Friday, December 29, 2017



Got my first heating pad the other day. No longer do I have to borrow antique varieties with electric cords as rigid as steel cables and the stiff pads with more edges than a toy box.
 I pulled it out of the gift package, savouring its suppleness and six settings including one that turns it off after two hours.
I beamed over this Sunbeam product ... and then I read the large enclosed sheet about "IMPORTANT SAFETY INSTRUCTIONS DO NOT DESTROY." There were 24 rules in large capital letters (anyone who has taken typography courses as I have is taught that 'all caps' reduces readability) but I suppose the lawyers who advise about how to reduce lawsuits over body harm from products have never studied print.
Wow! I can just imagine the lawyers having a victory dinner after billing HUGE SUMS  for these cautious rules which include, I imagine, since I lost interest after wading through the early warnings, what happens if you are hit by a dying satellite while using the pad or if you fall into a crack left by an earthquake.
Rule #2 is DO NOT USE WHILE SLEEPING.  Which certainly would eliminate much of my use over the years. I searched for an alarm in case I nodded off but there was none in the box.
Rule #4: Do not use on A PERSON WITH DIABETES, A PERSON WITH POOR BLOOD CIRCULATION...So that eliminates me and many of my friends and neighbours.
And on and on, from always unplugging the pad to doing a thorough examination of every last cm of pad and power cord before every use.
Just in case people really did throw away that sheet, the main rules were actually printed on the pad too so that diabetics would know that these pads were banned along with such chocolate joys as Turtles.
The reality is that anyone who has neuropathy(loss of nerve sensation in extremities) must be careful around all heat. But we don't slap warning labels on water tanks and many other devices to remind diabetics to take care they don't scorch or burn or even blister. Surely every one of us understands from childhood about the need to guard your skin from harm from excessive heat.
Ironically, one standard advice from doctors about discomfort or inflammation caused by neuropathy is to apply heat. But these lawyers say not with a Sunbeam pad. Find one that liability lawyers consider to be safe if used the sensible way, that is at a low setting unless you are monitoring alertly.
I realize the media are filled with stories about huge awards by juries for plaintiffs scalded by hot coffee in a restaurant, those who swallowed a foreign object in pop,  or were supposedly harmed physically by use of the product. There aren't as many stories about the many awards being quashed by higher courts, the judges there not as gullible as the juries in the courts beneath them who are quite willing to soak giant corporations.
Except enough settlements survive to spook the business world, particularly pharmaceutical giants, so that every ad in the media for the latest wonder drug comes with so many warnings about who shouldn't use the pill that there is hardly enough room to list the benefits.
The liability wars have certainly made their way to the main stages of politics. In the U.S., the Democrats are said to be  more supportive of plaintiffs and the liability lawyer industry than Republicans but no real reforms to limit excess awards have survived so this liability charade continues.
All the alarms, caveats, notifications and threats that now accompany even the simplest product, which range from the silly and obvious to the obscurely legalistic, mean that people like me don't even bother to read every word of the cover-your-ass language. So we might miss helpful suggestions.
Those medical ads on TV and in magazines have become more ludicrous than useful. You would think that only a 35-year-old person who has just passed a two-day physical at the Mayo Clinic should consider taking a new pill but they must be in an OR with a surgical team ready to spring into action if there is the slightest pause in breathing or heart beat.
Since I am kvetching about the child-like nature of these warnings, let me end with a child-like joke which is the oldest one I know about the legal profession. What do you call a group of lawyers at the bottom of the sea? A good start!

Sunday, December 24, 2017



My sisters and I have many reasons to have dark thoughts in December but our nostalgia about the ghosts of Christmas past have always warmed our appreciation of Christmas present(s).
I was orphaned at 5 and the comfortable private school life as children of a prosperous doctor and future MP disappeared as we left the big city for a small town and religious grandparents who were Dutch stiff in their old age when they felt they had to look after us.
So we literally went to school in rags while the trust fund supported a missionary aunt in Nigeria since the watchdog over such money, Ontario's Official Guardian, was as incompetent as it was corrupt.
But the three Js, as we called ourselves, survived out of that mess because such is the power of the basic Christmas message that our humble family Christmas, where the turkey was actually the weakest Leghorn from the backyard pen, a very modest celebration aided by old-fashioned schooling and a tiny Baptist church on the hill, was something we remember with fondness mixed with only a little regret.
There have been many great Christmas days for me, even the one when I was an editor trapped in the office during a hostage taking and triple murder where I urged the police reporter on the scene to tell the police to hurry up and shoot the guy so I could get home to enjoy a little bit of the day with my sons.
Along the way, my evangelical roots vanished and I only darken a church door for carol sings, which I still love even as an unbeliever. Oh yes, I got trapped several Christmases ago when I took Mary to early mass and it was awkward to leave, even though I wanted to heckle the priest during his inept homily.
One of the joys of the early Sun was Doug Creighton's staff Christmas party because Doug was one of the great hosts (now a heavenly host) whether the guests were only few or 400.
John Cosway refers to this in a Facebook posting about his life in one of the great newsrooms of Canada.
(Cosway does a wonderful service for the Sunbeams who have moved on from that tabloid world in fertilizing our memories. I started work at a time when many jobs were for life and there were bowling and curling leagues to unite employees into a large and perhaps cantankerous family. There was no need for the Cosways to be the Boswells of the plants. That chapter in my life closed when the Telegram closed and 1,200 employees lost their jobs. Many never saw the guy at the next desk again. I went to the funeral of a critic who had been a Tely stalwart for 30 years and I was the only one there from that past.)
One of the features of Doug's Christmas parties was we all bellowed our carols as if our future at the paper depended on it. There was no excuse for atheists, drunks, Moslems or waiters. We all sang.
One afternoon at the Old Mill (yes Doug picked some great spots) we were singing Silent Night. Everybody knew the first verse, of course. But then only Bernie Gosevitz and me sang on with the other verses.
I said to Bernie that I knew the verses because I had sung in a choir but how did he, the respected Jewish doctor for the Sun, know the words? "I have a photographic memory," he said.
Ah, the joys of Christmas when even those from other religions, and great doubters like me, see nothing wrong or even remarkable about singing along in the queen of carols.
In an insightful piece in the Dec. 23 National Post, Robert Fulford writes about this nice social phenomena, that people like him, and he calls himself an unbeliever rather than card-carrying atheist, still can enjoy Christmas. He appreciates the value of Christianity even as he refuses to believe its dogma. "Our society has been given its moral principles by Christianity." He argues that Judeo-Christian traditions have provided the energy, intelligence and will to evolve democracy.
I have argued for years in many columns and blogs that I have no patience for any assault on Christmas because I realize it is Christ Mass, a religious celebration, but its basic message of peace on earth good will to all is one that surely every thinking person supports.
And if you don't, Merry Christmas anyway!

Saturday, December 23, 2017



Because of my trade as a journalist, I have known 19 Toronto mayors, some almost too well.
I don't include the city's first, William Lyon Mackenzie, because the ghost of the Firebrand only appeared to a colleague the night he wouldn't let me come along with him to sit in vigil in the rebel's Bond St. home.
Only one refused to give me or anyone else such basic personal details as their age. That was June Rowlands, who just died at 93. She's noted as Toronto's first woman mayor and had other famous firsts as a very competent female politician. Yet she was very much an old-fashioned lady about concealing her age.
We argued about it, and she confessed the reason had nothing to do with feminine vanity. In her family, she said, members lived a long time. They suffered late in life because of the way the world treated old people. Why she had a relative still working who was 95.
I now realize in my anecdotage that she had a point. Yet then I really didn't care that much but she was being mentioned as a possible Metro chairman, a position much more important than the mayor of Toronto before the city amalgamated. Her competition was Dennis Flynn, the Etobicoke mayor, who won, and Fergy Brown, the future York mayor. So it was two suburban Tories with good experience and fine war records against a downtown Grit alderman.
Since I had to find 11 columns every two weeks and filled in occasionally with editorials, I ran around  City Hall and Queen's Park like a hamster on a wheel. I was not bashful about hunting for info and developed unlikely but fruitful sources.
One was a junior city clerk with an encyclopedia knowledge of who was doing what to whom. It was Bill Price who confided it was going to be fun to watch the new Toronto Blue Jays try to play their first Sunday game because that was still illegal. After my column appeared, council had to pass a new bylaw and brought the city closer to a Sabbath more open than when they even took in the sidewalks.
So I went to Price with my riddle of this day about how I could find out Rowland's age without having to buy lunch for a clerk in birth records. Price said that was absolutely no problem because Rowlands had been in his elementary school class and he knew she was 60.
So I wrote about how interesting it was that the three candidates for Metro chairman all happened to be the same age.
Rowlands didn't find that coincidence justified my column and said so in language that I didn't think nice blonde wives from Rosedale knew.
There was a further cooling of relationships when she banned Salvation Army soldiers with their kettles from soliciting at Christmas time on Nathan Phillips Square because of their position against homosexuality. That encouraged activists who didn't give a damn about actually helping people to mutter complaints to aldermen about what the Salvation Army believed. Then she vetoed the Bare Naked Ladies from a Square appearance because of their name.
Any experienced journalist reveres the work of the Sally Ann. But not only had I watched them help the helpless without flaunting their religion as a reporter covering courts and police, my mother's family had been able to flee religious persecution because of their help. So I went after Rowlands with a vengeance and the Sally Ann made it back to the Square. Now, unfortunately,  the bells of the world's best charity have been silenced and their kettles diminished even at sensible stores that should know better, like Costco.
Rowlands was stubborn with her many causes like animal rights but at least she didn't attack me on the floor of council asking her colleagues to censor me, like Leslie Saunders, the mayor who was once the world's top Orangeman. My father had been his family doctor, he said, so why would I lie about him in print about some of his Orange views?
I did more drinking than fibbing with our mayors then because there was a much closer relationship between mayors and journalists before the explosion in media numbers stirred with the 24-hour news cycle and social media into fundamental changes to change political coverage at all levels.
I remember the day I drank with a mayor all afternoon until he pleaded with me to come home so his wife wouldn't yell at him for being late for his own birthday party.
I remember the mayor who wanted me to be present for a meeting with the hospital CEO he hated because he was afraid they would get into a fist fight.
 When I got married in 1961, city council adjourned briefly to a committee room and Mayor Nathan Phillips presented me with a movie camera. Later I wrote his memoirs. Phil Givens, later the mayor, congratulated me and came to the wedding. Don Summerville, later the mayor, took me off to a steam at the central Y and then to the free seats the senior politicians got for Leaf games. We did that regularly.
I'm not boasting, just stating how it was. What kept everyone honest was that both politicians and journalists watched each other like circling hawks to see who succumbed and sold out and who played the game in the public's interest.
In the end, we publicized all the relevant information, even the age of a feminist who had concealed it for all her adult life even through several election campaigns.

Friday, December 8, 2017



Don Hawkes stood out from the knots of young strangers gathered for the first time 62 years ago outside a barracks structure called the Graphic Arts Building in a battered complex titled the Ryerson Institute of Technology.
Hawkes looked and sounded like a seasoned reporter from Fleet Street who vacationed in Paree. I was stunned months later to find this Brit among the budding journalists was actually a guy from Parkdale with better tweeds than me.
 I would have never anticipated then that he would bob in and out of my life for six decades, that I would hire him twice and be filled many times that with bouts of friendship and frustration as he marched determinedly to his own drummer.
We talked in our last call about when it all began that September morning. And that chat could have lasted an eternity as both of us were in happy anecdotage when all the slings and arrows could no longer sting and the politics of life that bothered him more than me had receded to tiny importance.
The curious gamesmanship of upper management, whether he was at Ryerson or the CBC or the Suns, bugged him so much that he was a determined non-player and it was up to me, armoured from my years of describing the antics of elected politicians, to be his guide and some times his protector.
It could be stormy when the executive floor was making silly demands, as Hawkes didn't always support my in-fighting. He confessed in print when I retired that he often felt like killing me.
I replied on John Cosway's Toronto Sun family blog that I had felt the same about him.
Doug Creighton, the founder of the Suns and its soul, called us the Bookends because both of us were bearded and burly. But the Bookends did produce some great editorials. Only insiders knew that some began with Hawkes with his special feel of words producing 6.5 inches of reasonable comment and then shouting next door to me to stir in some venom and vitriol.
Hawkes was a gentle warrior surrounded by semantic battle-axes. He was just too nice to slit throats.
My heavens he could be subtle in his opposition. I was waiting to see a surgeon when the nurse complained about the Sun not using the u in words like humour. I said it was general Canadian newspaper "style" (which has now changed.)
I asked Hawkes to write a column because I thought readers would be interested to find that it all began when type was set by hand and it saved time to skip letters. Hawkes produced a meaty commentary, but then, typically, said in the last sentence that he didn't agree with dropping the u, that it was stupid.
I found out by reading the paper that my associate editor had just fired another broadside into his ample friend who quite approved of dropkicking the u out of our language.
Hawkes left me to run the comment of the Ottawa Sun but then yearned to return to his hometown.
Except the brass balked. Finally I figured out that he should write directly to Creighton and appeal to him as the paterfamilias of the chain. He pleaded for help with the letter, which I then wrote. I thought it would appeal more to Creighton if he took a shot at Paul Godfrey in it, and for good measure, me too, as people blocking his return.
The letter didn't go well. I accidentally sent a draft via the chain's computer system to the Edmonton Sun and then begged the  editors there to destroy it without reading it. (Fat chance!) When Creighton got the letter, he decided to show it to Godfrey, who was quite annoyed and complained to me about what my school friend had said. I then confessed that I had actually written the attack on him and me as a device to encourage Creighton to come to Hawkes' aid.
It worked, although Creighton and Godfrey didn't invite me to any events for a few weeks. Hawkes returned, although he at first was forbidden to work for me.
It was such games that bugged Hawkes almost as much as the shenanigans at City Hall or the Legislature. He was a fine writer but his greater talent as a clever cartoonist was stifled by office politics so that they were viewed mainly by a network of friends. (Several originals grace the wall behind this keyboard.)
So now we say farewell to another renaissance stalwart of Canadian journalism - a writer, educator, artist and friend, a lover of cigars, dining and life. I recall a lunch at the elite restaurant at the King Eddy where I let him order the port afterwards because it had been a rough time in the opinion world. And that is why I know what a $35 glass of Taylor Fladgate tastes like.
Ah yes, you never were too sure what was going to happen next with Don Hawkes. A grand 83 years for the happy wordsmith from Parkdale,