not amount to much, at least not individually. But, if one has enough TIAs, the damage can be additive. I have suffered minor memory loss as a result of my numerous mini-strokes. 

Having a TIA can be frightening, and rightly so. One particular attack, called an amaurosis fugax, leaves one or both eyes blind or partially blind for a number of minutes. Although there is usually no permanent brain damage, the blindness is temporary, such an event can be a precursor to a full-blown, life-altering, stroke. I've had close to a dozen of these dramatic, visual events.

TIAs and strokes are often caused by small blood clots, formed in the heart, traveling to the brain and lodging there. These small clots can block the blood flow to the brain. With TIAs the clot is unstable and quickly disintegrates. Blood flow is soon restored. With a brain-damaging stroke, the clot does not break-up and medical attention is needed immediately to prevent permanent brain damage.

Attempting to prevent the formation of these small blood clots is the usual response to frequent TIAs. This can mean taking an anti-coagulant for life. This, of course, comes with its own host of associated risks. 

And ironically, one of the increased risks from taking anti-coagulants can be a type of stroke - a hemorrhagic stroke. A stroke resulting from bleeding in the brain: a hemorrhage.

I take Pradaxa, one of the newer anti-coagulants. Many people rely on warfarin. That's right, the chemical used in rat poison.

I am not an ideal candidate for Pradaxa, or any anticoagulant, as I have micro-bleeding in the brain. I live with threats from both types of strokes mentioned previously. 

Now, there is a new approach to fighting the blood clots that have traveled from my heart to my brain and caused my TIAs. It's a surgical solution but minimally invasive. I learned about this new method of combating TIAs, in cases such as mine, from one of my doctors at the London Health Sciences Centre.

Because I have micro-bleeding in the brain, I am not a great candidate for anti-coagulants. That's why I don't take warfarin, also known as Coumadin. Pradaxa is not as prone to causing a hemorrhagic stroke as warfarin but, that said, there is still an increased risk of bleeding. Not good. And, of the two types of stroke, hemorrhagic strokes are more often fatal and, if one survives, the lasting damage more severe.

Why do some hearts generate clots and not others? Often the answer is atrial fibrillation or AFib. Some hearts, the ones producing clots, often have a quivering, irregular heartbeat. The blood tends to pool and swirl inside the heart before being pumped out to the body. This pooling and swirling in the heart encourages the formation of blood clots.

It is now believe the clots coming from the heart are originating, for the most part, in a small sack on the left side of the heart known as the left atrial appendage (LAA). Blood gets into the small sack and remains trapped there long enough for small but dangerous clots to form. These clots eventually leave the LAA to be pumped out of the heart and to the brain where they may cause a TIA or stroke.

If this theory is right, and there appears to be good reason to believe it is, then preventing blood from collecting in the LAA appears to be a partial answer. 

Some cardiac surgeons are now plugging the LAA with a small closure device. There are a number of competing implants, among them is the Watchman from Boston Scientific Corporation.

This is what the FDA, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, has to say:

The Watchman LAA Closure Device is permanently implanted in the left atrial appendage (LAA) of the heart to prevent LAA blood clots from entering the bloodstream and potentially causing a stroke.

The cardiac-surgeon inserts the delivery catheter into the body through a vein in the leg. The catheter is threaded through the body until it reaches the right atrium of the heart. The physician makes a small hole through the wall between the two upper chambers of the heart (atrial septum) so the catheter can reach the LAA. The physician then pushes the device through the delivery catheter into the LAA where it opens up like an umbrella and is permanently implanted. Once in place, a thin layer of tissue grows over it in about 45 days.

The FDA notes that the device is used in patients who have atrial fibrillation, AFib, that is not related to heart valve disease.

Some time after the insertion of the device,  a patient may be taken off the riskiest anti-coagulants. This action should cut the patient's risk of having a hemorrhagic stroke. I believe this is the big benefit from having an LAA closure device implanted.

I understand that even with the Watchman implanted, taking low-dose Aspirin, also known by the generic name of ASA in Canada, may be necessary for the rest of the patient's life. ASA is a far less risky drug than warfarin, Pradaxa, Xarelto and the other common anti-coagulants. And it is far less costly. My Pradaxa therapy is not cheap. Taking sophisticated drugs for life can be awfully expensive.

Will I have a Watchman or similar device inserted in my LAA? I don't know. The idea has been raised and my doctors are in consultation. I would not be surprised to have this new solution to AFib caused TIAs and strokes applied in my case. The Watchman is not a perfect solution. One can still suffer a stroke from a clot originating in another part of the heart. The Watchman only stops the clots coming from the LAA.

As I have made clear, the use of anticoagulants is contraindicated in folk like me. For that reason, the Watchman looks good despite its shortcomings.

I was the first person in Canada to have a failed mitral valve repaired robotically using the da Vinci system, and I was one of the first patients to benefit from the use of the experimental T7 MRI unit at LHSC. I've had good luck with new procedures in the past.

As I learn more, I'll repost or add to this post. Cheers!

Let me end with this final video. If you have AFib but are not an ideal candidate for anticoagulants, for whatever reason, you might find the following video interesting. Talk with you cardiologist.

Remember, I am just a heart patient sharing his story. This is NOT medical advice. Cheers!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Bowring goblets may be flawed

This is an add-on. I heard from Bowring and so far my wife and I are the only folk to have encountered problems with these glasses. The local store may have been sent a bad batch. At least, that is the working premise at the moment.

Recently, my wife and I bought some glass goblets from the Bowring store in Northwest London, Ontario. Before we had even paid for the ones we had removed from the shelves and carried to the checkout, we discovered three of the glasses had serious and potentially dangerous flaws. The rims were unfinished, jagged, rough and slightly sharp.

Tonight one of the glasses we did buy broke while my wife was drinking from it. She noticed a line near the top of the bowl. When she inspected it, the top lifted free. The wine glass had broken. The break was so sharp, one might have thought it had been done with a glass cutter.

I've written Bowring warning them that one of the wine glass lines they are carrying may be seriously flawed. If I hear back from the Bowring customer service, I will add their response to this post.

Note the shape of the glass, it is made in China and sold at Bowring. Don't buy any. You have been warned.

Monday, July 10, 2017

A murder, followed by an indignity to the body, featured in the Centennial film Helicopter Canada

Misrepresentation at core of opinion piece.
It’s five a.m. and I can’t sleep. I’m upset, haunted by the horrifying story brought to my attention by my local paper, The London Free Press

An Indian was murdered, the body desecrated and the local journalist called the nation-shaming incident simply crude talk.

Why do I say nation-shaming? Because the incident is a featured vignette in Helicopter Canada, the film released by the National Film Board to celebrate Canada's Centennial.

I watched Helicopter Canada and haven’t been able to get it out of my mind. If you’d like to stop here, go ahead. The following is difficult to write and it will be difficult to read.

At the 40:50 minute mark, while a honky-tonk piano plays in the background, the narrator of the film tells us:

The Canadian West is still pretty well strung out but it's held together by legends. (Here a new voice is heard, that of an aged, Western man, possibly a cowboy or an oil man, relating one of the region-binding tales.)

And they started to shoot up ‘round the fort, that is, they were shooting all around the fort and raisin cane there. And at that time they killed an Indian an’ scalped him. They took seven scalps off the one Indian. Now many people think when you talk about a scalp, it’s the whole thing but it’s not. It’s only about the size of a 25-cent piece with a strand of hair. That’s just about the size of it.”

I’m numb. Absolutely numb. And my local newspaper headlines its story on this film with “Lights, camera - misrepresentation!” Misrepresentation? We all wish. And the newspaper story talks about the roundabout, crude terms used in the film. Roundabout? A man was killed. Murdered. The body mutilated, desecrated, scalped. And the entire squalid episode driven by racial bigotry and hatred.

I'd like to say the journalist simply didn't view the film, but he clearly did. He tells his readers “an old-timer explains that a ‘scalp’ taken from a skull was only about the size of a quarter.” It is the local paper that is unable to address the horror in anything but the most roundabout way.

The writer found the film, Helicopter Canada, now badly dated. When the Globe and Mail revisited the 50-year-old National Film Board production, that newspaper called the film “cringe worthy.” That's it?

Eugene Boyko, the film's editor/cinematographer, delivered a film that on the surface is pretty light fare: a tongue-in-cheek narrative accompanies often spectacular film footage shot entirely from a helicopter. But this film is clearly not just high-end visual fluff, it is not, and never was, just a light-hearted look at Canada. 

At its core, this film is subversive. One of the hidden messages that slipped past the sponsoring Centennial Commission in 1967 is things are not always what they seem. Here, I could list example after example supporting this contention but let's move on to another clear message: “there are none so blind as those who will not see.”

I am absolutely stunned that so many saw this film on its release and so many more have viewed it over the years but no one, as far as I can tell, has ever gotten passed the honky tonk piano to see, to question, to discuss the horrific way Canada and Canadians treated people of the First Nations.

Eugene Boyko is simply too good a filmmaker to have included this incident simply to entertain us. I believe Boyko is holding a mirror up to Canadians and what they see is not always what they thought they would see. Boyko's film is not ignoble as one opinion writer wrote. It is us, us Canadians, who are ignoble.


This post could end here but, if it did, it would not be a complete look at the little, aging, documentary film: Helicopter Canada.

Shooting a film entirely from a helicopter is an awesome undertaking, which director-cinematographer Eugene Boyko pulls it off with great skill and style. 

Remember, Boyko worked before most of the technical advances that have made shooting aerials like these easy. He used big, heavy, Panavision equipment to record his inspiring images. Amazing!

Next, the choice of the little vignettes could be seen as simply veering toward the quirky but I see more. Sadly, what opinion column writer Larry Cornies calls “whimsical” is the tone that causes most folk to miss the underlying problems being addressed.

And there are some fine cinematic moments in Helicopter Canada. Moments that slip by journalist-reviewers unnoticed. The little segment featuring the Bluenose is wonderful. The filming and editing is first rate and the music accompanying the episode is provided by The Mountain City Four featuring Kate and Anna McGarrigle. To have included the McGarrigle sisters in a 1967 film was a stroke of genius.

I talked to film buffs about the movie and the criticism claiming it's dated. Of course, it’s dated, I was told. It’s a visual time capsule. It is meant to grow old. It was a look at Canada “warts and all.” It carried the message “we have problems but we can solve them.”

God, I hope so.

Lastly, I could not believe what I was hearing when the honky tonk piano started and the talk of the casual murder and mutilation of a First Nations man began. I contacted the National Film Board and they sent me their transcript of the soundtrack. I believe the transcript has errors but nevertheless it does contain the murder-mutilation story.

I don't hear the name Grayson. I hear "and raisin' cane there."

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

When will London act on the ReThink promise?

London, ON, endured a time consuming process called ReThink London. It was an urban planning exercise that invited community participation. ReThink was going to put this large, southwest Ontario city on the path to a denser future city.

It was, in my opinion, a lot of smoke with very little fire. Despite the claims of massive community involvement, I believe the participation numbers are quite questionable. But, all that aside, what I find most interesting is that the future envisioned by ReThink is not the future in many places but is reality today.

This is a great improvement on the big-box shopping mall.
Check the posted image on the right and below. Both are screen grabs from Google Streetviews. These images from Georgia are not artist's conceptions. These images show a mixed use development in existence today.

The development, a traditional retail and residential blend, even has a movie theatre in the mix.
In compact developments, stores front onto streets rather than parking lots.
Such mixed use developments are springing up throughout the world but not in London. London talks the talk but that's where it stops.

ReThink London promised an end to urban sprawl but unfortunately the ReThink ideas are little more than a gleam in our city planners' eyes.

Lots of parking with a wall separating much of the residential from the commercial.

More than a decade ago, journalist Christine Dirks told readers of The London Free Press about a new urbanist development planned for southwest London. It would be a first for the city. Talbot Village was the name of the new suburban community. Today the development is nearing completion and the only part of the dream that has survived is the name: Talbot Village.

ReThink London? Humbug.

Addendum: And yes, I know the new city plan was not in place when much of Talbot Village was being built. But, mixed use communities are now being built globally by those I would call enlightened. Why? Because mix use creates sensible, profitable developments.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Should you eat eggs? Do you feel lucky?

Where do I stand on eggs? Are they safe to eat or not? The answer is "yes and no." It really is. And that is the difficulty. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the egg question.

The answer depends on you and your actions depend on how you answer the famous question asked by Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry: "Do I feel lucky?"

You see, eggs are safe to eat if you do not suffer from cardiovascular disease, from a build up of plaque in the arteries which carry blood to your heart, brain and elsewhere. But how does one know if their arteries are clear? Well, until tests show they are plugging up, most of us believe our arteries are clear. Often we believe wrong.

Even though cardiovascular disease afflicts or kills as many as one in two adults in developed countries, we feel lucky. Until, that is, a heart attack or a stroke occurs. Dying from this is not a long shot. This is not a lottery with long odds. It is not even a dice throw. It is more a coin flip.

The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health reports:

A healthy lifestyle pattern may prevent more than 50% of deaths due to ischemic strokes, 80% of sudden cardiac deaths, and 75% of all deaths due to cardiovascular disease. And what exactly is a "healthy lifestyle pattern?"
  • Not smoking
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Staying active
  • Choosing a healthy diet

And where do eggs fit in a healthy diet? That depends. Again, from the T.H. Chan school:

People who have difficulty controlling their total and LDL cholesterol may want to be cautious about eating egg yolks and instead choose foods made with egg whites. The same is true for people with diabetes. 

Unfortunately, one year you may test well for cholesterol but move into the danger zone in the future. For many of us, as our age increases so does our cholesterol. I had good readings until I didn't. And I found out that I didn't a little late in the game. I thought I was lucky. I wasn't. I no longer eat eggs, or at least not egg yolks. This is at the urging of my heart and stroke specialist.

If you are young and healthy and at little risk of  cardiovascular disease, you can take solace in the fact that  research has shown eating one egg a day is not associated with increased heart disease risk in healthy individuals. But note those last words: "healthy individuals." Read the fine print.

I believe my heart and stroke doctor would tell you not to flip a coin when it comes to your health. You can never be totally confident that you are "healthy." Don't smoke, maintain a healthy weight, exercise and eat a healthy diet by keeping saturated fat consumption low. And, to further increase your odds of avoiding what is commonly called heart disease, minimize your consumption of eggs.


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Breitbart/Fox contributor found on Opinion page of The London Free Press

Before getting into this post, I'd like to say that I am a retired newspaper staff photographer. I've had connections to newspapers since I was boy. I love newspapers. And many of the seniors with whom I associate are also newspaper junkies. But, and this is the sad part, The London Free Press as operated by Sun Media, and now by Post Media, has broken some of these people's life-long attachments to a daily paper.

They say the paper is too thin. It doesn't have enough local news. These at-one-time-readers are not interested in what happens in Windsor or in other cities with a Post Media paper. And they feel The London Free Press has veered too far to the right. These seniors miss what isn't there and are often offended by what is.

The opinion piece at the core of this post is an example of what is chasing the folk I know away from the paper. And the sad thing is the folk running the paper don't appear to care. The opinion piece contained phrases that to folks who follow this stuff, and my friends do, say beware of  the hidden right wing agenda.

It is one thing for the local paper to carry a cost-saving right-wing insert. But when the paper itself has its opinion page contaminated with cheap, head-office bumpf, then readers stop reading The London Free Press. All too sad.

Now, on to my post.

It's tough being a journalist at a small, daily newspaper today. The staff is thin and threatens to get even thinner. The worries concerning job security and even worries about the future of the paper itself are palpable. No one wants to join the ranks of the unemployed. Everyone does their job, no one criticizes and all keep quiet. If I still worked at The London Free Press, even mouthy me might find myself self-muzzling.

With that confession out of the way, I'd like to believe I'd be in Joe Ruscitti's office right now telling him that Peter Morici does not belong on the paper's Opinion page. Ruscitti is the editor in chief at the local paper. Peter Morici is the type of columnist who repels my senior friends.

Recently, the newspaper called for a boycott of L. L. Bean. Why? Because, according to the local journalist behind the call, Morris Dalla Costa, it doesn't support anyone who supports the policies of Donald Trump. I thought a boycott was an action demanding a fair amount of thought and deliberation and not just a quick tweet. He assured me that it was "not a difficult concept." (I say the newspaper called for the boycott because the Twitter username attached to the tweet ended with ...atLFPress. If the paper is going to allow their name to be part of a username, the paper must take some responsibility for the tweet.)

Peter Morici is a vocal supporter of many of Donald Trump's positions. He was identified in the paper as "an economist and business professor at the University of Maryland." All true. But he is also a contributor to Breitbart News and Fox News. This important background  information was not forthcoming.

Should Morici's opinion be in my local paper? Certainly, but not on the local Opinion page. It should be in the Post Media section. And Morici should be clearly identified as also appearing in Breitbart News. Steve Bannon, said to be the strategist behind Trump's travel ban, was the former head of Breitbart News. It should also be mentioned that Morici is a frequent on-air contributor to Fox News. Need I say more?

Now, will Morris Dalla Costa be so bold as to tweet out a call to boycott The London Free Press? I doubt it. And yet, by Dalla Costa's logic, he should be calling out the paper, his employer. As he said, it's "not a difficult concept."

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Edward R. Murrow was right. Journalists have thin skins.

I'm a happy guy. I'm retired. Nice home. Fine wife and partner. My health could be better but I am confident I'll celebrate my 70th birthday come summer. I'm doing better than my dad and two of his brothers when it comes to longevity and I figure I can't ask for much more. Plus, I've got three lovely granddaughters. For me, personally, life could not be much better.

Up until 2009, I worked at The London Free Press. At that time there was a layoff/buyout which was leaving a young staff-photographer with a stay-at-home wife caring for two little boys facing the loss of his job.

I decided to take the buyout. I saved his job even though it meant a 25% cut in my company pension along with a big cut to my Canadian Pension Payments. As my wife and I still needed more money to balance our books, my wife also began drawing her CPP and again at a huge discount. I also faced the loss of my drug plan and my dental coverage. But I took the buyout and I never looked back. I have no regrets. It was the right thing to do.

I assist two children in the third world by sending monthly payments plus birthday and Christmas gifts. Speaking of Christmas, this year my wife gave a third world family a selection of farm animals. Also, she paid for the education of a young girl for a year. She did both in my name. Why? She knows that I feel gifts are a waste, at least when given to me. At my age, I have everything I need. So she gives gifts to others in my name. I love that woman. She understands.

That said, I've been surprised at the total lack of understanding shown by many of the professional journalists with whom I once worked. I've learned they have exceedingly thin skins. Do not ask these folk a question. They get their noses painfully out-of-joint.

The other day Morris Dalla Costa posted a tweet on Twitter calling for a boycott of L. L. Bean. I was surprised to see The London Free Press supporting a boycott, especially a boycott that involves not just a distant company in New England but a boycott that also involves a number of chain outlets  here in London, Ontario. I'm sure Mr. Dalla Costa was unaware of the London connection. I cannot see a reporter/columnist at the paper calling for a boycott of businesses advertising in the Free Press.

I asked  Mr. Dalla Costa: "Do you really want us to boycott L. L. Bean? Boycotting L. L. Bean will not punish Trump according to the Bangor Daily News." I included a link to the newspaper article.

But L. L. Bean is not the one supporting right-wing policies. The Trump supporter is a board member, a granddaughter of the founder.

The group Grab Your Wallet decided to boycott L.L. Bean because Linda Bean contributed money to a political action committee (PAC) that supported Trump. It seems odd that GYW, and Mr. Dalla Costa, did not target Linda Bean’s own company Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine. Talk about firing quickly and wildly. If you thought only the Donald abused Twitter in this fashion, now you stand corrected.

The aim of the L. L. Bean boycott is to force the company to remove Linda Bean from its board of directors by financially damaging the company. This is the goal despite the fact that the company under attack does not appear to support Donald Trump and his policies.

As Rebecca Fishbein argues in the gothamist: Linda Bean is very rich and she's not going to be affected by, or learn a lesson from, a boycott. On the other hand, LL Bean's employees are not rich and will suffer if enough people stop shopping there.

Let me finish this post with a couple of paragraphs from the Bangor Daily News:

Before you forgo ever buying another flannel shirt from the retailer, you might first consider that in 2015 L.L. Bean employed more than 5,000 year-round workers, many of them in Maine. During the winter holidays, the employment count reached nearly 10,000. L.L. Bean has manufacturing facilities in Brunswick and Lewiston, where more than 400 employees make their products. Undoubtedly those workers hold views that differ from one company leader and from one another.

More important, L.L. Bean has kept is strong presence in Maine — its distribution facility is also located here — though it would likely be more cost efficient to locate many operations elsewhere.

Contrast L. L. Bean with The London Free Press. Jobs that I would have thought impossible to cut have been eliminated. Why even the press has been silenced and the paper is now printed in Hamilton. I've heard rumours that there are now only eleven reporters at paper which was once one of Canada's finest.

Years ago I thought the paper was heading in the wrong direction. One can ask Paul Berton if I made my unhappiness known. Paul listened politely to my all-too-vocal complaints but he didn't threaten me or try to silence me. Paul was, above all, a gentleman.

I cannot say the same for Mr. Dalla Costa. He tweeted to me "get a life" and then blocked me on Twitter.

Joining a boycott is a serious matter. Such a move demands careful thought.  This boycott is the type of Twitter response I expect from someone like, uh like, Donald Trump.

Add from August 29th, 2018:

Today, Bloomberg and others are reporting that David Pecker, chief executive officer of American Media Inc., has resigned from the board of Postmedia, owner of The London Free Press. American Media publishes the National Enquirer. Pecker and his company were implicated in the scandal involving payments to women who alleged affairs with Donald Trump.

"In 2016, Pecker told the Toronto Star he was asked to join Postmedia’s board by Chatham Asset Management, a New Jersey hedge fund that owns stakes in Postmedia and American Media."

Maybe Dalla Costa, by his standards, was boycotting the wrong company.