Thursday, May 5, 2016

HOSPITAL PARKING GHOULS


PARKING VULTURES SHOULD BE ASHAMED

The little car driven by the official ghoul handing out parking tickets circles endlessly like a bumblebee around a clutch of flowers.
He parks on sidewalks, up against hydrants, and on corners while he gouges the unfortunate motorists besides St. Joseph's Hospital who decided they couldn't afford the exorbitant parking garage costs and were trying their luck along the curb.
These were people limping to clinics with the help of relatives, even using walkers and wheelchairs, not people who could walk blocks in order to wait and wait and wait until a doctor sees them.
I was parked legally while Mary made a regular visit to a hospital outpatient clinic. I was in the car watching as the same ghoul circled endlessly, drawn to the honey pot of congested parking around the hospital, copying what real cops do when they set  their radar traps where they will be able to capture the motorist who doesn't realize the speed has just changed.
Officially, the Toronto parking enforcement officer is contributing to the "safety and security" of Torontonians. Which is a laugh! What these "officers" are doing is raising money for  councillors to waste by targeting the most vulnerable among us, those who through circumstance or health have to park longer or in a cramped area.
I have often watched the ghouls at work around St. Joes, one of the city's worst hospital, as I can testify to after two months of their ruinous care, and other hospitals.
This is not a defence of motorists who block hydrants or traffic or driveways. I understand that they are a problem. I seldom get tickets. But when I received a $60 ticket three minutes before the parking was legal a couple of years ago, I also understood the malevolent brutality of stupid enforcement. The constable I complained to agreed with me, not the jerk enforcer who infests the area around the Royal York subway station.
I have written columns or blogs about hospital parking charges, and about enforcement around hospitals. One blog was Mystery Rules From Fishing To Parking on Nov. 7, 2014. Another was Hospital Parking Robbery on Feb. 18, 2014. Then there was one way back on Dec. 3, 2011 because not much changes even though everyone from the Canadian Medical Association to medicrats at Queen's Park have agreed that high hospital parking fees and harassing parking policies around hospitals is a major problem in health care.
Councillors with their anti-car policies on everything from parking to signage have never understood that the TTC is not the better way for many hospital visits. Just try taking a bus to an appendectomy.
Patients cut short their visit to specialists. Relatives reduce visits to patients. The whole dismal issue casts a pall over the operation of the big hospitals which act like besieged castles when they should be oasis of calm care. Over all visits hangs the spectre of the ticking clock, the circling parking buzzards.
We have tolerated too much crap from our overpaid Toronto police force. Yes, I call it a force because it is not the "service" that it wants to be called when it takes a billion bucks out of the city treasury.
What we don't need from the top cops who talk about change for the better while stalling for the worse is a lot of nonsense where the ghouls at the bottom of their enforcement system deliberately target hospital areas because they know there that people desperate  to see the specialist about the pain in their gut are not always able to find parking where they don't have to obtain a second mortgage to finance.
Knock it off! Pretend the city has a heart and that the bureaucrats don't just pretend to help those to whom a parking ticket is another pain in their gut.

Friday, April 8, 2016

PANDERING TO CYCLISTS


HOW TO WASTE COSTLY ROADS

It was a neighbour driving me to a heart test in early morning who raised the subject of Bloor bike lanes, an issue so stupid I had shoved it to the back of my anger file.
We were zipping along Bloor from Royal York and Bloor to Toronto General, a trip that took only 20 minutes even though there were already a few cyclists screwing up a quarter of a block of traffic around each of them.
I said that Bloor was such a valuable traffic artery that I had written that at a minimum cyclists be banned during the morning and evening rusher.
But now we have Toronto council, that clutch and grab of politicians with  an anti-car majority, looking with approval on a Bloor bike lane from Shaw to Avenue.
That, of course, would be just the start. Bike zealots will be after Bloor and Danforth to have bike lanes from Mississauga to West Hill.
The Star ran a strange opinion piece on this because it confuses an ideal of useful comment by settling for just the pro and anti side of issues. This falls into the Equal Time For Hitler trap since such media practitioners are giving equal time and space to the good solution and then to the stupid or even the evil side.
There are several arguments that can be made in most issues, particularly in urban affairs. I hate to be logical in this case because there is nothing logical or particularly democratic about bike lanes when drivers and vehicles which pay considerable taxes to use roads are forced to share them with a mouthy minority - that is very mouthy and very small group - who freeload on the great majority with green arguments about healthy exercise and reducing congestion.
Ironically, the best way to reduce congestion is to reduce bike lanes or eliminate them.
The Star allowed the customary activists, one of them the executive director of Cycle Toronto, to write about the joys of turning this "main street" into a major accomplishment.
Wow, I thought. Nirvana is coming to Bloor.
Their main argument? "By making biking safer, the lane would encourage folks to leave the car at home and cycle more frequently to work or school. It would encourage exercise,  reduce congestion and improve the air...."
Well you get the idea. The usual argument from the usual suspects!
Let's break down who constitutes these "folks." To start with, their median age is 40.  If you wish to dive a little deeper into demographics, there are over five million Canadians over 65 and over six million Canadians under 14. That means almost a third of Canadians are definitely not into daily cycling along Bloor because of age or safety reasons. And just how many of the 67% in the 15 to 65 age group, such as the older women, would commute regularly by bike even if it was easier.
Now let's include Canadian weather which has been described as 10 months of winter and two months of bad skating.  Just a joke but let's settle for half the year when cycling isn't that great.
Now let's include the number of hours when the dark doesn't make many of us comfortable when we bike.
That shrinks the number of people who would use a Bloor bike lane to a tiny fraction of the vast numbers who will be inconvenienced by them.
No wonder that StatsCan found in the last survey of commuting in 2011 that a minuscule 1.3% biked to work. Yet the zealots would argue that if there were more bike lanes, that figure would rise, maybe even to the 5.7% who walked to work.
 Remember that these figures are based on urban living in cities and towns where it is 99.9 %  easier to bike or walk to work.
Obviously the reality because of the traffic hell that is downtown Toronto is that the city should be concentrating instead on improving traffic for the TTC and other vehicles.
 Any move to take more of the expensive asphalt and give it only to a few fitter cyclists who don't have to cart goods or children or the aged is so silly, in the future they will look back at us and laugh.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

HYDRO ONE CHEATING


THE CON OF THOSE 'STUPID' SMART METERS

Got a delayed Christmas "gift" the other day from Hydro One, the fast-buck sellers of electricity in a captive province.
The latest bills arrive for my cottage on a lovely point in the Trent River south of Havelock,  and for my very modest "bunkie" which is on the small neighbouring lot which used to be owned by an old drinker until it was bought in self-defence by the previous owners.
The bills announced that my meters had been "read"  on Dec. 25, 2015, and covered the period until March 25 this year. I relaxed when I glanced at that because I haven't stepped on the properties since last November.
Except the bills were $111.41 for each property.  Wow. Hydro One has increased even its gouging.
Hydro One was in the news the same day because the province has sold another 15% of it into the stock market, five months after the first bit was sold for $20.50.
The current price is just over $23.50, meaning it has been doing better than a lot of stocks on the TSE. My broker recommended I buy it, and he hasn't been recommending stocks, but I said no because Hydro One is a notorious opaque outfit which uses cheating meters and has been criticized harshly by everyone from the former premier to the former ombudsman.
Gather the last stock offering hasn't been snapped up which is understandable since buying Hydro One is a little like buying a ticket to a lunch with skunks at the local dump.
I was taught long ago that you didn't buy stocks in  companies that you and many people didn't like which have been criticized for inappropriate treatment of their customers.
There has been a distrust of Hydro since the 1940s, particularly by farmers enraged by the cost of poles down their lanes. As a political reporter, I quickly learned that the various elements of Hydro were considered fat and wasteful and difficult.
I have written many columns and blogs about Hydro One's glaring contempt for its customers - and I throw in the Toronto municipal power outfit which screws up most of the outages.
At least last year I got value for my $1,428.24 that I paid in the city for my power.  The comparison with my cottage bills is laughable since they totalled $1,152.73 for me being there several days most weeks for six months. The bill for the bunkie was $340.42 even though it was used only 10 nights at most.
In a  blog titled Blowing Ontario's Fuse on March 18, 2014, I complained about a standby fee in winter for each cottage which was then $75.28. Now it has gone up $36.14.
As a columnist and editor for many years, I am familiar with the squabbling over meters since deadbeats are notorious for cheating on utility bills if they bother to pay them at all.
But their inaccuracy has become legendary.
I have kept every Hydro bill for the cottages because they are always suspect. There was the year when my bill for the bunkie was three times the bill for the main cottage when the bunkie hadn't been used except for one weekend.
There have always been talk about provincial probing of the faulty meters and dishonourable conduct of Hydro  One but in the end nothing ever seems to happen.
No wonder there is frustration out on the concession roads and in Cottage Country which produces bitter lawn signs about cheating meters. I have written about the two women whose sign grumbled about not even getting dinner before they were screwed by Hydro One.
It is bizarre that some employees at Hydro One are so dumb that they pretend they have read my meters on the holiest holiday in the year. I suppose that it's some computer doing it, or trying to do it, but I didn't bother to try to find  out because dealing with electric utilities in this country is like extracting potable water out of a swamp.
Since it seems rather obvious judging from past behaviour that neither the Liberal government nor Hydro One are about to soften these charges when Hydro isn't even being used for months, I will have to stop this wastage of hundreds of dollars.
The simplest move is to take the power out of the bunkie. Since 90% of the activity from people staying there revolves around the main cottage, why give Hydro $340.42 a year for some night use? As someone who lived on a farm where there was no power, lamps and candles are not exotic to me.
Some readers will wonder why I don't just run all the power through one meter. Except the red tape and expense when you want to do that is quite high. When I did a major improvement to the main cottage, the very competent contractor ended up doing the wiring himself because the electrician just didn't show up after quoting a figure that shocked everyone but the contractor's brother who had just paid a ransom for wiring his new home.
And they were local, not city folk who are "taken" too often in Cottage Country.
 Guess that electrician was trained by Hydro One!
Too bad the inept Grits at Queen's Park haven't installed a circuit breaker in their dealings with the pygmies that now look after the electricity in this province which was built on the back of efficient and inexpensive generation from water dams that was famous throughout the rest of North America.






Friday, April 1, 2016

APRIL FOOLERY AND FARTS


YOU WOULD BE SURPRISED AT THE PLAYERS

My best April Fool's stunt was the day I wrote the Sun editorial recommending that all the extra  billions that had just been discovered as surplus should be returned by the provincial government to the taxpayers in surprise bonuses.
The NDP braintrust seized on this as their main chance in Question Period to roast the ministers. A researcher called looking for details because there were none in the rest of the media. Was it a scoop, he wondered?
I pointed out that he should read the final para again, where I had written that it was too bad that the editorial could only deal with billions that could be given back to the voters on April Fool's Day.
Oh, he said, it's a joke. Takes a bit longer with the socialists, apparently, but our readers figured out that it was a gag and no one else called the Editor.
Actually newspapers have a long tradition of elaborate April Fool stunts. Why even the Globe and Star have been known to play. The Sun had just acquired  a generalist from politics as rookie publisher and Paul Godfrey was antsy about allowing me to pull a stunt in the editorial. He was relieved when we sucked in the lefties.
The worst April Fool's for me came in 1961 when I was pried out of an elevator by paramedics and taken unconscious to the first of the four hospitals that I would be incarcerated in for three months.
By the time it was over, there had been no laughs  and I had to learn to walk again. Hell, I had to learn how to stand.
April Fool was big when I was a kid. Can't say my life then was filled with laughs because after my parents died, my two sisters and I lived with dour Dutch grandparents.
My life was ruled by Grandma who was a five-foot block of meanness. Yet for some bizarre reason, she liked April Fool's Day and a Whoopee Cushion.
She had a variety of gag stories but many Aprils she told me the schools had been closed for the day even when there was no snow. We three kids laughed gratefully because we appreciated even lame humour in that house.
Several times a year the Whoopee Cushion would be taken by one of us from its place of honour and slid surreptitiously underneath as someone sat down. A great fart sound that might crack the tiles in the average bathroom would echo around the little kitchen.
And we would all howl, especially Grandma, and then back it would go for another three months or so. It was understood that more constant use would make it, well, unChristian.
According to the Star, which gave the feature a place of honour on Page Two, where all its corrections usually go, the Cushion was invented in Toronto around 1930 and the basic rubber bladder was sold promising noises "that can be better imagined than described."
The writer quoted experts, including a "toy" historian, saying flatulence and fart joke in some ways transcend time, which is a complicated way to say they have come down through the ages as universal humour. You don't have to be an historian, toy or otherwise, or even an expert in rubber goods, to know that. Just survive an elementary school in Ontario and not just the lower grades where trick tooters are idolized.
I have always been intrigued by the broad cross section of people who find fart noises more amusing than embarrassing. This has even been studied in universities. One connoisseur of Whoopee Cushions was Leslie Nielsen, a great actor before his last clownish roles, and so Canadian that his father was a Mountie and his brother was a deputy prime minister.
Neilsen carried a Cushion most days even in his suit pocket, maybe one developed  by the first manufacturer,  JEM Rubber Co.,  which even at a quarter found sales "deflated," so other companies started to sell it, although one giant novelty outfit found it too "indelicate."
Nelsen would slip it under other diners or actors - probably once or twice on stage - and generally thought it the acme of humour.
Readers should remember the Cushion fondly because it's just another reason that Toronto, and indeed Canada, is superior to any American city.
After all, just look at all the Toronto inventions. Most of us knew about the creations from insulin and pablum to paint rollers and five-pin bowling that were born here in Hawgtown. Now add fake farters to the list and it is insurmountable.






Friday, March 25, 2016

R.I.P. ROB FORD, ROT IN HELL DONALD TRUMP


A PEOPLE PERSON VS. A  FRAUD

There are hurricanes of facts and fictions about the flawed former mayor of Toronto and the fraudulent leader in the U. S. presidential race.
For once there is no need to spend any time regurgitating biographies to point out the holes and lies in  their supposed public histories.
Which is a relief since one of the curses of social media today, and in the activist world of NGOs and loudmouths, is that so many rushing to their judgment really don't know the basics of the performers and the issues.
Even in the media.
I am embarrassed hourly by the columnists and commentators who lurch to their keyboards and microphones to repeat ad nauseam the same old stuff without ever sniffing out a new insight.
There were weeks in my decades of journalism when I had to perform so often I was tired and hoarse and stretched -  six columns, seven editorials, one CBC radio commentary and one CBC TV show was not an unusual week.
Yet I always tried to go beyond the flavour-of-the-day in news. (Once when I cheated, the Sun president complained to the publisher that my column, editorial, and commentary were the same, and I felt really guilty because, after all, he was blind.)
So I will spare you a recitation of what you should know already if you actually have been paying attention and unlike the great majority, shoot your mouth off without having any bullets.
I want to emphasize the similar reality of the success behind Ford and Trump - the anti-politicians  perceived as not being phoney crooks like all the other candidates.
 It worked for Ford because he really was frugal with public money. It works for Trump because he appears to be so rich that he won't line his pockets too much with public millions.
The street guys and gals liked Ford despite his bloat, and Trump despite that silly and bizarre hair because it was obvious from those appearances that they really didn't give a damn.
So there was a loyal Ford Nation despite huge flaws as large as his stomach. And Trump rides high while cheating and exaggerating and bluffing more than a drunk at closing time.
The huge difference is that Ford's success was rooted in shyness while Trump probably performs for the bathroom mirror.
Ford was the anti-bullshitter, while having some talent for BS. Trump oozes bullshit but since so much of his bluster is aimed at what the ordinary Joe perceives as the Establishment, he is excused because he says what his fans would love to bellow in the official ear.
 Ford felt most comfortable with ordinary folks who needed help. That's why he returned calls for aid or showed up towing uncomfortable officials. He couldn't get hurt there, not like on the floor of council where his ignorance on an issue could be exposed. It soothed his soul to have people crowd him on the street or at games and events because he could perform in a protective bubble of goodwill and good spirits.
I think his dysfunctional family, led by a father they idolized but I thought one of the dullest politicians I ever met, and a rough, rude mother, and his failures in school and sport, that his shyness and distrust meant he trusted only himself.
Trump feels most comfortable when he's yammering and everyone else has to listen. That's when he's controlling the agenda and can reduce the number of questions that will reveal this would-be emperor has no clothes and very bad hair. Criticism and challenges roll off his back of confident ego because he figures his zealots really don't remember or really understand the complicated stuff. .
It doesn't come as a surprise to any journalist who has spent a lot of time around public figures, whether they be actors or premiers or super jocks, that away from strutting on their stage, some can be almost painfully shy and withdrawn.
I was among the many critics of grandstanding Mel Lastman and called him Supermouth so often, it was repeated by colleagues. Yet we would chat often in quiet peace in the corner at public events where all he wanted to do was go home and put his feet up and perhaps watch himself in Bad Boy TV ads.
Of course he had an enormous ego, the craving for attention so that he would not be ignored, but there was also a driven side, that often he forced himself to this public persona. Same with Ford.
So Ford sought his escape in addiction, and in the blue-and-white world of sports, preferring kid football (he pretended there had been college football) to being "bamboozled" - or so he thought -  by the experts with their degrees and their boasted credentials.
Ford was stubborn because he was wary of change that came from the Establishment and not his gut. He wanted to fight his battles on his turf and on his terms without oratory.
He rode hobbyhorses like getting rid of deals for politicians because they were safe. As CNE president, I would huddle with him after his usual spiels about stopping freebies for councillors and it would be a gentle talk without the bombast. He had done his bit and let's talk about something else.
Since the family was wealthy, it was an easy hit for him to be a tight-fisted conservative in public policy and personal spending, BUT it was also comfortable, the way he really felt.
Obviously the devils didn't just claw at him in the wee hours and he sought refuge for years, like so many, in drugs and booze and marching to a populist drummer. I was told about his curses by police sources years before the Star's front page because they feared his stubborn independence.
Now we will never know if his attempts to put this behind him was bedevilled  by his system being compromised by the birth of that deadly cancer.
Canada has had spectacular redemption in its major politicians beginning with our first prime minister, Sir John A., who was an obvious drunk. Yet his notorious binges ended and he didn't drink in his last years.
There is the famous shout by opponents at his supporters that their Macdonald was drunk during a speech. The comfortable reply from the Tories was that their Sir John A. drunk was better than any of their guys sober.
That is the way the Ford Nation felt about their champion. Unfortunately for this province and city, too often it was and is true.



Friday, March 11, 2016

SIX DEGREES OF ANECDOTES


IT'S A SMALL WORLD AFTER ALL

I was waiting out the final minutes before I was wheeled in to the little O.R. for my second eye surgery and listening idly to the nurse taking the medical history of the patient in the next bed.
I quickly learned a lot, including what he ate, when was his last asthma attack,  and that he really didn't know how heavy he was.
The fact amazed me that there were still people around who didn't worry about their weight as they grow older.
 I was also amused at how easily you can collect info on anyone even in an age when banks insist on checking your DNA before they return one of your dollars,  and a utility company will not discuss the  bill with you unless you're the person who opened the account.
The two of us ended up near each other afterwards as we waited to be cleared to go home. And I mischievously struck up a conversation and dropped in his personal tidbits.
He looked stunned. I explained I had been nearby when his history was being taken.
This didn't bug him as much as it would have some people, particularly women, when it came to age and weight, so we passed the time talking about life and the weather and inevitably, in Toronto,  the awful Leafs.
Turned out he was a sports fan, particularly of the Argos, and since I had briefly been a junior Argo and watched the Grey Cup several times from the sidelines, and once from the bench, we yarned and remembered the grand old days when the Double Blue won most games and the other city team then actually won the Stanley Cup.
Inevitably 1967 came up. The country remembers its centennial. Montreal remembers its Expo. And Toronto remembers the last time it won the Cup.
I told him of being in Montreal in charge of the Telegram coverage of Expo and getting a call from Tom (Windy O'Neill) who said would I like to come to the Forum for the Saturday afternoon game against the Canadiens in the Cup final..
You bet, I said.  The amiable lawyer was a great companion. He had been playing junior with St. Mikes and selling programs at the Gardens in 1943 and one year later, because of the war, was pressed into service as a small Leaf forward playing sort of defence. The joke was he was under orders never to venture over the other blue line or he would be fined.
Windy played two years for the Leafs and really got banged up. And bigger players were coming back from war. So he told the owner, the irascible Conn Smythe, that he was going to become a lawyer. And Smythe snarled that no one could go to school and play for the Leafs. Windy was just a no-talent slave and how dare he try to better himself.
So he quit, which was like parachuting out of Heaven for a hockey player. Off he went to Dalhousie, then played some senior hockey,  and then returned to practice law and Grit politics and continue to be, as Scott Young wrote, the best piano player in the NHL, especially when it was late at night in one of his haunts, the Toronto Press Club.
The Leafs won that afternoon, I reminded my new acquaintance. In the first period, one assistant captain, Bob Pulford, got into a fight with Terry Harper. So I stood in a hostile crowd and urged Pully on.  My excuses were that I had helped open the Jamaican rum display at Expo before the game and that I had played football with Pulford and gone to high school with him.
I didn't realize just how irritated the crowd had got until they started throwing stuff at me. A man behind tapped me on the shoulder.  He said he was Randy Ellis, father of Ron Ellis, the Leaf player, and he was sitting with Ron's wife, who was pregnant, "and you are starting a riot."
Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, Windy was not sitting with me. He had scored free tickets, but not together, so he was not aware of why the north-west corner of the Forum was in ferment.
So I sat down and tried to keep quiet. The last hot dog covered with mustard sailed over my head and then no one threw anything but words. Besides, the Leafs went ahead and won. It was our last Cup as the Leafs became better at making money than playing hockey.
 I finished my story rather pleased that I didn't have to explain who all the actors were in my anecdote, for example, that Randy Ellis had been a good player on a national senior championship team.
Not only did my new acquaintance enjoy yarning about Hawgtown sports, he demonstrated again that Six Degrees of Separation is more a reality than a myth.
You know, the theory that any person connects to any other person in the world in just six relationships. There is even a charity based on that, headed by Kevin Bacon, who is often used as an example of how he relates quickly to any other actor, but there have also been plays, books and movies illustrating Six Degrees for more than half a century.
 My new acquaintance said that in two day's time he was having dinner with a close relative of Windy's.  He said there once had been a restaurant with Windy's name and that posted on the wall for years had been a letter from Conn Smythe, whom I had just described in cruel fashion.
The letter praised Windy for helping the Leafs win the Cup in 1945, his final NHL year. At the end, there was a P.S. that summed up Smythe's rude dictatorship over his team. It informed Windy that he had made a long-distance call costing $1.40 from the hotel in Detroit during the Cup series and he must pay this sum without delay.
I hope the best piano player in the NHL, nicknamed that by Neil Young's father, told Smythe to go whistle for his money. After all, the sand and gravel magnate with the expensive passion for horses may have been great at charity in raising money for crippled kids, but there was a bully side  -also displayed by the rest of the bosses in the old league - that is only equalled today by chumps like Trump.  Imagine going after a young guy virtually playing for peanuts when you're so rich you can pay to take your own battalion to war.
Yet my message today is not that but advice on how to pass the time when you're stuck in a medical system that cares nothing about how it wastes time for patients/prisoners.  Next time you're in a clinic and can't rescue yourself with a magazine or TV, strike up a conversation with the other inmates. Who knows what connections will follow?








Wednesday, March 9, 2016

REAGAN'S ALZHEIMER'S IN THE WHITE HOUSE


A REASSURING GREAT CONSPIRACY

The great conspiracy that concealed  that Ronald Reagan was struck by his Alzheimer's while he was still in the White House as U.S. president seems to have survived the accounts of the death of his loyal wife who shielded him from exposure.
It's hardly an earth-shattering scoop that Reagan was often fumbling for words and names in his final years. His stalwart champion, Nancy,  and key aides, could not conceal that from the public. But they certainly threw a cloak over the significance of the major extent of that so that the popular myth is that Alzheimer's did not cruelly ravage him until around 1994, five years after he left the presidency.
Not everyone co-operated. His son, Ron, who has always marched to his own drummer, defied and angered his mother and brother when he said a couple of months ago in a book about his father that he thought Reagan already was suffering towards the end of his first term.
When you sift the tides of information about Reagan over the decades, and connect the few but persistent mentions, the earlier reality of this form of dementia which robs the memory more each day cannot be dismissed as a nightmarish claim by his enemies.
In fact, I first found out about it in 1987 and have written about it several times. But I have never before made the point that actually I find it rather reassuring.
A few acerbic wits like Bill Maher couldn't let her funeral pass without pointing out that maybe Reagan was the final blow in winning the Cold War but Nancy really was running the presidency in the final two years, just like Woodrow Wilson's wife had taken over for him.
Yet despite all the Doomsday scenarios in books and all the movies with Armageddon twists, isn't it reassuring that it is quite likely that the most powerful leader in the world was mentally ill while he could blow up the world using the codes carried by an aide. Yet we all muddled through thanks to the steely wife and insiders like Colin Powell, the four-star general turned National Security Adviser who stayed close.
My peek inside the Oval Office at the president who carried file cards in his pocket even to comment on the weather came in 1987 through Bill Stevenson, the spy author who moved easily in the world of  world secrets, as I detailed in a column about his death that appeared Dec, 3, 2013, as a blog (blog.johndowning.ca) titled The Intrepid Bill Stevenson.
Bill, the author of best sellers that were turned into great movies, and his wife, Monica, an award-winning 60 Minutes producer, were great hosts at their Rosedale home. And their guests were  famous figures from the front pages of major newspapers.
So when he phoned on a Friday to invite me to a Sunday barbecue, it was a golden invitation. Except I was exhausted by playing Editor of the Toronto Sun while we were short-handed and just wanted to escape to my cottage on the Trent.
On Monday, Bill appeared in my office to deliver his latest column for me and related with great satisfaction that I had missed an affair that I would have remembered for the rest of my life.
"Ross Perot flew in to tell us that he had just met with Reagan in the Oval Office to tell him of what he had found out the last time he flew to Hanoi to insist to the North Vietnamese that they had to release all the American POWs and MIAs that they still had in their prisons despite their claims of ignorance," Stevenson told me.
"Why didn't you tell me Perot was coming," I yelled in frustration at not meeting the legendary billionaire
'"Because I think the CIA is tapping our phones because of the book that Monica and I are writing about the Prisoners Of War and the Missing In Action. Perot says they tap him," Stevenson said.
Then he dropped a bomb. He said Perot and Reagan had often met but that Perot said it was really strange this time. Only Powell was with them in the Oval. But Reagan fished a file card out of his pocket to read aloud: "Hello Ross, how are you? Isn't it nice out today, especially in the Rose Garden."
"You're telling me that the President of the United States is so ga ga that he needs a card to greet an acquaintance," I demanded of Stevenson. "Yes, Perot said there was no doubt that his mind is going," he replied.
Perot became controversial for his obsession to save the American soldiers left behind in the Vietnamese ruins after the war ended. He was always talking about plots and assassinations.
But he did make four billion selling companies to GM and Dell and had enough support in the country to run for president twice. And there were some news stories about his regular reporting back to the White House on his secret trips as a special envoy of the president on the POW issue.
Not exactly an observer to be ignored.
And Stevenson, who used to SCUBA dive with Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond,  and then go over to Noel Coward's cottage next door in Jamaica for martinis, was not exactly a dupe when it came to chronicling world figures.
So Stevenson and Downing believed what Perot told us. And we didn't write a damn thing. Who would have believed us then? Apparently most people don't even believe it now.