*

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Myth making and the news: Crack babies



Drug stories are good stories — prize winners, in fact. In the news business stories on drug abuse are seen as high grade news ore ready for mining. Although I worked for a newspaper, my background was not in journalism but in art; I saw these stories as a motherlode of fool's gold.

From my art school days, I had known far too many talented people who both took drugs and enjoyed exceedingly successful lives — far more successful than the media folk peddling the drug abuse scare stories. This is not to say that abusing drugs is smart or even O.K. Abusing drugs is stupid, just as abusing alcohol is stupid, but both stories are complex. Fed to readers and television audiences in small, shallow news bites make for a pretty meager meal.

It is difficult when a story is popular, when the story is making the rounds of newspapers and television news programs, to see that the story is first rate bunkum: Myth making at its finest.

Retrospect can add clarity. Case in point: The crack baby scare. The New York Times, as part of its Retro Report series, has posted a video examining the now debunked crack baby scare. The NYT is not alone. Heck, exposing the myth has become a new "in" story.

But, let's make one thing clear: Erroneous news stories do cause harm. As FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting) points out,

"The saddest part: Early on, researchers recognized that the social stigma attached to being identified as a 'crack baby' could far outweigh any biological impact." In some documented cases, children with easily corrected health problems unrelated to drug abuse were left to suffer, written off as "crack babies."

Friday, May 17, 2013

A little art from a little artist with a little help

Fiona: May 2013 by Fiona

I have a deep appreciation for the art of little children. I think it is really cool. And I think some little kids have a grasp of modern art that escapes their elders, and sadly, as they grow older, will slide from their grasp as well.

My granddaughter is driven to draw, to sketch, to doodle. She put the above ink sketch in the back of a book in which I record my automobile expenses. She asked first and I said O.K. I don't want to give the impression she just started filling my book with doodles.

I really liked what I saw. I love the sharp jagged lines in the middle of the work, contrasting with the arcing curves above and below the line dividing the work neatly in two. The little black lines in the bottom half of the work are almost hatchet lines suggesting a lightly toned to the space.

I thought her work called out for colour. Fiona agreed. She picked the colours and we both worked together colouring some of the captured space.

Fiona was proud that she was, for the most part, keeping inside the lines. I thought, that's good but it portends the end of your abstract period. You, little girl, are about to discover reality.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Cool is the key

The headline in The London Free Press read "Cool is the key." The headline writer may have been right. Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City, wrote in the Financial Times:

Economists may not say it this way but the truth of the matter is: being cool counts. When people can find inspiration in a community that also offers great parks, safe streets and extensive mass transit, they vote with their feet.

Yet, when I read the NY mayor's list I feel something is missing — something that is assumed to be present: Jobs. With an unemployment rate pushing ten percent, London has more to worry about than park improvement. As long as Londoners insist on tackling the unemployment problem as if it is a unique, local problem and not a problem that is becoming endemic in much of the former manufacturing core of North America, the employment problem may prove intractable.

London planners like to say London is well placed. It is right on one of the busiest highways in North Amercia: 401. It is also linked to the States via 402 to Port Huron. London is surrounded with some of the best farmland in the country.

Still, London appears to be located just outside the positive Toronto sphere of influence. Kitchener-Waterloo seems to grab a little of the Toronto energy but the remaining energy dissipates before reaching London. There is no question that Windsor is out of the Toronto loop and as a result Windsor actually lost population in one recent annual survey. The loss of urban population is a problem many American Midwestern cities are contending with.

London is half way between Toronto and Windsor. This position could be a positive if played correctly, but played poorly London could become more like Windsor to the west and less like Kitchener-Waterloo to the east.

Set-up photo captures real mayor.
There's a reason that London has the highest unemployment numbers among all of Canada's big cities and part of that reason is its location. Another part of the reason may be London's mayor, Joe Fontana, and to the city council.

Fontana has always been a showman. Years ago, at the urging of the local paper, he put on red boxing gloves to pose illegally on some railroad tracks. Joe and the photographer trespassed in order to get the photo. Today, that photo of Fontana posing as something he isn't while breaking the law may be the best photo every taken of the man.

London's industrial sector has taken all the classic hits lately. On paper, London sounds like a classic Midwest city suffering from a serious decline in its manufacturing sector. Jobes are being lost to:

  • obsolete technologies
  • business mergers
  • outsourcing
  • automation
  • reshoring

When the EMD plant in London closed after some six decades in the city to be reshored back to the States, Fontana fell back on bluster. It was all showmanship, no leadership. That plant was moving toward closure almost from the moment it was sold to Greenbriar Equity Group LLC and Berkshire Partners LLC by the failing General Motors. The closing of the plant came as no surprise to those following such things. Fontana was not among them.

Fontana's shout-out to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, ordering the PM to "get his ass down" to London, was juvenile. Maybe what London needs right now is not more urban planning but more intelligence, more creativity, from the mayor and city council. Heck, I'd settle for a little more maturity and clear thinking.

When it comes to the all important ingredient, clearly neither the mayor nor the city council exhibit much cool.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

An ICD storm and a positive spin to slowly dying in Canada

When I was in California in the summer of 2010, I had a V-tach event. The heart reaches a frighteningly high, but very inefficient, heart rate. I needed medical help within ten minutes to prevent permanent brain damage or death from occurring.

Taken to emerg, the medical staff took my pulse, they got a reading of 300 beats per minute. They immediately placed defibrillator paddles on my chest and hit me with 200 joules of electricity. The jolt put my heart back in normal sinus rhythm.

In emerg in Marin County General in CA.
From the emerg in a hospital in Sonoma, California, I was taken by ambulance to Marin County General. I was kept overnight and given a number of fancy tests. Although no cause was found for my V-tach event, the cost of treatment reached almost $30 thousand U.S.

The battle to save my life was easy compared to the fight to have my insurance company cover the cost of my treatment. It was the better part of a year before the travel insurance provider provided the coverage for which they had been paid.

Yesterday I had another V-tach event at about seven in the evening. My ICD, implantable cardioverter-defibrillator, hit me with an electrical jolt that caused me to tumble from the bed to the floor. Wow! When I regained my composure, it was off to emerg for an EKG.

No heart damage was evident on the graph and the flutter which had plagued my heart for the past few months was gone. I'd had a successful do-it-at-home cardioversion. In no immediate danger, I was sent home with instructions to contact the hospital's cardiac unit as early as possible the next morning.

At midnight I had another V-tach event. I was not knocked out of bed but the jolt left me unnerved. I had a hard time getting back to sleep. Two events in just under five hours. Not good. Just one more jolt and I would be in the midst of a full-blown ICD storm.

At seven thirty the bedroom phone rang. It was the hospital. They wanted me to come in for eight thirty. At the hospital they downloaded the memory records from my ICD. It confirmed my two V-tach events and added a turbo event at three thirty in the morning. In the so-called turbo event, the ICD gained control of my heart without resorting to a full-blown electrical jolt. Once in control, the ICD paced the heart down.

Three events in about eight hours, this was getting serious. I was in the midst of an ICD storm, defined as 3 or more ICD jolts in 24 hours or less.

The doctor and nurse, working together, reprogrammed my ICD and the doctor upped my daily dose of sotalol by fifty percent. Sotalol is the drug I take to keep my runaway heart in check. Clearly it wasn't working at the former dosage.

I am now back home, my heart is again beating at its usual, sluggishly slow, mid 50s bpm and my blood pressure is also down. I seem to be out of danger for the time being. I see a cardiac specialist on the 23rd of this month to discuss my meds and next month I touch base with the ICD department of the London Health Sciences Centre.

I must rest today and tomorrow. I can't do anything strenuous. I have been left with one big question: How much would all this health care cost in the States?

In early 2003, I had robotic surgery to correct a failed mitral heart valve. The DaVinci medical robot used to perform this medical miracle is not cheap. I have a very small scar despite having had open heart surgery. The government health care system has a very big scar from where it must have bled big bucks paying for my excellent state-of-the-art care.

In mid 2010 the search for the cause of my V-tach event in California commenced. The American doctors failed to find a cause but then they had less then thirty hours to search. It took the Canadian doctors months to track down the cause. Eventually it required a high-tech, oh-so-expensive, experimental 7T MRI to suggest the cause and it took genetic testing to pinpoint it. My heart is breaking down because of a relatively rare genetic condition. The disintegration of my heart muscle is disrupting the heart's electrical system.

My ICD is similar to this one.
In early 2011 an ICD was implanted in my chest and a wire screwed into my heart muscle. I understand the ICD, a Medtronic Protecta XT VR, is among the best on the market. It didn't come cheap. The hospital doesn't say what they paid for this baby but I have seen figures indicating it might have set the government back about $26,500.

Since having the implant, I must go to the hospital ICD department every six months. They download the ICD memory and modify my treatment as seems reasonable.

My drugs are expensive. Luckily for me, unluckily for the government, I'm a senior. I pay only $4.11 for my prescriptions, but there is a once a year $100 deductible. The drug benefit is a perk of being old in Ontario. To keep costs down the government has certain restrictions and sometimes one is forced to take a cheaper alternative to what may have been the doctor's drug of choice. I say the government is paying the bill, at least most of it, I'm not going to bad mouth them for trying to get the most bang, or should I say the most drug, for the buck.

One reads a lot of bad stuff about the government health plan in Canada and Ontario. There are problems, no argument. Still, if I lived in the States would I still be alive? Would I have had the ICD implanted or would my insurance have been canceled after the incident in California? If all my recent health expenses had fallen on my shoulders, I could never have afforded the necessary treatment.

In the States, I would have been out of money after the first 24-hours of treatment. Those first doctors in California would have picked my financial bones clean.

Sometimes it is wonderful to be living, and slowing dying, in Canada.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Hey, ReThink London: This is no way to treat our spaceship

Is this sprawl? If it is, are North London and South London also sprawl?

It was 1963 when Buckminster Fuller's Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth hit the bookstores. Fifty years later an updated section on the design of the ships's accommodation is desperately needed. For years the ship's crew have been extending the living quarters into the food production areas. This simply cannot continue. Spaceships have limits and spaceship Earth is no different. Buckminster Fuller wrote:

"Our little Spaceship Earth is only eight thousand miles in diameter, which is almost a negligible dimension in the great vastness of space."

Unfortunately, as Fuller points out, our ship is so well designed that those on board are not even aware they are on board a ship. Their lack of awareness leads to some incredibly foolish conduct. The ship's oxygen generators are being destroyed, the ship's stores of fresh water, called aquifers, are being depleted and the factories that supply the spaceship with food are being demolished to enlarge the living quarters.

Since 1971, in Canada alone, expanding urbanization has built over an area of farmland almost three times the size of Canada's smallest province, Prince Edward Island. About half of Canada's urbanized land was once some of the country's most productive farmland, according to Statistics Canada.

Randy Richmond, in a London Free Press article, refers to London as the "poster child for suburban sprawl." Richmond gives us too much credit. Sprawl is as Canadian as peach pie made with canned peaches from South Africa.

Abandoned orchard. Homes and not fruit soon will grow here.
Actually, it's lucky we can get peaches from South Africa, asparagus from Peru, potatoes from Idaho, and strawberries from California because we're paving over our own farmland and closing our food processing plants.

When it comes to frozen vegetables, some of our Europe's Best brand frozen vegetables come from China. I remember when frozen corn came from fields south of London. Today that London Green Giant plant is closed.

Are there any solutions to sprawl? Yes, but you won't find them in any of the planning suggestions being bandied about by ReThink London. The solutions cloaked in the ReThink mantra are not solutions at all.

The city has put forth three scenarios for future growth in London: The compact scenario, the hybrid scenario and the spread scenario. Only the compact scenario doesn't require more farmland to accommodate the city's population in the near future. City planning director John Fleming calls the compact scenario "extreme."

Extreme is continuing to build on our precious farmland. Extreme is paving over our future food lands. The water table in Peru where they grow our asparagus is dropping. Here is a link: How Peru's wells are being sucked dry. The Washington Post reports, "A 2011 lawsuit against the Whole Foods grocery chain alleges that frozen vegetables sold at its stores are made by prisoners in China and irrigated by a polluted river. . . . "

John Fleming tells us Londoners don't want sprawl. Fleming also warns us that London will need to annex more farmland in the future. He does seem to hold out much hope for the compact scenario that his own planning department put forward.

Fleming insists London needs Smart Growth. What is smart about paving over Canada's best food producing lands? This is no way to treat our spaceship.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

I had another TIA (Transient ischemic attack)

When I have a TIA the vision in my left eye is affected.

If you are here because you have had a serious visual disturbance, if, at anytime, you decide you may have had a TIA, get to emergency. Quit reading and get to the hospital. You must consult a doctor as soon as possible.
____________________________________________________ 

The first time I had a transient ischemic attack (TIA), I watched with a mixture of horror and amazement as the vision in my left eye slowly disappeared. At first, I thought both eyes were affected; I thought I was going blind. But, it was almost immediately obvious that only my left eye was affected.

I closed my right eye and watched a very dark grey curtain with a rather jagged edge slowly rising in my left eye. The curtain was completely opaque. When about 95 percent of my vision was blocked the rising curtain stopped and began to recede.

As the curtain receded, the opaque dark grey turned somewhat translucent in places. The curtain was breaking up. Soon what remained of the tattered curtain had dropped to the bottom of my vision field and disappeared; My vision was restored. The entire episode took a minute -- maybe two. I went to emerg at the local hospital. I felt like no one would believe me when I told them what had happened. I felt like this could be an event fit for an episode of House on TV. It wasn't.

The doctors in emerg diagnosed my problem as a TIA. TIAs can be thought of as mini strokes. They may last a minute or two, sometimes as long as an hour. According to the Mayo Clinic, an extremely long one can last as long as a day but if the disturbance lasts too long, one has most likely suffered a stroke and not a TIA.

The signs and symptoms of both a TIA and a stroke in the early stages are very similar, but a stroke leaves the brain with lasting damage while a TIA doesn't or at least the damage is not immediately evident. Both come on suddenly and hit the victim with dramatic and very frightening affects. The TIA disturbances disappear quickly but one should still go to emerg to be checked out by a doctor.

A TIA is a warning that you are in danger of suffering a serious and debilitating stroke. According to the Mayo Clinic, about 1 in 3 people suffering a transient ischemic attack eventually has a stroke. About half of these strokes occur within a year of the attack. See a doctor!

Some of the signs of a TIA are:

  • Sudden double vision
  • Sudden blindness in one or both eyes
  • Sudden dizziness, loss of balance, loss of coordination
  • Sudden weakness, numbness or paralysis in your face, arm or leg. This often only affects one side of the body.

I have had at least three TIAs. All have been related to a serious heart arrhythmia. Today, my heart is in a constant state of flutter. This increases my chances of suffering a stroke -- a brain crippling stroke. Strokes are blood clots that travel to the brain, blocking off the all-important blood supply to a section of the brain. To prevent this from happening, I take an anticoagulant: Pradax.

It is quite possible that thanks to Pradax my clots break-up quickly, dispersing into my blood stream. The poorly formed clots no sooner block the blood flow in my brain than they begin disintegrating.

Transient ischemic attacks may last less than a minute (like mine) or, according to the Mayo Clinic, as long as a day. Most signs and symptoms disappear within an hour. The signs and symptoms of TIA resemble those found in the early stages of a stroke and may include:
  • Sudden weakness, numbness or paralysis in your face, arm or leg, typically on one side of your body
  • Slurred or garbled speech or difficulty understanding others
  • Sudden blindness in one or both eyes or double vision
  • Dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
After your first attack your condition must be evaluated. This is very important. I had both a CT scan and an MRI performed on my brain. While TIAs themselves are not dangerous, always keep in mind that after an attack one is at increased risk of stroke.

Medline Plus warns:

TIAs are a warning sign that you may have a true stroke in the coming days or months. More than ten percent of people who have a TIA will have a stroke within three months. Half of these strokes happen during the 48 hours after a TIA. The stroke may occur that same day or at a later time.

As I said at the beginning of this post, if you found this because you are seeking information on TIAs, having just suffered a stroke-like event yourself, stop reading and get to a hospital.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

ReThink London: Higher goals get more attention


ReThink London is all about communication, or so they say. As you can see from the image above, I've now communicated and the ReThink computer has replied, very politely I might add. Now I'm waiting for the human contact. Wonder how long I'll have to wait.

Now, to today's post: It is easy to be a critic. I am under no obligation to come up with solutions that can actually be put into place. That said, I do try to find answers with a practical bent. I like to find stuff that is being done, stuff with a proven track record and then reference that stuff. I post links. I do my best to avoid pie-in-the-sky. I try to leave the dreaming mostly to others.

In the '70s I insulated an older home London home. I also had new windows installed that, from a distance, looked like the old '20s windows I replaced. When I was done, these simple and quite obvious upgrades slashed my home heating bills dramatically.

An Eifehaus energy efficient European home
At the time, I watched new houses going up that didn't appear to give a lot of thought to energy use. These homes cleared the bar set by the code and that was it.

If London wants to be known for urban leadership, maybe London could encourage the construction of suburban homes meeting the best of the world's energy efficiency standards. In London, green could be more than just a buzz word.

The passivhaus movement is spreading throughout Europe and has made the leap across the pond. There are passivhaus homes being built, or planned, in a number of communities in Canada.

London's Sifton-built solar heated home fell into disrepair.
There is no point in me rewriting what can already be found online. So, here are some links. The first link is from Great Britain and discusses the passivhaus energy standard. This is a tough standard. It is one even Mike Holmes might respect.

The next question is "What can you tell me about passivhaus homes, or even extreme energy efficient homes, in Canada?" The answer is "Lots." Read the linked article from The Tyee -- Step Inside the Real Home of the Future: Passivhaus.

If London wants to lay claim to the word exceptional, a dream ReThink seems to be chasing, then London has to do more truly exceptional stuff. The present goals being set by the ReThink group don't strike me as too exceptional. Sorry.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Sprawl: May not be exactly what you think

Reading The London Free Press the other day I came across a story with "Sprawling out" as the headline above the story. It was an article looking at the recent release of the first discussion papers by ReThink London.

I had read the discussion papers and was not impressed. Considering the time spent assembling the information, it was rather poorly presented. So poorly presented, in fact, that report Randy Richmond got some of his figures wrong by a bit more than ten percent. When a professional cannot even decipher the information easily, quickly and accurately, there is a problem.

I found myself thinking about the term "sprawl." I've been to Los Angeles and there is a place that certainly seems to sprawl. Yet, that community is rated the densest urban area in the entire United States.

I don't have time to write a post on this today. My time is spoken for. But here is a link to a University of California article: What Density Doesn't Tell Us About Sprawl, by Eric Eidlin.

Cheers,
Have a good weekend.

ReThink London: smoke and mirrors

[I've posted this but I don't have a copy editor. I believe my figures are all correct but if you notice an error please leave a comment. I will not be insulted if you correct me. Thank you.]

____________________________________________________________________________

ReThink London is falling flat. If you are looking for new thinking, move on. You won't find anything new at ReThink London.

After months spent investigating what Londoners want from their city, city planning director John Fleming can do no better than spout truisms. Londoners want quality infill he says. Did he think they wanted poorly done infill? Londoners want compact growth. This is a surprise? Did he expect a lot of folk would tell him they wanted sprawl? Londoner want great public spaces. Of course, they do. Who dreams of poor public spaces?

I read the ReThink London discussion paper, Building a Mixed-Use, Compact City, very carefully. It left me puzzled. I had lots of questions.

Soon this will be housing. Suburbia is but a short walk away.
The report tells us in 1961 the city annexed large tracts of land in order to sustain growth. Byron and Oakridge were just two of the areas taken over by the city at that time. A decade later, the 1971 official plan determined London could accommodate a population "in excess of 500,000" thanks to those annexed lands.

Yet, by 1992 the city was in annexation mode once again. Almost the entire Township of Westminster found itself obliterated by the expanding city. According to the ReThink discussion paper, today we’ve developed all of the '61 land—all of it! We're expanding into the '92 territory and yet the population of London is only at 366,151 (2011 census). We didn't even come close to housing 500,000 before we ran out of land.

  • What kind of plan misses the mark by such a wide margin. A damn poor one I'd say. 
  • If the plan wasn't poor, it certainly wasn't followed, not even remotely. We need to know more. 
  • Who was responsible for the screw up? If it was the city planners, did they make some basic math error? It is important for us to know. We don't want this happening again.

Moving on, let's look at some of the facts, figures and forecasts contained in the recently released discussion paper. The planning department presented Londoners with three scenarios illustrating three different approaches to London's future growth in the next 50 years.

The planners see London with an additional 190,000 residents. An increase in London's population of 54.6 percent. My math tells me that this works out to a population of 556,151. Now, let's look at the scenarios.

The compact city

  • 30% single detached houses
  • 35% townhouse and mid-rise
  • 35% high-rise
  • city covers 420.57 square kilometres (Today's figure.)
  • population is 556,151

Hybrid pattern of growth

  • 50% single detached houses
  • 23% townhouse and mid-rise
  • 27% high-rise
  • city covers 420.57 square kilometres plus additional 10.98 sq. km for total of 431.55 sq. km.
  • population is 556,151

The sprawling city

  • 70% single detached houses
  • 15% townhouse and mid-rise 
  • 15% high-rise
  • city covers 420.57 square kilometres plus additional 64 sq. km for total of 484.57 sq. km.
  • population is 556,151

The report didn't calculate the population densities for the various scenarios but allow me.

 

Persons per sq. km.

  • Compact: 1322.4
  • Hybrid: 1288.7
  • Sprawling: 1147.7.31

So what does this tell us? If you are like me, you have nothing to compare these numbers to. Let's do a little research. Let's look into the densities being achieved in the popular communities in the GreaterToronto area.

 

Persons per sq. km.

  • Toronto: 4149.5
  • Mississauga: 2,439.9
  • Brampton: 1967.1
  • Richmond Hill: 1838
  • Kitchener: 1602.1
  • Waterloo: 1542.9 
  • Markham: 1419.3
  • Oakville: 1314.2

Tower in Mississauga.
If our city planning department was willing to emulate Oakville, London would not require more farmland. Oakville is said by many to be one of the finest places to live in Canada. The compact city density doesn't sound out of line at all.

If our planners took an approach more like Mississauga's, London could handle better than a million residents. This is more than twice the population our city planners have set as their goal.

What is going on here? What am I missing? When planning director John Fleming chatted with The London Free Press he talked of compact growth. So where's the compact growth in these figures?

ReThink assures us that our future will be "exciting, exceptional and connected." Did you actually expect to be told that the city planners were guiding London into a dull as dish water, unexceptional and disconnected future? Check out the apartment tower on the left. That apartment building is Mississauga's exciting, exceptional future in the flesh. It is one of The Absolute World Towers, known 'round the world as The Marilyn Monroe Towers because of their sensuous curves.

London's wild dreams bring back memories of another time and another place where civic puffery took centre stage and facts be damned. Where? Detroit! In the mid '60s Mayor Jerome Cavanagh made a short film promoting his withering city, once the fourth largest in the United States, Detroit was already about 15 years into its decline. The film was called: Detroit, City on the Move.


London: exciting, exceptional and connected. Only in ReThink London's dreams. It may come to pass, but it may not. At the moment, ReThink London talks a good line but that's it. Until the planning department and the city council get on the same page, this long trip, as John Fleming calls it, may end badly. If you doubt me, think of Wonderland Road South—the new gateway to the city.

Nothing threatens good dreams for tomorrow like bad moves today.

In some cities, apartments are found above stores like the above. Not in London.

If you think I am being too hard on the ReThink London process, I find myself thinking along the same lines. I want to pullback, go a little lighter. And then I look at the picture below showing one of the new developments in London the planning department finds praise worthy. I look at this picture and I know I am hitting the mark. 



What an awful structure. Nothing exciting or exceptional here. Now, move down the street a few metres and all that changes. Or look across the street at the restored pottery guild building. The structure shown above is a stain on London's urban fabric.



In keeping with the conversational aspect of ReThink London I contacted them and e-mailed them the following message:

My recent blog post has been getting more than the usual hits. It is a criticism of ReThink London. I'd love to hear your defence. Hey, this whole thing is about conversation, right?

http://rockinontheblog.blogspot.ca/2013/05/rethink-london-smoke-and-mirrors.html

Cheers.
p.s. I'm posting this message at the bottom of my post.