Sunday, November 23, 2014

SAVING CHRISTMAS FOR CHRISTIANS


TO HELL WITH SEASON'S GREETINGS

It's too soon for a full-throated defence of Christ-mass.
Let's hope it is not necessary.
It is to be hoped that all the idiots who think there is something awful about an open glorious celebration of both the day and the season will mind their mouths more this year since when they speak they betray their ignorance about the wonderful message of peace and goodwill that permeates Christmas and its important position in Canadian history.
What triggers this is a page in the National Post titled "Perils of Perception." It's based on an Ipsos Reid global survey. I am a big fan of that polling outfit since the days when John Wright, a grand Pooh-bah of Ipsos Global Public Affairs, and I used to sum up the year in  long broadcasts on CFRB when it was still the giant and respected radio station.
Thanks to long conversations with Wright, Larry Zolf and Jay Del Mah of the CBC, I was remarkably accurate on predicting elections and public moods.  They knew how to cut through the politically correct BS to what people really were thinking.
Wright sifted these results and said "Canadians are flying blind in a cloud of misperception."
Misperceptions? Bet you get it wrong too.
Canada was one of 14 countries where the public were asked about their neighbours in such areas as religion and age.
We were almost as bad as those in France and Belgium about estimating the percentage of Muslims in our population. Canadians said it was 20%. It's actually 2%. An over-estimate mistake of 18%.
Only Americans were worse than us when it came to estimating the numbers of Christians. Canadians said the Christian population in Canada was 48.5%  It's actually 69%. A under-estimate mistake of 20.5%.
Only Italy and Poland goofed more in estimating their numbers over 65 years of age. Canadians said 39% of the country was over 65 when it's actually 14% due to all the immigration of younger people. That over-estimate mistake is 25%.
Several messages flow out of these figures for me that should influence how our politicians should start acting.
Let's start with Christmas. We have renamed the concerts in our schools, the celebration trees in our squares and banned manger depictions. We have shoved Jewish and Muslim language and customs into our celebrations and accepted Kwanzaa, a modern "black" celebration dreamed up by a minor American prof.
Yet consider the figures. On the side of an unabashed Christmas celebration, we have 69% of the country. The opposition is rooted, perhaps, in the 2% of Canadian Muslims and the 1.1% saying they are Jewish in religion or ethnicity.
The reason I added "perhaps" is because of all my Jewish friends who have adopted some of the customs of Christmas and are a little baffled and even embarrassed about the elevation of Hanukkah which they regarded as a rather minor celebration.
(Then there was my friend who burned down his mansion when he lit the candle central to the tradition. The joke is that now his friends who think about moving phone to ask if he can come over to celebrate Hanukkah with them.)
By the time we add in all the atheists, agnostics and people who really don't give a damn, and remember that Kwanzaa was supposedly an addition to the season and wasn't intended to replace it, it seems we have about 80% for Christmas, perhaps 3% against, and the rest too busy shopping and drinking to care much either way.
Oh shit, I forgot the shrivelled principals and trustees, gutless politicians and the activists who are never happier than when they are making us wear a barbed-wire shirt of their principles. There may be a thousand or so of them, but they figure they are more important than tens of millions.
Let me remind you that I have never believed in religious schools. I think our taxes should support only one school system but that Jews, Catholics, Muslims or Baal-worshippers should be given time in public facilities to give whatever religious nstruction they desire.
I have no desire to force religion on anyone but surely the major religious celebration of most of a country need not be harassed.  It should be made easy for minorities to opt out but the majority, remember, have rights too.
Let's not forget that figure that too many Canadians think that 39% of the country are pensioners. Yikes! No wonder I have read and heard recently a rather militant philosophy that the elderly in this country are doing just fine, thank you very much, and there is no need to help them in taxation.
What BS!
Wright may have it wrong when he says Canadians are "flying blind in a cloud of misperception." I think such groups as unionists, activists, socialists, and bankers know damn well what the real demographic figures are and choose to ignore or misrepresent them to suit their selfish purposes.
Maybe they should watch Scrooge again.
And the rest of us should stop feeling so smug about how smart and worldly we are - especially compared to the U.S. - when it comes to demographics. Turns out there is much we don't know about ourselves, even thinking, for example that 35% of us are immigrants when it's actually 21%,.
Generous compared to the world, but substantially different from our mental picture. We really a flying blind.



Tuesday, November 18, 2014

IN PRAISE OF THREE-DOT COLUMNISTS


BRIEFER CAN BE BETTER THAN YAMMERING

I hold a battered pair of giant scissors. I suspect that when they were bought seven decades or so ago, they were called paper shears. Etched by acid on one blade, and almost obliterated by wear, is the name "Bob Webber."
I know nothing about Webber except that years before I joined the vanished and beloved Telegram he wrote a column there under the byline Thomas Richard Henry. a formal version of Tom, Dick and Harry.'
That's an expression first used, apparently, in 1657, by writers when they wanted  to talk about a group of ordinary people, if you want to put it cruelly, nobodies.
Politicians now rely on polls to tell them what people think. Ad agencies once said - there's probably a new saying - let's run it up the flag pole and see if anyone salutes. But back in Webber's day, ordinary souls you wanted to talk about were grouped under Tom, Dick and Harry. And if some budding feminist wanted to turn Harry into Harriet, most wouldn't know why.
I don't know how I came to possess the shears at the old Tely building at Bay and Melinda. But I brought them to the new building near Front and Spadina now misused by the Globe, and then to the weird first quarters of the Sun, and then to City Hall and various Sun offices, and now I try to cut out clippings of interesting stories with them at home. They haven't been sharp for years.
I often have visualized  Webber reading the locals, weeklies, exchanges and various magazines armed with the scissors and cutting out grist for his paper mill which would appear in fat paragraphs separated by three dots. He gave credit, of course, since plagiarism is just for the lazy, or for the idiots who want to pretend they're the fount of all interesting observations.
The item or three dot columnists have a higher readership according to newspaper surveys than columns on one topic, something Doug Creighton used to remind me of on a regular basis.
A great, amiable, tough publisher! But when I was tasked with writing a daily column, and a extra one when the brass had one of their brainstorms about special sections, any time I could stretch a paragraph into a full column I did. Even though I knew that Doug, bless 'em, was right. In a busy world, tidbit columns look more appealing than an essay or a full rant.
Often a columnist is just taking one more kick at a familiar can, returning to the prey for just one more comment on something they've harangued readers about for years.
So here, in honour of J. Douglas Creighton, and the Bob Webber who was just a memory when we both arrived at the old Tely, is a three dot column.

                                                     .        .         .

    We al seek relief from bad news. So all the papers reported with glee that the Yukon has miniature drunk tanks to help birds, generally Bohemian waxwings, sober up after gorging so much on fermented berries, they can't fly straight, or crooked either. The Post added that drunkeness is not unusual in the animal world. In Sweden, moose eat fermented apples and charge into towns. A herd of elephants in India drank a village's store of rice wine and killed three and destroyed 60 homes in a rampage. I can vouch for what happens when animals get high on spoiled fruit. I endure deafening belligerent crows at my cottage after they eat the rotting apples under my old tree and clusters of very gamy wild grapes. on a fence. As a boy I fed preserves that had gone bad to our chickens which staggered blindly around while my Baptist grandparents worried about avian disease.

                                       .                    .                 .

        What didn't get enough publicity is the latest report on the hundreds of millions being made in Ontario thanks to us being overcharged on Hydro. It's been going on for decades thanks to Hydro being the gang that couldn't shoot straight when it came to facts, fuses and schemes. The provincially-owned Ontario Power Generation had a net profit of $119 million for the three months ending Sept. 30. Hydro One, which owns the electricity transmission system and delivers power, sort of, to most of rural Ontario, said it grossed $1.556 billion for that period, up from the $1.542 billion it made a year ago. Net profit was "only" $173 million, down from $218 million. Actually the Star said $218 billion, but the reporter there can be excused because with Hydro it's hard to tell millions from billions with a billing system so wrong that it cost more than $40 million to fix. Or maybe it really  was $40 billion. And maybe it's not fixed.

                                                   .                .                   .

   Pedestrian deaths are up, so now TV has noticed all the distracted walkers, particularly teenagers, who wander through intersections and Stop signs with music blasting in their ears while texting or transfixed on a smart phone telling them what their best friend is wearing.  Let's not just blame the young. In my comfortable area of Etobicoke, a young mother or nanny pushing a giant stroller through turning cars at an intersection while dragging a dog and talking on the phone is a common sight.  Driving the side streets around Bloor and Royal York, and I would imagine similar areas in Toronto and other cities, especially at night, has become a gauntlet of danger due to all the people dressed in dark clothes wandering along listening to their music.and aggressively competing with cars for space. Maybe they should select organ music for their funeral at the same time.  One night I came across an unconscious teenager in the middle of the road near my house and called 911 but it turned out she was just drunk and had fallen on her head from her bike and wasn't wearing a helmet. Oh that's all right, I thought, I was worried she was hit by a car or a cyclist because no one obeys the Stop sign there which is only a block from a junior school. Sounds bizarre, I know, but I think a law covering extreme examples of distracted walking is needed as much as the current one against driving while holding a cell phone. Not just to protect the pedestrians, to protect also the rest of us from all the hassles if we run them down.



                     

                                 


Friday, November 7, 2014

MYSTERY RULES FROM FISHING TO PARKING


 BE BLUNT ABOUT WHAT WE CAN'T DO,  DAMNIT

The wind was cold and the waves rough but I continued to fish. Why? Because there are few opportunities left for me where I can catch or grow what I then can eat with added pleasure.
I had bought lots of minnows for a change. Since no one was around at Burnt Point, there was nothing to stop me from fishing for hours. No interruptions, just peace,  listening to classical music, daydreaming, letting the hassles of big city life from traffic to taxes to inane pols leach out of my system.
Let's not forget, either, the red tape traps, the fogs rising from bureaucratic swamps of print which seldom make it plain just what in hell you can or cannot do.
As a boy, I grew all the vegetables my sisters and grandmother ate, tended the Leghorns in the back pen, fished, and went berry picking. More a necessity than a pleasure. I know there are adults who find all that a restful hobby but I'm grateful to put most of that behind me, especially the weeds and chicken shit.
Yet in a tiny echo from my past, I still stew rhubarb from a huge patch and apple sauce from an ancient dwarf Mac. I still fish for pleasure and for food, and have done so around the world, from the upper Amazon to the Cook Islands.
My Kawarthas reverie is broken by a big plump smallmouth bass chomping my bait and dancing out of the water.   A struggle follows. Best fish of the year if I could land it. And I did. Then another. I already could taste the fillets, and had already tasted the fun.
 Then a big pike ripped at my hook.  It tore a hole in the net but I finally landed it using my dubious skills. I grumbled to myself because there never used to be pike in this stretch of the Trent River.
Since most of us would rather catch muskie than pike, the fewer pike around the better since they eat each other's young. But you don't keep fish you don't eat and I didn't want to deal with all those bones. Yet I thought I would measure before I released it. It was over 36" (90 cm) but it was hard to be sure since it lunged at me every time I brought the tape measure close to its head.
Fish activity slowed and the sun sank like a fiery rock. Then there was another bass, short but fat. Maybe a foot (30 cm). Couldn't remember the minimum bass size but I didn't toss it back immediately because added to the others it would make a grand meal for Mary and me and company.
Left it swimming in a pail and ransacked the cottage for my booklet of fishing rules. Nope. So I did a quick Google hit on an old laptop. Endless government propaganda about the reasons for fishing regs but nothing simple and obvious about real size figures. So I released the bass and Mary and I had a delicious meal by ourselves.
Later, I plunged back into the mysteries of Ontario fishing rules and found they were still as confusing as ever. This has bugged me for years. I blogged about it on Nov. 13, 2008 titled Fishing For Understanding And Bass, and then again on Jan.  29, 2009 titled A Guide To Ontario Fishing, which I intended to be sarcastic because it outlined the defence and justifications for the incomprehensible fishing rules by the natural resources ministry and its minister Donna Cansfield.
After I found that my cousin David Prescott and I had broken regulations involving pickerel - even though he is a banker expert on small print and actually understands all the rules of golf - I complained to ministry officials that there wouldn't be so many breaking the rules on purpose or accidentally around my point if the rules were clear and succinct and not infested with the rationalization and BS.
Ironically, when Cansfield, whom I know as a veteran Etobicoke politician, sent me the official ministry response to my complaint, she added in pen at the end of the letter that she agreed with my complaint. I first raised it with her at a Sun salmon derby opening where I helped her land a chinnook around 10 kg. (23 pounds), by far the largest fish she had ever caught.
The ministry policy wonks have partitioned the province as if it were a jigsaw puzzle. Fish size vary, and so do seasons, between lakes and rivers even if they're just a few kilometres apart. Yet surely, as I've said to the minister and officials, there can be some general rules that you can stick in with your tackle so you don't have to guess.
For example, I think you can keep a bass in some areas if it's 10 inches long but it must be 12" in other areas. Then there are several lengths for muskie. Pickerel lengths and numbers seem to change every few years. It doesn't help either when the ministry adds weasel words that warn regulations keep changing and it's up to us to keep up.  And it doesn't help either that if you haven't found the latest booklet of regulations, you can download it from the Internet if you have the time and paper for the 104 pages.
Surely they can develop basic size and season rules for most species. The current conflicting muddle reads like every ministry expert has different rules about fish in their own fief. The Internet is an ideal place for ministries and agencies to give snapshots of their rules and procedures but too often what you get is a cross between a dog's breakfast and a litter box.
Remember the old GE slogan delivered on TV by someone named Ronald Reagan about "progress is our most important product." Unfortunately, governments made that "process is our most important product." And process, of course, even in the age of the computer, runs on paper, endless pages of endless reports. Making sense of it all, heck just keeping track of it all, is difficult.
The other day I went hunting on the Internet for the current parking fines in Toronto. Never did find one list even though the city claims it really is Internet savvy. As I wrote in another blog, a few years ago I tried to find the rules for parking if you have an Accessible (disabled) permit.  The Internet info was garbled, but then that matched the official answering the phone that day at City Hall.
Of course the Canadian Revenue Agency is the champ of obscurity. And when it really wants to get cute, it leaves such a grey area that it is free to interpret the issue whatever way the official dealing with the matter that day feels like.
The trouble is, our bureaucracies produce signage, instructions and bylaws written and approved by officials who already know the answers and what is legal and desired.  Where are the test panels of ordinary citizens who can survey the Niagara of outflow and say that when red tape is clear as mud and takes far too long to figure out?
It's only in very old movies and books that we have the barefoot boy with bamboo pole and a worm on a hook and string catching the bass and frying it without consulting a 104-page book of rules composed by experts who if we let them would have a different regulation for every river.
I daydream about those days some times when I fish. Some days it's just simpler to throw the fish back than trying to figure out if it is legal.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

WE MUST HELP DISABLED MORE


21st INDUCTION FOR CANADIAN DISABILITY HALL OF FAME

This grand occasion has been happening since 1993.  I have always had awe and respect for the wonderful people whose names enter this pantheon of achievement in the daily struggle.
Strides have been made in this battle for access and inclusion. Yet more has to be done. The clues were everywhere at the luncheon. A nice celebration but all there in the Royal York have a wish list of needs that have still not been met.
David Crombie has chaired the selection committee from the start. The founder and inspiration for it all is Vim Kochhar, the retired senator, who was honoured to his surprise by the Hall this year. Together they say that by promoting the accomplishments of the inductees, a broader message is  spread about all those striving to succeed - to work and play and go to school and raise families - just like those of us without physical disabilities.
We must all do more to remove the barriers, and believe me, hurdles are there despite decades of supposed caring.
If you think this is just rhetoric from a creaky editor who has been a committee member since it began, consider what this year's inductees faced, these shining examples of not letting adversity shove you into a corner. And then think of what their next generation still face!
Sudarshan Gautam has no arms but climbed Mt. Everest without prosthetics. Mark Wafer has only 20% hearing and struggled before becoming a success with Tim Hortons outlets and hiring more than 100 people with disabilities. Elisabeth Walker-Young was a paralympic swimming champion and is now a major sports administrator despite being born with partial arms. Chris Williamson is virtually blind but is one of the most decorated in para-alpine skiing. (The audience was not told but what wowed the selection committee was he told his vital guide skier the day of a major event it was  OK to partner with another skier who had just lost his helper.)
They join a richness of names and successes. Edwin Baker who founded the CNIB. Athletes like Whipper Billy Watson, Bob Rumball, Jack Donohue and Vicki Keith who moved beyond wrestling, football, basketball and marathon swimming. Jeff Healey in jazz, Cliff Chadderton with the War Amps, Linc Alexander, Rick Hansen, Chantel Petitclerc...
All this is captured in a colourful book titled Glowing Hearts V  - A Celebration of Excellence, which should be in every Canadian public library. I'm going to check that it is, and if I don't, I'm sure one of the co-authors, Jeff Tiessen, who is also in the Hall, will.
But let's return to my theme that much more has to be done despite politicians paying lip service to this since 1980. (Can you imagine how much more would get done if we had more disabled people in politics? They would concentrate on issues rather than just re-election.)
Joanne Smith was an apt choice as MC of the luncheon because she has been inducted into the Hall and was host and producer for 10 years of a CBC TV program called Moving On.  At 19, her spinal cord was damaged in a car accident and her career in modelling and broadcasting was shadowed. She rode on into the sun sitting tall in her wheelchair and became a popular figure with the CBC and other media.
Smith insists that we have to get to the point where a disability is noticed and accepted as just another "individual difference." She told me about her battles to get ramps even when Toronto refuses to allow one because of the building code. For six years she couldn't get an accessibility ramp at her local coffee shop, not because of the shop but because of red tape.
My experience is trivial compared to hers but three years ago I was hunting for ramps too. My three months in four hospitals left me not even able to stand. The Ex almost ended my first steps. Even though the CNE loaned me a power wheelchair as a past president,  I was continually being trapped by not enough ramps and too many heavy doors. Several times I manoeuvred  into positions on elevators from which I needed help to extricate, much to open anger of mothers with strollers.
So I had a tiny experience for a few months with what Smith and the others in wheelchairs face daily.
She told me about her terrible experiences with her crucial accessible parking permit because her car is racier than the usual vans and sedans with the permits.
She is so fed up with getting parking tickets, despite her displaying the accessible permit that allows her wide latitude in parking, that she no longer fights them. Last time she renewed her licence she had to pay $600 in fines.
She told me of the time she returned to her car and found a tag on the windshield and her permit sign stolen from inside. She drove around and around and found the offending cop who not only admitted he gave her the ticket and that he broke in and stole her permit, he wouldn't cancel the ticket or give the permit back.
I told her that years ago I was having lunch with David Onley  (honoured in the Hall ) and kidded him about the permit that allowed him to park right in front of the restaurant. There was nothing funny about the response of our former lieutenant -governer.   He told me about when his car had been towed because cops didn't check his windshield and about the difficulty for him and others in retrieving cars from the pound when their vital wheelchairs are in the trunk.
I told the then police chief who ordered a second check of the windshield for a permit before a vehicle is towed.  There was also a constable whom disabled people could call to have tickets cancelled. But he died and according to Smith has not been replaced.
You would imagine that police and parking officers would go out of their way not to screw around with cars with accessible permits because the permits are of such a help to disabled people that some wouldn't be able to move around the city for jobs and medical appointments without one.
I know. Because of Mary's difficulty with walking, we have had one for years. I made a great effort to learn exactly where we couldn't park - finding out wasn't easy - but only found out that the permit didn't allow you to park in a "No Stopping" zone when I received a $60 ticket marked 5.59 p.m. when the parking prohibition expired one minute later.
The cops at 22 division said they could no longer do anything about tags but agreed with me that some mean jerk had written the ticket.
I was telling Smith that Mary the other day ventured forth with a walker to go from Yonge and Bloor to Bay and Bloor and found it an exhausting obstacle course. I told her that when I was learning to walk again, I found that many major streets were filled with fiendish obstructions strewn there by a stupid city and stupider merchants.
But then, I now have put the wheelchair and walker aside. There are many of our neighbours who can't. We should do more to help them. And it would be nice if the police service - if it really wants to be called a service and not a force - were of service to the disabled and not target them when they want to complete their quota of tickets for the shift.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

DONATO'S A WONDERFUL PAIN IN THE ASS


OUR TORONTO SUN NOSTALGIA NEVER TIRES EVEN IF WE DO

All Hallow's Eve is the best time to celebrate the birth of the Toronto Sun. Around us, there are enough legends in their own mind, walking dead, and accountant vampires to populate Park Lawn Cemetery. The flood of nostalgia through the survivors is a powerful life force.
I drive carefully through the rain, watching for chocolate-crazed dads and darting tots. All around me are "ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties, and things that go bump in the night." Danger on slick streets. And danger ahead at the restaurant."Good Lord," I think, "deliver me" from whatever Donato is going to do now.
The sequence gets lost in the telling but on Oct. 30, 1971,  I supervised a hung-over skeleton staff and put out the final edition of the Toronto Telegram, an historic, combative and innovative large newspaper that continually beat its rival, the Toronto Star, because it lacked our soul.
Then on the Sunday, 62 of the Tely's 1,200-member staff put together the first edition of the Toronto Sun, which was only possible because of new technology and a lot of hard, even inspired work. It appeared Nov. 1 and was an instant success. Indeed, despite traumatic years where staff was crushed, for example, under Quebecor's jackboot heel, it is now the flagship of the largest newspaper chain in the land.
Which I knew would be one topic at our reunion dinner. After all, at the head of it all now is Paul Godfrey, a man of many parts, liked by some, like me, hated by some, like those who thought that in a devious reincarnation he sold us down the St. Lawrence to the separatists.
But first I would have to find out what Donato was up to. After all, all I knew was the sanctimonious crap in the Star, and a cover-your-ass mealy-mouthed defence in the Sun itself, about the latest fallout from a Donato cartoon. The authors of that explanation/apology must have trained at the Star.
Seems NDP leader Tom Mulcair is upset about a Donato cartoon just before the election where Olivia Chow for good reason got creamed. Of course he does "upset" well. It's the only thing he does well.
Chow is wearing a Mao tunic standing on the coattails of a Jack Layton suit. Nothing unusual there. Donato dislikes the NDP and always draws the socialists in communist garb. And the only reason she was even considered a mayoral candidate is that she had been married to the NDP leader  who became the saint in death that he wasn't in life.
Face it, dear reader, Chow and Layton lost most of their votes and motions and deserved to because most voters and fellow politicians prefer the alternatives.
It all began with the Toronto chapter of the Chinese Canadian National Council complaining about the 'racist' cartoon because Donato depicted Chow with slanted glasses and eyes.
That council is always complaining about something. I tangled with them often, a couple of times over Donato cartoons. They do outrage almost as well as Mulcair because it's about the only time they're noticed. They're not really a major outfit, or that representative.
Of course the Star rode to battle because those goody-goody editors dislike the fun and good reads of the Sun. The usual suspects were called upon. After all, this was an unexpected golden opportunity to attack Godfrey and Postmedia buying Sunmedia, a deal they hope to block at the federal level.
John Honderich, the holier-than-thou head of its board of directors, should concentrate on getting the share price much higher to compensate all the stupid investors silly enough to buy his stock. Instead, he wastes his time to take a jealous swipe at Godfrey, who now runs the larger operation and has defended Donato this time, and in the past.
No need to deal with what Heather Malice wrote. She hates the Sun even though she worked there and it resurrected her career after it crashed at the Financial Post.
The complaints say the cartoon was racist, sexist and offensive. So now cartoonist can't ridicule women? So now cartoonists must produce characters scrubbed of any ethnic characteristic? Since cartoonists routinely exaggerate weight, height, eyes, nose and mannerisms, these critics with their special agendas argue that the artists now have to stop this technique which dates back to cave days and produce only vanilla images?
Is this really what these yahoos want? I suppose Honderich, Malice and the council would have preferred a bland Donato offering that showed a WASP figure of indeterminate sex brushing off a Santa suit while a choir hummed Kumbaya. Donato didn't goof. They did for a candidate who ran a feeble third. Chow's best role in politics is defeated candidate.
Turned out at the restaurant that we discussed the cartoon for about 30 seconds.
After all, Dianne and Andy Donato have been through countless skirmishes over art and cartoons.
 Yvonne Crittenden as a tough reporter and reviewer spent years cheering from the front trench as her husband Peter Worthington waded from law suits to police investigations to controversies.
 As Editor I spent at least 15 years supposedly approving Donato's cartoons and also having to defend him because he pricked the pompous with his pen.  He caused me more grief and more joy than anyone with whom I worked in the news business. Even when I was allegedly his boss. he could be difficult but all great artists are.
 The final member of our group, Mary, my loyal wife, knows the business is wacky and no wimps can  prosper. She knows brawlers are loved only when they're on your side.
Together, we formed an indomitable core against the usual suspects mouthing the usual arguments against the usual imagined slights. We ignored the Star, lefty politicians and councils desperate to keep their funding and titles because we didn't want to ruin our appetites. Besides, it was all rather deja vu because they were mouthing antique arguments.
We concentrated instead on the wine, grumbled about the racket in the Kennedy Public House and indeed most noisy restaurants today, figured Godfrey just had to be better than what had happened at the Sun recently, and heard Yvonne relate new anecdotes about Peter which just added to the legend of the most remarkable newsman I've ever worked with.
I told them that Godfrey had phoned me the night before the announcement of the Post purchase and invited me to the press conference. I was the only Day Oner there. I hope it's the last such occasion. I remember previous ones, like Quebecor's, when Godfrey and others thought it was a good idea if I,  who was there for another reason dressed as Santa, kicked everything off by announcing this Christmas gift for the staff. Pierre-Karl Peladeau balked at the last minute, then joked he started his Sun life firing Santa. Unfortunately, all the other firings that followed weren't as funny.
The annual birth celebration we've had for several decades is never an ordinary affair.  Several years ago, Worthington checked out of hospital with blood still oozing out of a tube in his chest just to be at our dinner. Last year Donato fell on his head and arrived at the dinner directly from the ER exaggerating all his ghastly stitches. He got 17 but suggested a round number like 20 sounded better.
All I know is that the council, the Star and the NDP haven't even inflicted a paper cut on him. Nor should they! You would think that at least those who pretend to be real journalists would not copycat the politically-correct czars and instead defend the rights of cartoonists to be tough and even rough in their message. And that means not making a Canadian of Chinese ancestry look like a safer Barbie-doll-type target.
I love a good cartoon. I wonder if the present careful management at the Star would run some of the cartoons that Dunc Macpherson produced for them when he was one of the best in the world. After all, I can remember his tirades at the press club bar about his dealings with  gutless Star editors, and they actually had more steel in them then than the present crop when facing the PC wimps.
A good newspaper has a good cartoonist, crusading columnists and editors and reporters, a razor-sharp editorial and an attitude, a mystique, that if you're not making at least one national leader mad that day, you're not doing a good job.
Go get 'em, Andy. Just keep falling on your ear, never on your sword. Keep comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, especially the Star.






Friday, October 31, 2014

GRILLING A CEO'S BRAIN


SO YOU THINK YOU KNOW HOW TO RUN A COMPANY

The latest issue of Canadian Business claims that "more and more companies are turning to organizational psychologists to warn them if they're about to put a time bomb in the C-suite."
I read the article with the same annoyed cynicism with which I once greeted a phone call from the Toronto Sun's human relations department when I hired someone without even thinking to call them.
After all, I had survived decades in Toronto journalism and had hired arrogant columnists, swashbuckling photographers, faithful secretaries, humble copy boys and all the other cogs of a newspaper without ever calling HR.
Since there were 1,200 employees at the old Tely, I suppose someone must have used HR, but no one editing and producing for the paper would confess to such a weakness.
Then, as the legend goes, the Tely was sold out from under us and 62 survivors started the Sun which first appeared Nov. 1, 1971. All of us did several jobs. A second pen was considered a luxury. Heck, Paul Rimstead and I were the first two columnists in the paper and we had to share a desk and typewriter.
There certainly wasn't an HR department. For many years. Then we got a clutch of these twits and managed to limp through various corporate metamorphoses into the country's largest news chain.
So there you have my militant skepticism. When it comes to hiring people for unorthodox jobs like news photography, feature writing and editing, the best people to do the hiring don't reside in any HR department with a psychologist on retainer but are veterans who can do the job themselves.
I'm a fan of Malcolm Gladwell's second book, Blink, which stresses how rapidly we make up our mind on whether we like a person. Of course I would examine the applicant's clippings or photographs, and give a tough scrutiny to the curriculum vitae and recitation of job history, but I know whether I really wanted to hire the person within a minute.
But let's forget about intuition and a sixth sense and gut feeling and return to the November issue of this magazine and the article written by Joanna Pachner. It concerns not the hiring of the foot soldiers who run every company but picking someone to get the limo and the executive secretaries and the big bucks at the top for maybe five years.
I submit, however, that the best people to hire a boss are those who have been bosses. That's the value of a real board of directors that isn't just composed of chums, rich farts and a few directors who look good in the annual report.
I took several years of psychology courses at university and was left with the gut feeling that some stranger mouthing the gobbledegook of psychiatry can be as insightful as the drunk on the next bar stool.
The good angle adopted by Pachner was to see if she herself had what it takes to become a Chief Executive Officer. And so we entered the twilight world of leadership evaluation where CEO candidates are interviewed and take psychometric tests conducted by industrial-organizational psychologists "to gauge candidates' behavioural, cognitive and personality traits."
Let's just say the article read like a promotion for such consultants. Just give us your candidates, the pitch says to the gutless boards, and we will pick just the right person for you. Remember it can take more than a year to get rid of a dud.
The writer introduces us to some assured individuals, such as Pamela Ennis who volunteers that on the "one-on-one stuff,  I'm considered to be hands-down the best in the business."
It helps to be as confident and even brassy as anyone who applies to run a sprawling conglomerate. After reading a few paragraphs about her, I was reminded of a friend who once wrote a column for me who was the most arrogant man I have ever met. Oh yes, he was a psychiatrist who was condescending about psychologist since they hadn't made it to doctor.
I'm sure Ennis is a polished performer who provides a wide range of services for, as she says, "many of Canada's largest private and public organizations." Bits of her biog are given before she ended up in her own practice "because I like to be in control of my outcomes."
Early in her career, she worked at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto where we're told "she helped develop Ontario's Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere" program before she was drawn to the application of psychology in management.
Now that certainly stands out. RIDE affects everyone, even if the figures now show that very few drivers are "caught" considering all the tens of thousands of vehicles that are stopped. Road deaths are down, especially in Ontario which has one of the best such records in North America.
That's why in 1977 I moved the original motion for the Metro Citizens' Safety Council to pay several hundred dollars for special roof signs for two cruisers for a pilot project called Reduce Impaired Driving in Etobicoke.
Obviously the Toronto police with its giant budget could have paid for the signs, but the chief, through the two constables who worked with the volunteer safety council funded mainly by Metro council, wanted support from a citizens' body because stopping cars randomly not only would be controversial, it would be challenged legally.
The cops and council considered the test to be a success, so we did it again just in Etobicoke. And then it spread to all of Toronto and Ontario and became Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere.
When the legal challenge went all the way to our top court, it was decided in 1985 that RIDE didn't violate the Charter providing police didn't use the spot check as an excuse for a fishing expedition. I had made that argument in 1977, arguing the only justification was to catch drunks who could be deadly. It's the reason there was general support in the media although there were a few tough critics.
John Legge, a lawyer from the Legge family, famous in legal, military and safety circles, called me the godfather of RIDE in a speech. I even think one of my dozen writing awards from the police and the Ontario Safety League was for my RIDE sponsorship at a difficult time.
Now I'm told that the addiction centre and a woman I've never heard of did it all. I guess the moral of the story is that no matter how supposedly sophisticated you get in grilling job applicants, it's really not a bad idea to double-check the claims in the CV first.







Thursday, October 30, 2014

THE BUREAUCRATIC FLU


SUSPICIOUS RED TAPE

Got my flu shot the other day at my friendly Shoppers at Bloor and Royal York. Isn't it marvellous, people say, that you can now get a flu shot at your drug store without going to your doctor (if you're lucky enough to have a doctor you call your own.)
It really is an improvement BUT....
I smell a rat made from red tape. It's not as convenient as it could be.
Now Mary and I have always got flu shots. We  got them the first year they were offered. I have no patience with people who don't, and therefore help spread and goose flu season.
 I also think that medical professionals like nurses and paramedics who object and even take union action against compulsory flu shots each fall should go into another line of work because they have a basic misunderstanding about how a public health system should work in a democracy. They're not supposed to spread germs.
As a director on a Toronto hospital board, I was happy to move the motion that when we had a flu outbreak on a ward, any nurses who had avoided the flu shot should be banned from the hospital and receive no compensation.
When my oldest son, John Henry, and his wife Marie, had two premies more than two decades ago at Women's College - they were born at 28 and 29 weeks and were what we nicknamed our 40-ouncers - we weren't allowed to see those tiny red wrinkled beings in their incubators unless we had flu shots.
Now John Henry IV and Marc Oliver are happy handsome studs enjoying life near the California beaches precisely because that hospital had decided not to screw around with a few people's feelings against being dictated to and ordered everyone to have flu shots or else leave.
After all, the flu may appear to be a humble ailment but it can cut through chronic care hospitals, children's wards and nursing homes like the Devil cutting at your health with a gigantic scythe.
So what makes me suspicious that the health ministry has imposed extra conditions and red tape on flu shots from pharmacists that aren't imposed on  doctors? My experience over two years vs. all the years before when I got the shots from my reliable GP's office.
 The great staff working for Bernie Gosevitz, who I call the world's best doctor (when I can get an appointment) take about 30 seconds tops to give me the shot.
 The total time at my Shoppers, even though the boss Barry Phillips volunteered to arrange the shot when I showed up to collect a prescription, took 20 minutes, and then you were told not to leave for 10 or 15 minutes afterwards in case you felt woozy or something.  I also had to fill out a form, which asked for my OHIP card number along with some basic questions. (Now I always carry that card along with my driver's licence, but Mary for some reason didn't have hers. )
There is little doubt that flu shots at our local pharmacy is the thin edge of what could be a large billions-saving wedge where such minor medical matters are handled outside the costly confines of doctors' offices, hospitals and medical clinics.
There is also little doubt that many members of the medical establishment are not thrilled at the idea of letting mere mortals who may have only gone to university for four years look after the minor stuff when they went for an eternity and then they had all those ordeals as an intern trying to work 30-hour shifts each day.
Since the health spending in Ontario has become a Godzilla threatening to consume half of every tax dollar spent by the province, I'm all for anything to keep spending, and the flu, down.
So let's keep it simple folks. It's not as if people are rushing off the streets eager for the hit of a flu shot.