Tuesday, December 22, 2015



We are besieged by wild life. It's an ironic mix of the good with the bad. One man's pet is another man's pest. A few examples!
 I was at a hospital Christmas party the other day - fortunately this time as a guest- when the hospital CEO showed me a picture of a large buck complete with a grand rack that was snoozing in her backyard. Nice!
Earlier I was reminding a friend that there had been a warning of a coyote in her mid-Etobicoke neighbourhood which was "harvesting" the population of cats, squirrels and other critters. Not so nice!
I live near the Mimico Creek which is the haunt of many skunks, fox and raccoons, not that they need a valley for a home when they can live around our houses.  I put out the little can of kitchen waste an hour or two before pickup because if I left it out by the road over night, the remnants would be spread far and wide.  The skunks dig up my gardens and lawns more than I do. Not so nice!
I noticed as I was closing my cottage on the Trent River, most of the time being spent wrapping trees in protective wire, that the beaver had already beaten me to an evergreen that I had planted several years ago near the little oak that it cut down last fall. Not so nice!
I was pleased as I cleaned the home gutters to note that the squirrel that keeps trying to chew its way into my eaves has given up the battle for now, thanks to the metal mesh that I've had to nail in great strips under the eavestroughs. Nice!
I have been busy trapping mice near my tiny wine cellar in the basement. The toll is now 11. No sign of rats, thankfully. I wonder if the Toronto Humane Society still stupidly returns critters to where they were live trapped. including Norway rats, which can gnaw through sewer pipe and just the sight of one can close a restaurant. Not so nice.
A big doe routinely walks calmly to the point at my cottage and then jumps in to swim across the river. Nice! I wonder if it is the deer that nibbles the tops of my shrubs in mid-winter. Not so nice!
But let's go back to the top.
I  won't tell you exactly where because you never know what ideas hunters get but that big deer in the CEO's yard has made its peaceful home in the Humber Valley south of Bloor St.  Now I've done a lot of walking and even canoeing in that area and I'm surprised that a big buck, complete with a harem of four or five does that occasionally gather around in admiration or obeisance, would find enough hidey holes there to escape man.
There are those who argue that there are more deer in southern Ontario now than there were before 1793 brought John Graves Simcoe. I do know that my late brother-in-law, Gord, got so annoyed at deer cutting up his crops with their sharp hooves that he bought a crossbow (the game warden might hear any shots) and dined on venison. Nice!
As for the marauding coyotes. I read in the International New York Times that the experts figure that at least 4,000 coyotes are living in Chicago but calls of complaints and sightings have eased because residents have got used to them. Besides, they're not aggressive, just going after dogs generally when they're not on a leash.
Of course coyotes are rather tame compared to what the Times writer had discovered in other countries. Like the 35 wild leopards living inside Mumbai that leave the people alone but dine on cats and dogs in the dark. Or the wolves living beside Rome's airport. The mountain lion in the Hollywood Hills that has its own Facebook page. The great white sharks frequently cruising Cape Cod beaches. A Florida photographer recently snapped a bobcat grabbing a shark out of the surf at Vero Beach.
We're lectured by the humane movement, which often make a good living from it, that it's because of urban sprawl that more wild animals now live around us. We've moved in on them, and they were here first. So leave them alone, the dizzy minded say.
That's a lot of nonsense. There are exceptions, of course. For example, in Mumbai, one of the world's most crowded cities has engulfed the national park where the leopards roam. But I doubt, for example, that the big buck would have lasted long in the 1800s as muddy York grew into Toronto.
I wonder if that lodge of beaver that have cost me and my cottage neighbours so many mature trees would have lasted long a century or so ago in a  country that was built on the back of beaver.
A woman and two dogs were injured  by a sow bear within a few kilometres of my cottage. I think that when nearby Havelock was still a bustling railway and mining centre just a few decades ago that the bear would not have lasted long that close to farms and a town.
I love to watch wild life, like the muskrat that lives under my dock, the martins that live in the point, the pileated woodpeckers that chisel chunks out of my tree, that deer that comes for a swim. I leave them alone and they almost ignore me. But then they didn't eat the old outhouse like the porcupine which I introduced to a prickly hell.
I listen to the politically correct division of the humane activists - but never to the crazies of PETA - and wonder why they put animals ahead of people, so much so that this city is not quite as pleasant as it could be because craven  politicians refuse to allow tougher measures against animals  in the wrong place munching our woodwork.
I remember one rabies epidemic where I produced a story a day on the latest human and animal patient/victims. The treatment then was a lot more painful. One day on the way to the TTC about 6 a.m., a squirrel kept running at me and snapping at my ankles. I kept jumping in the air assuming it was rabid. After several passes, I ran half a block to the streetcar, pausing only to bring up in the gutter. On my arrival, the Tely editor said that it appeared the rabies epidemic was easing. Oh no, it isn't, I said, but didn't include my attack in the day's collection.
We now have another rabies epidemic and other great blights -  the flying manure spreaders known as Canada geese, the raccoons which overturn our garbage cans as fast as they can rip apart the bird feeders,  the fox that take up light housekeeping in the traps at the better golf courses. the coyote that are now the size of wolves that walk down the street like a young hooker.
Not so nice! If they are really more important than me, let them start paying taxes!

Saturday, December 12, 2015



I still remember my shock reading a Toronto Life article about the "new suburbanites" because "the reasons to abandon the overcrowded, overpriced, not-so-livable city are beginning to outnumber the reasons to stay. More and more of us are tempted by the 905 and beyond. Screw Jane Jacobs. We're out of here."
Readers who dislike this theme would point out that it appeared in September, 2011, and the great rush to buy condos downtown since then shows that many love living close to what is important to them and so put up with the costs and hassles.
What surprised me about the article was not that it made so much sense but that it appeared in Toronto Life, that trendy journal that celebrates a life style as far removed from the mortgaged middle class as Gatsby from a street beggar. It was a good read!
Thanks to Toronto Life and the Toronto Star and urban activists who worship at the shrine of the foot power of pedestrians and cyclists, Jacobs became such a Toronto god that it was ignored that most of us allowed the choice would not live on a street that she ruled was ideal.
I suspect her books were idolized by the intelligentsia but never really read except in urban planning courses where the profs put her on a pedestal because by their standards she was a safe rebel. I once made these points about the Jacobites to a MIT professor writing a book on her who interviewed me when he was here for a conference.
The problem with Jacobs and John Sewell and all the other guerrilla fighters against urban sprawl is that they ignore the middle ground between the Yonge St. condo and the two-storey four-bedroom  attached garage home on a 50 by 120 foot lot on a wide street.
I live near Royal York and Bloor in a 1 1/2 storey home on a smaller lot and a narrow street with no sidewalks. It's a great area, in fact so great that there is pressure to build condos, replace smaller homes and increase density. Like all such areas, in-fill is a fact of life.
I have the Royal York subway station for support when I have to go downtown and don't want to drive because of the congestion created by ineptitude by politicians, officials and police.
And the congestion isn't going away, not with the current thinking of politicians and planners because they still think it's fashionable to hobble vehicles.
Here's a typical paragraph in a Star column. "The Toronto the car built is giving way to another city, one that's dense, high-rise and compact. It is a city where bicycles make as much sense as cars, and in which pedestrians are demanding freedom of the streets."
That was so dumb and offensive and lacking in reality that it prompted another Star columnist, Norris McDonald, to point out that the car's a necessity for many commuters and there is a life for many outside the "tiny piece" of the city from Bloor to the lake and Bathurst to the Don.
Since the Star isn't a great place to work if you don't like their missionary approach to issues, and writers are not encouraged to attack colleagues who are their evangelist columnists, McDonald summarized by saying merely "a gross misunderstanding of current realities" was demonstrated.
I would say it was bullshit!
City Hall and Queen's Park have been terrified that they may be made to be seen as caring about the car. Yet this city continues to have to move four out of every five commuters by car. They have been so defensive about helping the car that it ruined Black Creek Drive, which was supposed to be, heavens, an expressway. They also let the Gardiner deteriorate when it would have been so easy to repair and improve its looks.
I think it is wonderful that a nice and impressive couple are giving $25 million to prettify under the Gardiner. Yet the idea of dressing up the Gardiner is an old one, proposed to me a couple of decades ago by Charles Templeton, a brilliant inventor and communicator, who suggested that if people hated its looks so much, cover it where it crossed major roads with the reflective cladding used on buildings. Nice plantings along major roads have been routine in countries like China for years.
Writers like Christopher Hume denigrate the "ugly scar"of the Gardiner and ignore that many more people get a great view of the city from driving along the workhorse road than are bothered by the view on the ground.
Critics like Hume and planners have never figured out that more people will enjoy the view if  a subway line goes through a valley than ever hiked through the same valley.
I just love this stupidity that bicycles "make as much sense as cars." The space consumed by bike lanes and the interference of the cyclists with the traffic around them is a contributor to traffic congestion and all cyclists should be banned from major streets from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The lame answer is road tolls to the latest burst of stories that Toronto has the worst traffic of any Canadian city, or even Hades for that matter. We've known that for years, as we've burned while our politicians fiddled.
You know those funny plays where women withhold sex in order to achieve some victory. How about if everyone outside the subsidized burghers of downtown not drive downtown for two weeks.
First, the TTC would stagger to a stop because it just wouldn't be able to handle the crowds.
Second, the provincial and federal governments would have a huge increase in their deficits because of the loss of gasoline taxes.
Third, all the stores and offices downtown would be crippled
Fourth, it would prompt many more to work from their homes or encourage the boss not to just think about moving outside the city, like all the other head offices.
When people look back from 50 years in the future to our era, they will be baffled as why we so interfered with the vehicles that deliver all our goods, and the cars that transport four times the daily crowd on the TTC, and think we really were a primitive people.
And we were rather stupid too. Transit riders are hurt by congestion too. The smartest investment in transit is improving the flow of traffic for everyone instead of politicians cutting off their economic nose to spite the angry faces of the driver. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015



The joke among snowbirds at the first flocking in Florida, or with friends gathering for the first eggnogging, is that you are only allowed to talk about your health for the first 15 minutes.
During a lifetime of reasonable health, if you don't count gout and some screwy wiring in my heart, I used to look on such accounting of operations with rum-and-coke indulgence.
Then on a trip home from God's waiting room in Florida, I drove into what I called in a lengthy Sun series, hospital hell.
Three months in four hospitals, punctuated with trips in ambulances, including an air ambulance home from West Virginia. I lost the ability to stand or walk or joke about health. Then a year later, two operations a day apart in two more hospitals.
After a career which included medical reporting, important jobs and lengthy service on a hospital board, I ended up as just another file number stuck on me on a gurney lost somewhere in a hospital corridor.
And this bothered more than just me and the family. Some insiders too!
As Todd Penner, a noted surgeon at Western and prof at U of T,  said a year later when he wandered around in my innards ruined by peritonitis for more than two hours, much longer than expected, if a connected guy like me is gamed by the system, what hope is there for Joe Canuck who doesn't even have a family doctor.
 He will get screwed routinely by the system even if he manages to hitch a ride.
After decades of journalism, you do acquire certain access. I didn't infuriate everyone I wrote about. So after my hospital hell, I could vent. I talked to the health minister twice about painful glitches. I suggested changes in the Sun. I could howl at the moon.
It had helped over the years that my family doctor and friend, Bernie Gosevitz, has clout. The proof of that came when 12 hours after he diagnosed atrial fibrillation, a wonderful and famous cardiologist was checking me out.
It almost made up for the endless delays and months when specialists were too busy to see me.
I won't let anyone forget those horrible two month in St. Joseph's, where the staff were too few and too tiny to handle anyone over six feet and 200 pounds. And some were lazy, hiding from patients.
So the three bed sore ulcers around my tail bone became so enormous and deep that afterwards community care access nurses (CCAC) came 128 times to the house for treatment and I spent almost a year tethered to an air  pump machine which was a helluva less fun to sleep with than my wife.
I survived, even when the travel insurance company tried to renege on $85,000 in American health costs and I had to use every gambit in journalism, including flaunting my doctors and their titles in health organizations and at U of T, to scare the hell out of the insurance goons..
Now I've just used up my 15 minutes to talk about my health.
I just took Mary to three medical appointments in one week where she always waited at least two hours past the appointed time.
I finally got an eye appointment with a specialist six months after it was requested. I showed up early because I had another medical appointment in 2 1/2 hours. Didn't work. Three hours later, after I bugged technicians, I made it in. He was nice enough to sort of apologize. I replied that I was now too late for the next specialist and added sarcastically "you take out cataracts but she takes out hearts."
Hope he forgets that before he operates, but then that won't be for months.
I have defended OHIP and Canadian medicare in some heavy-duty confrontations with some major Americans - once with one of the original seven astronauts - and I will continue to do so. It is incredibly satisfying that you can no longer be ruined by hospital bills, that everyone, eventually, gets cared for.
Yet there are so many things that could be fixed to make it all run better, including penalizing financially any doctor or  clinic who keeps a patient waiting more than two hours without a good excuse that they would have to document to the ministry.
There can be a competent and pleasant doctor at the end of the wait but the system in which they are the stars cares most about their time and to hell with the rest of the human race.These long waits are agonizing and exhausting for many patients and seniors. It can ruin their week if not the month.
Eric Hoskins, the current health minister, seems to be an able doctor with good ideas. He says a major restructuring of community health is underway, which may kill the current CCAC system,  Good! I found the CCAC system on weekends to be unhelpful and on wonky auto pilot. The evidence was obvious that it was a cumbersome, expensive system speckled with careless waste.
I tried for months to find out what each visit cost so I could write about the large cost just because a careless hospital gave me bed ulcers.
A flood of figures poured over me. I was confused, which I suspect was the idea.  I finally concluded that it was $70 for 30 minutes, which was ten minutes for me and the rest for the forms, but it could have been more.
It all adds up to the current $2.5 billion annually, for around 713,500 ''clients." Perhaps if they called them patients, they would be more patient with better care.
The Auditor General's latest report dealing with the inept stewardship of the province said patients are still waiting too long, some for up to a year, just to be assessed by the CCAC.  I remember my assessor. He showed up in the evening, five hours late, and interviewed me while I was sitting on the hospital toilet.
The AG, Bonnie Lysyk, pointed out that her watchdogs criticized this wait five years ago.
Dipika Dameria, the associate minister for long-term care, reacted typically recently when the Star showed her pictures of gaping infected bedsores in nursing home "inmates." You know, she was saddened and troubled. It has to change, she said. The ministry will strengthen compliance, she said.
Sorry but I'm not impressed. I've heard that from countless ministers.  I remember stories like this when I was a kid reporter half-a-century ago. The name of the game for operators is to keep costs down as much as possible to make more money.
There always will be a few who will want to cheat and cut corners by reusing dubious sheets and not having enough staff etc. There has to be regular inspection to catch them and an easy way for families to blow the whistle on incompetent care.
Hey, I know what I'm talking about. If a modern downtown Toronto hospital can give me bedsores that were so deep that doctors marvelled at the depth, what hope is there for no ugly holes in patients in a cheating nursing home.
There have been horror stories abounding about this for years. I can testify as a long-time board member of the modern Runnymede Health Centre, which grew from a rehab/chronic care operation in an old school while health officials kept trying to shut us down.
The relatives of our patients were ecstatic about our stewardship in long-term care, despite the humble surroundings, because they knew how grim and costly many alternatives were.
The auditor's report critized a host of issues in elderly care, including lengthy delays in investigation and inadequate follow up after complaints of violence or abuse.
 Let's not forget, Dr. Hoskins, that any review of Ontario health care must included the parking costs at Ontario hospitals. Even the Canadian Medical Association says medicare is being harmed by the high parking charges because patients cut short their visits to clinics and some families just can't afford to visit their incarcerated loved ones.
It isn't as important as hospitals not having enough nurses or other staff but to me the costs of parking on hospital grounds is almost as galling as the municipal parking enforcers who infest streets around hospitals and prey on the vulnerable - the patients and their families who never have a quick visit because doctors treat everyone's else time with contempt.
I know of a lawyer who after the doctor kept him waiting for three hours past the appointment time, billed him for three hours. We should raise a monument to him. It will be needed quite soon, I imagine, because the medicrats are not going to rush to save him from passing. His bitching could grow into reforms if it was allowed to spread.