Sunday, February 24, 2013



For the boat people it was the worst of times. For the Toronto Sun it was the best of times.
And nearly 34 years later, I got to celebrate again over a great Chinese meal with the family I found in Hong Kong.
When the media squabble over refugees, the real ones and the con artists, I think back to a Tuesday morning after the country's birthday when I called Doug Creighton from breakfast.
Creighton, the founding publisher and igniter of the Sun's flame, wondered snidely why the boss was already at work while I was lollygagging at home. I said I wanted to float an idea, that Canadians, from churches and service clubs to families, had taken the plight of the Vietnamese refugees to heart and that the Sun should match this national mood by sponsoring a boat person into the country. We could write about the experiences.
Creighton said yes. And that triggered a grand adventure - and ordeal - for me that resulted in 42 boat people coming to Toronto and Edmonton. And then there was a baby as well. (You have to do something in a refugee camp.)
Sun readers in Toronto and Edmonton responded magnificently to my columns and appeals from the refugee camps, contributing $300,000 to help me to look after the refugees for at least a year, and killing for all time the sleazy suggestion that somehow conservatives don't care about immigration, refugees, and any soul struggling to survive.
On Thursday after the call to Doug, I was in Ottawa fighting immigration officials who didn't want to have anything to do with the Sun, or for that matter the notion that any newspaper should be allowed to bring a refugee into the country.
I won finally, thanks to a private appeal to the minister who liked me and the tabloid more than his staff did.
By Friday, Norm Betts, who is one of the best newspaper photogs in North America, and I were on a plane to Asia, carrying just one change of clothes each to avoid baggage hassles. Then it was India and finally Kuala Lumpur, the fabled Malaysian capital. We fought through our jet lag to have dinner with the Canadian immigration boss for all Asia,  Ian Hamilton.  (He became the bureaucratic hero of the crisis, working with skill and perseverance. He certainly   the rich civil service award from Ottawa after I wrote a profile on him.)
The next morning, we flew across the peninsula to Kuala Terengganu,  and then three hours out into the treacherous South China Sea on a rickety fishing boat chartered by the U. N.
So from idea to first refugee camp took six days. Ironically, when we got to Pula Bidong, a barren rock covered by pestilence, sewage and 47,000 boat people, the Malaysian soldiers tried to block Betts and me at gunpoint, and that was after one of their patrol boats with guns uncovered took a run at our fishing boat.
I was so tired, it was easy to explode into a screaming rant as I waved a letter that I swore we had from a top Malaysian minister. It was some official looking document that Hamilton slipped to mes, probably in reality an Ottawa expense account form.
In the next two days, Betts and I survived 110 degree temperature, no food and one warm Coke each  without catching typhoid or drowning in a typhoon when we were forced back to the mainland because  authorities wouldn't allow us to stay.
 It was difficult getting my columns out to civilization, or just talking to the Sun. The first day a terse message from Creighton told me to adopt a family, not just one person. The second day Creighton told me to adopt two families. I started to worry about a third message. But the Canadian officials started to think our readers pouring out their emotions and money to Creighton and the newspaper were the finest people in the country, perhaps even better than Globe readers.
Our temporary base of  Kuala Terengganu, a logging city, will live in infamy in my memory as the awful place where they spit on me in the street (because I was there to help Chinese.) They didn't even bother to bury some dead babies who washed up on the beach after a gunboat towed some flimsy boat jammed with refugees at high speed until it capsized and the boat people drowned, as they did by the thousands in the summer of 1979.
When we returned to port we had to scramble over several barges loaded with giant teak logs that the Malaysians had deliberately positioned to handicap our landing. A driving rain made the logs so slippery, breaking a leg or falling overboard was a real danger.
But at this point, Betts and I were ready to run through walls because of the enormous need but the matching callousness as the Malays tried to block the refugees who were mainly Chinese so they would stay as the dominant ethnic group.
The plight of all the refugees was enough to make anyone weep. And I did, after the first family I watched Hamilton interview. It was headed by a 12-year-old boy who was the only man left to be head of the family. Behind his thin body clad in rags huddled his shy mother, blind grandmother and five sisters. I said the Sun would accept them, despite the huge problems, but Hamilton whispered that Granny in his opinion had TB. He promised me faithfully they would be allowed into Canada after her health was dealt with, but it would be of no use at that moment to Ottawa and in publicity for the boat people rescue if the first family I sponsored on behalf of readers wasn't even allowed in by Ottawa for a year or two.
Then Betts and I took a tortuous path to Hong Kong, because the British colony was treating the boat people far more humanely.
By then July was broiling . The heat was suffocating when we stepped out of the hotel which was heaven compared to the hell of the camps. But at least we could leave the camps at noon, send those soaked clothes to the laundry, swim in the pool, drink a pitcher or two of beer, and then return to the huge Aberdeen refugee camp, located in a derelict  British military base.
And that is where I found the family I dined with nearly 34 years later in northern Scarboro.
Manh Luong, a mechanical engineer, and his wife Anh were told they had to go to China and couldn't stay in Hanoi because their grandparents were from China and the Vietnamese Communists wanted to be rid of them. The situation became critical because after all the years of war, the brief peace was probably going to be ruined by a war with China because one Chinese army invaded briefly.
So the Luongs scraped together money, fled in the middle of the night with no possessions to Hai Phong port and a ship that they shared with 136 others. It was so crowded that daughter Lam, then 9, said there was no room to lie down straight. People curled up on any surface or any corner, trying to ignore the stench and starvation. They sailed around and around in the South China Sea and its empty islands for two months searching for a home and freedom. Then they limped into Hong Kong, really not that far away on the map from Vietnam but in cruel reality, like a rocket to the moon.
The Luongs were in one camp briefly and then they, Lam, and son Hai, 7, were moved to Aberdeen which was so crowded the authorities fenced the refugees in with barbed wire so they wouldn't escape and try to blend in. To the north, the colony was also trying to block all those from China who were frantically fleeing the Communists.
A month or so later, I showed up, with a Canadian official, Scott Mullin, who was only 22 and didn't much like the Sun. He thawed because his living allowance was so meagre, he ran out of eating money and I fed him his favourite meals. He let me accept the Luongs, and Manh Luong's brother, wife and two children, providing I also took six single young men because Canadian organizations preferred to sponsor families, not youths.
And the numbers kept growing, because of Creighton and the Sun readers.
On August 3, one month after I had the idea, the Luongs arrived at Pearson. The first problem was that Hai had never seen an escalator and kept one foot firmly planted on the terminal floor until I scooped him into the air so he didn't split. The next explanation was about the toilet in the battered former group home that I rented for them.  They cleaned the house the first day and then tackled the backyard which a neighbour said had been filled with garbage for five years.
I found them a rice cooker because the stove was as big a mystery as the refrigerator, just a warm metal box until I showed how it worked. Hai still remembers his wonderful introduction to the cold red cans called Coke.
We told our war stories again the other night. About when I took all the kids to Bowmore Rd. Public School, without a single record of any kind, but brought along the school board's vice chair just in case. The principal didn't like that much, but then the school secretary took me aside and said my father had delivered her and had been the family doctor so she would look after my kids for me. And there were no problems.
I introduced them to Thanksgiving turkeys and Christmas trees. There were more gifts in the room than under the tree because everyone blossomed in their new country as I insisted the parents had to study English full time or I wouldn't give them their weekly allowance.
 I felt good after every visit with my interpreter who I paid to help deal with all the glitches.
All you had to do the other evening was look at the permanent grin on Manh Luong's face to know that he loved Canada. He is now retired from a company that make water fountains like the one in the Eaton Centre. In front of us were mounds of delicious Chinese food made by his wife Anh who loves to cook so much she does it all the time for her neighbours.
The 9-year-old is now Lam Luong-Pires, a confident 43, who got an honours business degree at York before she retired from finance to look after Laura, 10, and Matthew, 6. Her husband Manuel, who also has an honours degree from York (but they were too busy to date there) works for RBC as a supervisor in the IT area.
The little boy who almost split on the escalator is now 43. Hai graduated from the Waterloo co-op program as a mechanical engineer and works for Husky Moulding. His wife Linda works for a glass company and keeps working even after Kewan, 11 (from a Gaelic novel she read) Edna, 8, Kai, 6, and Laura. 5.
The kids played noisily around us as we devoured the shrimp dumplings and the noodles and talked about recipes almost as much as those sea sick and crowded months on the boat and in the camps. And then the first months in Canada when we took them around without birth certificates or documentation of any kind, and a harried columnist discovered that in the end even our red-tape OHIP system can be tamed if enough people care.
Canada and the United States were the world leaders in helping the boat people as they fled the Communists. There were countries who turned their backs but not Canada. In fact, the Toronto Sun accepted more boat people than the entire country of Japan.
Remember the Luongs and their degrees and their three homes and their decades of work and their hockey-playing kids the next time someone says refugees rob the system. Remember the good will and generosity of Sun readers too.
Remember too that nearly 34 years before city council officially made Toronto a sanctuary city in immigration, Torontonians did that themselves, and we should be proud of that.

Friday, February 22, 2013



As a kid, I loved comics but now I only skim them. They really don't seem to be the funnies any more, but they do come in colour.
I know nothing about a strip called Rhymes With Orange but the other day, one panel showing a couple reading in bed made me grin. The husband asks the wife why her diploma is on her nightstand. She replies: ''Reassurance after another 'I've missed my exam' dream."
I don't dream that much, and can't remember enough of the nice dreams to write them down afterwards. But I sure remember the regular dreams verging on nightmares in my 20s when I dreamed I had flunked getting out of high school.
Younger readers may not understand how traumatic the province-wide exams were at the end of Grade 13. Now that they have shrunk high school, and mark inflation has infected even universities, graduation no longer appears quite as difficult as when every Grade 13 student in Ontario wrote the same exams and you needed nine passes to get into university.
The exams were marked at a central location by a clutch of experienced teachers wanting the extra money, and the only thing your own teacher could do for you is to send in a nice reserve mark in case there was some problem with your exam or you were on the knife's edge of failure.
For a decade or so after the "departmentals, " I would dream sweatily of them and failure and broken pens etc.. Then I would wake and remind myself that I actually had a university diploma and degree and my sweet-and-sour high school teachers hadn't ruined my life.
I was sort of proud of graduating second in my class at Ryerson until I ran into my philosophy prof who said he had never read a worse exam paper and had passed me simply to avoid a future ordeal. I argued weakly that the exam dealt with two of the seven texts and I had only read the other five. So I wrote everything I know that was philosophical and survived.
Ironically, then several decades passed and my occasional dreams were sweet and occasionally sexy. Then I retired with the daily ordeal of creating 6,000 columns and 3,000 editorials behind me.  Now I dream regularly of deadlines and not a thing to write. It used to be that the typewriter would jam and the paper would tear under all the erasures. Then I graduated to computers and if my computer didn't eat the editorial, the system did just before it crashed. Or the computer kept crashing. 
You get used to grinding it out in the newspaper business. Not much time to polish an adjective or ditch an adverb. And the workload keeps expanding unless you yell a lot. There's always some special section or anniversary issue and some colleague asks plaintively if you mind dashing off a few paras The bizarre thing about these new dreams is that the real pressure never bothered me much. When I was the rewrite chief, I knew that the Page 1 headline story I was cobbling together had to be finished in the next minute, and 90 minutes later it would be out there for street sales, and any mistakes I made in grammar or fact in what has been called the first rough draft of history could not be erased until the next edition.
You got used to it. If you didn't, you drank a lot or went into public relations. I find it perplexing that I now seem to find it more difficult in my dreams than in reality when I couldn't figure out the final paragraphs and some editor was bellowing he had to get the paper off the floor and where was the blankety blank Downing column for Page 4.  (Except he didn't say blankety blank.)
At least now I get to wake up, which some days is better than a good dream.

Monday, February 18, 2013



Mayor Rob Ford shouldn't have apologized to Toronto's Medical Office of Health after criticizing him for meddling in issues that have nothing to do with his department.
And the city integrity commissioner should be fired for not understanding that we want rigorous public debate on issues and not namby-pamby Mickey Mouse discussions.
Commissioner Janet Leiper says that when Ford called MOH David McKeown's salary an embarrassment after the mayor got mad at the doctor for approving a $60,000 study that called for, wait for it, lower speed limits on Toronto roads, he had demeaned McKeown's reputation and should be reprimanded.
There is no need to waste money on a study that shows fewer deaths and injuries if speed was slower on our roads because, obviously, we would eliminate all death and injury if we dropped the speed limit to zero. Of course accidents increase when speed does. This is not rocket science, and it certainly isn't a public health issue.
The mayor on his radio show said that he would look into McKeown's salary and "try to straighten things out." He called the report "nonsense."
I didn't realize that our urban health system and hospitals were in such fine shape in T. O.  that the MOH could go off freelancing. What about hospital wait times? What about the fact that the city hands out diet advice that doesn't work because it's wrong. Aren't those issues closer to why we have MOHs in the first place?
I sentence Leiper to watch the wonderful award-winning movie Lincoln for a taste of what is really language that demeans opponents. I sentence Leiper to read any Hansard records of what the greats say when they criticized each other and public officials. I think there is any need for an integrity commissioner in the first place and it is up to council, not paid officials, to monitor its members.
Toronto has had some classic battles between politicians and department heads. Allan Lamport was TTC chairman at war with his own top officials. George Bell, the legendary parks commissioner, had savage arguments in committee with aldermen. The TTC and the parks department were the better for these no-holds-barred debates. But this integrity commissioner wouldn't agree because feelings were bruised when politicians told civil servants to smarten up on the delivery of services.
Once  upon a time, Toronto newspapers always made sure they had a reporter at the city board of health meetings, no matter how strapped they were for staff that day, because of the strange discussions when members wandered off health issues led by the MOH as a failed shepherd. I do recall some interesting stories, like the time the health board said it wasn't really appropriate for funeral workers to collect dead infants from hospitals and transport them back to the funeral home on the TTC in a bag. The Tely ran that one on page one after several editors called me to make sure this wasn't an April Fool's stunt.
What everyone in Toronto knows except for one minor busybody official knows is that a main reason Ford won election in the first place is that a majority of the voters were fed up by the salaries and pay in municipal government and the decline in services. I don't care what the councillors' code of conduct says about private or public criticism of civil servants because what voters expect is for their politicians to demonstrate a rigorous stewardship about how the city is run. And if that includes sounding off on a radio show when some official wanders off into other fields, then that is part of the mayor's mandate. He would have no integrity if he didn't do it.
The bald fact is that too often city commissioners and senior staff survive despite gaffes that would have them fired in the private world within minutes. They demonstrate from the clearing of snow to the timing of traffic lights that they probably would fail in trying to run a one-hoist garage.
I have a good friend in public health who thinks that McKeown could walk on the harbour if he wished. But I also had a good friend in the upper ranks of the city health department who used to roll her eyes at the incompetency and waste that she experienced.
Perhaps I'm prejudiced. I remember a MOH staying silent when a person working for him, who called himself a doctor even though it was only a doctorate in African studies, saying that the city water was not safe for pregnant women to drink.
 I was one of those who persuaded the Metro chairman, Paul Godfrey, to get a $125,000 independent study done of the municipal water supply. It showed that Toronto's water was safer and had less pollutant traces than eight of the bottled waters sold in Toronto stores, including Evian.
I do not recall either the self-promoting socialist "doctor "nor the MOH apologizing or amending.
I remember the head doctor at Runnymedge Health Care Centre telling the board of which I am a member that the MOH was threatening legal action because the hospital was refusing to accept all patients that acute care hospitals wanted to ship to us.
This was when the old chronic care hospital was housed in a century-old elementary school with 100 patients on two floors in the old classrooms with no quarantine capability. Since debilitating hospital infections like MRSA are now so common, the Runnymede doctors were afraid that any infected newcomer would infect much of the hospital in a matter of days.
I moved the motion that we tell the MOH that we were quite happy to go to court against him and that I would be quite happy to publicize the issue in the Toronto Sun.  He backed off.
Ironically, two years ago, after I spent two months in three hospitals, I was shipped to Runnymede for another month to heal and to learn to walk again. I had MRSA and community pneumonia, thanks to the two American hospitals and St. Joseph's in Toronto, but my own hospital now could quarantine me in a private room thanks to the marvelous new building that cost the government and donors almost $100 million. Compared to St. Joseph's, it was heaven compared to what I called hospital hell in a Sun series.
If MOH Dr. Robert McKeown is so hot to trot on $60,000 studies, he could commission one on all the health issues in the city that should be dealt with by his department before it meandered off into transportation issues.
The blunt fact is that Toronto was given a Medical Officer of Health, who is technically independent on health issues from the politicians, because for 150 years, there were serious health issues, starting with floating animal carcasses in the harbour affecting the water supply,  keeping track of venereal disease before modern prescription, battles over fluoridation and inoculations and, of course, the continual struggle against TB and influenza.
Maybe the department has run out of things to do in public health supervision and checking restaurants.  It doesn't appear to be interested in the reality that some days in St. Joe's, there are patients stashed in every hall in Emergency, and there are more paramedics waiting there than there are on duty in great suburban expanses.
I suppose that is a provincial matter. So McKeown must look at other fields to run. Gee, I know a traffic light that doesn't have the proper timing near my house. And he could always check on the humane society and see if it still has that policy of returning all live-trapped animals, even Norway rats,  to the home territory. A great way to fight disease-carrying pests, but then the MOH probably thinks raccoons are cuddly.
I think we want more public criticism of our officials and their salaries and what they do and say and not less. If that runs contrary to any city code of conduct for councillors, then the code is as wrong as the integrity commissioner who is defending conduct that protects officials more than it does the taxpayer.

Saturday, February 16, 2013



Isn't it obvious from all the fat and obese people waddling through every country in the world that there is a basic problem with how most people eat.
It used to be that we were told a few basic rules would work before we went on to yo yo dieting.  You know, eat less and exercise more. We reduced our intake of sugar and salt and such obvious indulgences as a second piece of pie or a big chocolate bar to ease the commute. Candy stores were seen as the spawn of the devil.
But it turns out that much of the advice and state pronouncements, such as eat less and work out more,  don't work although they seem sensible and are the gospel for the medical world.
We all know people who have reduced their meals and circle the block like homing pigeons. After a few months of sweat and deprivation, almost all of the eat less/exercise more crowd end up at their old weight that caused them to go on a diet in the first place.
I have been part of experimental programs under the direction of respected doctors that confirmed that  94% of diets end in failure. After the daily calorie counting ends, weight climbs inexorably to  the old heights.
Let me tell you about the exercise physiologist who described himself as short, fat and bald. Then for 40 years he ran and ran. He says he had little time for anything else. He kept track of his 80,000 miles of running which is, in case you're slow on the calculation, about three times around the earth. And what glorious result did he achieve? He said he continued to be short and bald but now he was also fatter.
That story comes from a book which is either famous or notorious, depending on whether the diet expert loves or hates Gary Taubes. It's called Why We Get Fat: And What To Do About It. Taubes, a writer, scientific journalist, calorie counter and thorn in the side of the public health establishment, has a thesis which put crudely is that carbohydrates generate insulin which generate fat.
That's the key to everything. So the food pyramid illustrations that governments love to foist on us are so wrong, according to Taubes and others, that there should be a royal commission into the sanity of Canadian health officials.
I was aware of Taubes, of course, because anyone interested in this field knows a bit about him even if they consider him a form of devil and never bother to actually read him.
My son Mark, a thoughtful chemical engineer and MBA living in China, sent me the Why We Get Fat book after a lunch with a respected U of T prof who raved about it.
 I phoned my friend, the prof, to doublecheck that he was still a supporter despite the official battering of Taubes' views. His wife, who also has a major medical doctorate, grumbled mildly when I told her the topic because she said that around their house it might as well be "Saint" Gary.
Yet my friend gave an insight into how some in the medical establishment regard Taubes. He was sitting with other profs after they had evaluated an oral doctoral defence by a graduate student. His colleague exploded indignantly "all that stuff is nonsense" when my friend mentioned Taubes but then betrayed her argument by saying she never read him.
She should. And so should you.
After all, the public health zealots are moving in on us in every possible way from banning big portions (New York giant pop cups) to officials in various countries including Canada proposing new and hefty taxes on junk food.
 I have written about that here.
The National Post just did a story on this under the great headline: Fat taxes like 'shooting rabbits with nuclear weapons." Denmark introduced a "fedtafgiften" or fat tax in 2011 and then repealed it last year. The Canadian Taxpayers' Federation, alarmed that three groups including the Ontario Medical Association are calling for food and beverage taxes to promote healthier living, sponsored Jens Klarskov, head of the Danish Chamber  of Commerce, on a Canadian tour to describe the bizarre, mostly unanticipated, consequences of the tax.
To avoid the tax, the Danes went to Germany to shop, hoarded the taxed foods, hated the tax, claimed a loss of 1,300 jobs, all for an estimated result that 10 years after the tax introduction, Danes might live 5.5 days longer.
No thanks to fat taxes. After all, battling weight is hard enough without governments screwing up in taxes and advice. I have described some of my own battles over the decades. You can read about it here.
Right now I am 235 and hope to be around 230 when I can swim regularly in the Trent. My top weight was 319 but as I have written in I haven't been that for years. And I can assure you that I would have lost weight a lot quicker over the years if I had read the books by Taubes.
Consider this blunt statement by Taubes which should make you change your diet today. '"Those who lose fat on a diet do so because of what they are not eating --the fattening carbohydrates - not because of what they are eating."
Taubes urges docs and dietitians to get off their ample bottoms and do major studies instead of fiddling while Romans fatten. "If so many people are getting fat and diabetic in large part because we have been getting the wrong advice, we should not be dawdling about detecting that with certainty."
Taubes says the "fault lies entirely with the medical orthodoxy" that excess fat comes because of the consumption of excess calories. He says we don't get fat because we eat too much and move too little.
But you should be reading dozens of paragraphs about this, not just my synopsis . Look at his other books too like Eat Fat And Grow Slim  and the Carbohydrate's Addict's Diet.
Dig out your old diet books too, particularly those by Robert Atkins and the Duke and South Beach variations. Taubes cites a major study comparing the results of the Atkins diet to traditional, Ornish and Zone diets. There is no doubt that Atkins was a major figure for so long because his diet really worked, and the patient's health also improved in other ways.
In a nutshell, which Atkins would have approved of, stay away from carbohydrates.
So you can fill up on meat, fish, chicken, eggs, cheese, fruit and leafy green vegetables but get glorious results and also make yourself even healthier by avoiding sugar and flour, including that found in bread and cereals. Put white roots like potatoes on your hit list too. An example: Eat the hamburger but not the bun and fries.
Thanks to son Mark bringing home some newspapers as well as the Taubes book, I read an interesting article in the South China Morning Post about the problems generated by the huge fears over the obesity epidemic.  Dr. Lucy Aphramor, a British health researcher, thinks that in many ways all the measurements of our food amounts and body sizes given us by schools and governments and supposed experts are actually making our mental health worse.
She says that the measures are often based on this bald falsehood, that science is decisive on the link between health and weight. The Post quoted her as saying the focus on weight as a preventable health issue has created an official environment where fatties are ridiculed and treated as second-class citizens. As a result, everything from their emotional state to the health of their heart and bones is affected.
This is an important side of the obesity debate because so many rise eventually back to the weight that caused them to go on the diet in the first place. I didn't because I changed what I eat. There are many who say that you can't keep your weight off unless you transform your lifestyle and exercise regularly. Fine, I guess, but carbohydrate consumption is most important.
All I am trying to do in this column is to say that eating less and exercising more is a sensible thing to do but it's just stupid to ignore Taubes on carbohydrates if you really want to slim down.
 It's also important not to let the bastards, the lean sanctimonious jerks, grind you down on your weight. There should be more reality and acceptance and less daily sniping.
Aphramor is a supporter of Health at Every Size, a movement that sets out to change attitudes to weight and diets. HAES urges intuitive eating, listening to your body, eating when hungry and pleasurable activity along with body acceptance and self-confidence.
In a paper she wrote with a California prof, she said: "Current guidelines recommend that overweight and obese individuals lose weight through engaging in lifestyle modification involving diet, exercise and other behavioural changes. But the majority of individuals are unable to maintain weight loss over the long term and do not achieve the putative (promised ) benefits...This weight focus is not only ineffective at (achieving) thinner, healthier bodies but may also have unintended consequences...."
As a promoter of the HAES approach, she argues there is no evidence that obesity campaigns are effective. Instead there is an increase in problems and no weight loss that lasts.
As The Economist pointed out in a recent special report, we have gone from a world where there was too little to eat to one where it is plain that obesity is a huge problem. But as studies by Dr. Rudolph Liebel of Columbia University pointed out several decades ago, the very mechanisms that make people obese also prevent them from losing weight easily.
One conclusion by the respected British magazine was "that the unfortunate truth is that no single policy will bring down obesity rates on its own. Societies got fat for a variety of reasons, and individuals, companies and government must comes to grips with all of them to reverse the process. It is easy to argue that if fat people would only stick to their diets and exercise more, the problem would disappear, but environmental, psychological and biological factors make it much harder to lose weight than it seems."
But the fortunate side of obesity, as The Economist pointed out, is "that it is an entirely preventable problem. Its rise has been quick and extreme. Now the world must act to revise that rise, and fast."
We can't do that if doctors and dietitians continue to give the same old failed solutions.

Friday, February 15, 2013



For once the Toronto Star got it right when it attacked a Conservative leader. Generally their editorial writers are so blinded by Grit BS that their credibility would never get a passing mark.
The Star argued that Ontario Tory leader Tim Hudak got it wrong when he suggests that university and college students only get government loans when they have high enough marks.
Exactly how high their marks would have to be isn't specified, and heavens knows that in this day of mark inflation, I'm no guide. I survived to my degree only because the old C, a 66, was considered a decent mark if you were enjoying school and doing reasonably well without being one of the mark hounds in the class hoping to be a doctor, lawyer or teacher so they could order people around.
For many in the academic world before marks were goosed, a C was fashionable if you weren't Rhodes material.  It got that universal nickname of the gentleman C because it was said to indicate a person smart enough to pass but not dumb enough to work 24/7 at it.
The Star gave the apt quotation from a great president while falling into the trap that any old copy editor would have spotted. They have Truman observing that "C students run the world."
(They call him Harry S. Truman when any student of grammar and American history knows that there was no period after S because it didn't stand for any name. Truman, the haberdasher, thought the voters would like him better with an initial rather than just being plain Harry. Turned out the voters like plain-spoken Harry just fine.)
But back to Hudak's idea of injecting the student financial aid program with more market discipline. Be very careful about screwing around with student aid if you cut off the late bloomers and all the men and women who go on to be great successes while being a mark flop at university.
I've been there. I have been at both the top and the bottom of the class. It depended on whether I liked the subject and the prof.
There used to be something called the dominion-provincial bursary where in second and third year you could apply for $300. To put that sum in perspective, I got $150 on my first attempt but that was enough to pay for my tuition.
I had a good year and anticipated getting the entire $300 the second time around. Nope, another $150. So I wrote a rather graceless thank you note. I pointed out that I was an orphan, president of the student body and first or second in my class in all the courses. What did I have to do to get the full amount, I asked sarcastically? Did I have to be crippled and blind too?
I think there are too many universities. I think it is a mistake for the colleges to sneak up and try to be universities too. I think too many young men and women go for useless post-secondary education which prepares them for absolutely nothing while the country cries out for more electricians, plumbers, carpenters and other trades.
But please, please, please, as someone who could either scrape by or be the class leader,  never judge only by marks, and give student aid to everyone who is managing to keep afloat.
As an Editor, I hired everyone from columnists, reporters and secretaries to photographers, technicians and copy editors. I never asked and didn't care a damn about marks because the people around me at school who got high marks were often those with whom I would never want to share a desert island.
The Star quoted U.S. president George W. Bush in a 2008 speech to the graduating class at his alma mater, Yale. Bush said: 'To those of you who received high honours, awards and distinctions, I say, well done. And to the C students, I say, you too, can be president of the United States."
What takes the edge off the anecdote is that the great American universities are notorious for their "kind" treatment of the sons and daughters of illustrious and rich graduates and what we used to call captains of industry. There's also little doubt that in an age of routine 85s and 90s, the old-fashioned gentleman C has vanished into history because any prof who dared give such a low mark would probably have the parents suing the university.
It's so obvious that reasonable student aid is investing in the future of the country that I suggest Hudak find easier and more galling targets, such as Grit corruption and ineptitude. We should ask any MPPs who deal with this issue to make public a transcript of their marks. Betcha some were real duds and got into politics because they couldn't make a living in the real world.

Thursday, February 14, 2013



Is there anyone in Toronto, or any other major Canadian city for that matter, who believes that their municipal government is efficient and economical and quick to deal with problems before they become crises?
Is there anyone in Toronto, or any other major Canadian city, who can't identify quickly some road bottleneck near their home or pothole or broken sidewalk or public property infested with garbage which could be cheaply and quickly fixed?
Is there anyone in Toronto, or any other major Canadian city, who talks over the fence or at parties about how nice it is to have a responsive and inexpensive urban administration?
Yet what we get out of Silly Hall, or from the deep thinkers in the media and universities, is laments about the lack of vision and planning for the city's future.
Why can't they just make the bloody city work now? I would settle for that and can the lofty speeches.
Instead of these constant debates about future transit lines and Gardiner demolition and who does what to whom in governance, why don't they concentrate about how to fix this city without spending additional fortunes.
What have we really got from our municipal politicians every year for a couple of decades but annual tax increases and such wonderful "improvements" as a silly ban on weed killer which had no scientific basis but environmentalists said it was the right thing to do.
Of course they would. They would ban eating and drinking if they thought they could get away with it because anything man does on earth pollutes. The only question is the degree.
Ironically, the Gardiner expressway is symbolic of the problem as well as being practically iconic. One of the most used expressways in the world is falling down because of deliberate neglect. The debate about its future ignores the reality  that the city is so wrapped around the road that removing it would not change the geography and thickets of skyscrapers around it unless incredible sums were spent.
 It would be like putting the Humber in a tunnel and then expecting that the buildings on both banks would somehow be rearranged as well as all the local traffic patterns. Do they not realize that there isn't a major city in the world that hasn't had to build around massive ancient infrastructures?
And after half a century, the Gardiner is as dominant in our geography as the Great Wall of China. So let's just keep it up and working and tell the zealots who have never seen a traffic artery that they don't want to clot to go peddle their bikes on the Island or some other place that they stole from public ownership.
Once upon a time, I was guilty on the vision thing myself. I gave a speech about putting Ryerson on the map and was elected student president by my fellow students who felt like Third World refugees compared to U of T students.
After a few months, a fellow journalism student borrowed my typewriter and my paper to write a blistering editorial about my inadequacies as SAC president which I had to publish in the Ryersonian as the editorial page editor.
I hadn't delivered on the PR dream, he wrote. My reply was that I was just trying to keep the student council working when the hostile administration was trying to expel students for Mickey Mouse crimes and generally ignoring anything the students wanted by way of change.
But then I didn't have to get re-elected. Politicians do. So instead of all that dutiful riding work, to find out why the garbage wasn't collected on this street or why the plows missed that street and why the signs at this intersection don't make sense, they hire a secretary or two to whine at city officials and they posture instead on major stuff so that they can boast come voting day that they actually really did something grand.
They try to sell us dreams when all we want is a city that works. We want them to work instead of just dreaming.
Do most Torontonians care about "muscular mayors" and stronger powers for council in general, which is the wet dream of new city gurus like Richard Florida, or do we just want to keep taxes down and services up.
Ironically, Rob Ford, the mayor that Florida and the dreamers love to hate, really looked after the ward as a councillor, returning all the calls and chasing all the notes about complaints, often in person. I can assure you that if Toronto had 45 such politicians on council, the city would be a much different place with officials who actually fixed things and just didn't give excuses.
The problem is we have fatcat politicians, many of whom could not make this money in private life. And they are at the pinnacle of an organization where "fair wage" practises mean all city contracts are too high, because no real competition for the city work is allowed. And if the work is done in-house, the obese civic unions basically reduce to those work crews you see at the side of the street that are composed of a supervisor and a deputy, two guys to hold the coffee and one guy to do the digging.
That's my dream, that we have a lean and reasonable urban government, and that when we dream about the future, we are not building pipe dreams on a rotten foundation.