Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Revisiting the hopes of Dr. Zamboni.

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

As past president of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, we have known for a long time that the Liberation treatment for Multiple Sclerosis patients does not work. It never had credibility to begin with. It was over seven years ago that Dr. Paulo Zamboni of Ferrara, Italy excitedly announced a treatment he had developed to increase the drainage of blood from the brain of MS patients. A Canadian replication of the treatment with a double-blind study has shown conclusively that the procedure makes no difference.

But consider the cost. Thousands of Canadian MS patients spend anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 at special ‘clinics’ in other countries. That was in addition to their travel and hotel costs. Canadian doctors were very reluctant to provide any post-operative care for a procedure that was not even considered safe in Canada. In some cases the treatment was a scam. And there were deaths from the treatment in clinics outside Canada.

It was not the W5 program on CTV that caused most of the stir for the Zamboni treatment. It was the CTV news programs that promoted the program for the network. They sensationalized the supposed cure. That was when the promotion crossed the line.

And then there were the politicians who jumped on the bandwagon. One of the first was the then M.P. for Barrie, Ontario who is now leader of the Ontario Conservative Party. Mr. Brown has never met a charitable cause that he cannot jump aboard to publicize himself.

But to be fair, politicians from other parties wanted aboard the publicity train. Two Liberal M.P.s who are also medical doctors thought the procedure should be fast-tracked and they spoke out on behalf of the procedure without really understanding what they were promoting.

The problem had to be resolved by the Canadian MS Society with the aid of the medical research community across Canada. The first problem, we assume, must have been finding a safe and fair way to test the theory while providing a placebo test that could verify the results. And then you have to find a researcher who can find the time to handle a lengthy double-blind study with sufficient patients to produce credible results.

Now, eight years after the fact, we conclusively know that the Liberation treatment treats nothing. It does not work.

But, joy oh joy, the people who promote these off-shore ‘clinics’ called CCSVI Ontario were reported to have the nerve to tell a newspaper reporter that this extremely costly Canadian study was “sham science.”


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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That political instinct.

Sunday, February 19th, 2017

One of the key measurements of budding politicians is their political instinct. You measure this in how these people interact with voters, fellow politicians, the news media and with the apparatchiks who work with them. At the same time, it would be an asset if they are articulate, charming, intelligent, personable, rich and have an attractive (and supportive) spouse and children. These are all nice-to-haves.

But without that political instinct, you are likely to be wasting your time. Sure, you can try to overcome the lack of political instinct. Look at Donald Trump. The man ran on ego instead of instinct and look where it has got him—probably the most reviled President in American history.

But for the guy or gal looking at a school board seat or a council opening as a first step into politics, ego and money are no panacea. Hard work and determination can make up for some limitations but it is political instinct that tells you the right thing to say at the voters’ doors. And be careful with how you choose to separate yourself from the also-rans.

Standing out from the crowd is your first challenge. If you run in the middle of the pack, you will end up there. You have to be lead dog. You cannot be too rich, too aggressive, too political, too sure or too smart. You have to fit the role for which you are running. And you can be assured that a post-graduate degree in education is not what gets you elected to a school board.

You have to be representative of the people you want to represent. And you have to keep them regularly informed of what you are doing on their behalf. It is your political instinct that you have to rely on to as to what is the right amount and frequency of communication.

And be careful of jumping too fast when further opportunity arises. Voters like success stories but they also resent being used. Use caution.

And since this has turned into advice for newbie politicos, you should always remember that politics is very much a team effort. You can hardly fit all the roles that a campaign team needs but you can put those strengths together over time. And even if you write great speeches, that is an area where good back-up can reduce stress. By building the team you need over time, you could be surprised at the possibilities it can open to you. If you build a strong team and remain loyal to them, you will find they becoming increasingly loyal to you.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Hand-wringing in academia.

Thursday, February 9th, 2017

You would have thought that Edward Greenspon had covered the subject. He released his Public Policy Forum report on Canada’s news media recently and we thought that was it. We all hung some crepe for a dying industry, maybe shed a tear and the report was consigned to the recycle bin for things we will not solve.

But now the academics are weighing in. The first were the researchers from the University of British Columbia and University of Ottawa who did Greenspon’s research for his study.

These people should have left all the writing to Greenspon. In the first chapter, they referred to a lack of “VC funding.” After finally concluding that they meant venture capital funding, it was obvious that they had little experience with that breed of vulture.

Despite the limitations of their journalistic skills, they went on to explain why they believe that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation/Radio Canada should be refocussed on municipal news across the country. And they wanted it provided under “Creative Commons license.” Since that means free, they want the federal government to pay for it.

What is very annoying in their assessment is that they want the CBC out of digital advertising despite the fact that the CBC has been doing the best job of all its competitors in digital news. Bell, Rogers and Shaw have made a sham of self-promoting news coverage on their major newscasts to the point that they are turning off their viewers and their promotion is bleeding into their digital coverage. The bar is set so low, they make the CBC look good.

It must be only academics who promote Creative Commons licensing. They think that individual citizens and organizations will honour the license conditions and help spread the word. They have never seen the party trick of passing a complex story down a line of people and comparing the changes from the beginning to the end of the line.

It also pays to remember the time in the Ontario Legislature when there would be a lone reporter in the gallery over the speaker’s chair. It was the Canadian Press who covered for all the others. The bar was open.

And the most annoying comment of these academics was that many people they interviewed for the media study referred to the CBC as a “predator.” Everyone becomes a predator when you are fighting to exist.

(Note: As they were research principals for the Public Policy Forum Report, they should be mentioned: Taylor Owen is an Asst. Prof. of Digital Media and Global Affairs at the Univ. of British Columbia and Elizabeth Dubois is an Asst. Prof. in the Dept. of Communications at the Univ. of Ottawa.)


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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One person can spoil your whole day.

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

No, this is not about the poor, sick misfit who is charged with murdering six Canadians in a Quebec City mosque. It is about the guilt we all share for bigotry world-wide. We share the guilt because we let it happen.

Sure, you can pile the guilt on the pathetic President of the United States. His Islamophobia, xenophobia, ego and careless actions might have triggered the event but he can hardly be the sole cause. Who lets him think he can blame an entire religion for his unfounded fears? Who are the fools who elected him? Who are the wimps who could have done a better job supporting his opponent? Why did the news media promote his lies and mistruths?

And how dare Chantal Hébert of the Toronto Star and the opposition in parliament lay any blame on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau? He has done the best job he can do within the bounds of diplomacy to show that Canada takes exception to the ham-fisted actions of that incompetent in the White House of our neighbour. We show decency by example, not shouting.

And who left retiring CBC news anchor Peter Mansbridge out in that biting, minus 20 degree cold in Quebec City without a hat the other night? It was hard to tell if the poor man was emotionally distraught because of the horrible subject he was trying to deal with or because he was freezing.

It is not the intent here to rub salt in such a terrible wound to the social fabric of Canada but that event is hardly the first example of bigotry getting out of hand. Nor is it that other parts of Canada are free of bigotry.

But Quebec has its own problems. From the historic complicity of the Catholic Church in discouraging interlopers, to the repressive padlock laws of Maurice Duplessis and even more recent PQ Charter of Values have encouraged distrust of non-conforming values. It’s the insular attitude that can create an environment with the potential to breed radicalization.

But what can stimulate a murderous rage against a religion that its Prophet conceived in peace and taught submission to God? Are we not centuries past the medieval crusades against Islam? What possible purpose is there in murdering people living so peacefully among us?

Maybe we will recognize our complicity in this, maybe not. It just seems so unlikely that there is more to this than a sick and sorrowful mind. To label him as terrorism is giving credit to the same sick minds murdering innocents in the Middle East.

But let us all take heed that evil can only exist when we fail to speak out against it.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Meet the Elites: Business.

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

Now let’s talk about the real aristocracy in Canada. These are the nobles. They direct the troops that dig our mines, produce products, market the goods, merchandise wares, account for our monies and provide services that all add up to our gross domestic product. It is the chief executives that are the elites of business and they know who they are. They measure their successes in our productivity, their company’s bottom line and their remuneration.

Their strength is in the approbation of the stock market and the wealthy for their quarterly earnings, for the acceptance of their brand, the jobs they provide and for their support of their community.

While there are those who worry about the ownership of these businesses, it really only matters that they act as a good citizen where they do business. Three of the top paid Canadian chief executives are George Cope of Bell, Nadir Mohammed of Rogers and J.R. Shaw of Shaw, the largest communications and media companies in English Canada—that are restricted to Canadian ownership. Each of the three has earned the anger of Canadians for their companies perceived rapacious pricing, immunity to customer concerns and resistance to the regulatory surveillance of the Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunication Commission (CRTC).

But it hardly matters what we peons think of them. They also have the power of the Business Council of Canada behind them. Run today by former Liberal cabinet minister John Manley, the Business Council is a self-appointed cabal of business leaders who exert ongoing influence on the federal government and provincial governments as well.

The Business Council goes far beyond supporting the goals of the individual companies. It proposes policy directions and international trade objectives for the government on behalf of its members. It lobbies for more free trade deals and open borders for business. Its proposals are mainly political and on the right of centre. The council served as a cheerleader when the federal cabinet recently approved the expansion of the American Kinder Morgan pipeline to Burnaby, B.C. Pressure works.

We should always remember that it is regulation that ensures the quality of the food we eat. It is standards that keep costs of needed goods within reach of our pay cheque. It is the breadth and access to education that builds our future. And it is strong and effective government that enables us to drive on safe highways that are properly policed and have emergency services when needed. Good government provides a good life.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Meet the Elites: The One Per Cent.

Sunday, January 8th, 2017

If anyone ever got a bad rap, it is Canada’s one per cent. This group of Canadians is supposed to control about 50 per cent of the country’s wealth and is divided between old money and new money. And there is constant conflict between the old and new. It is simplest to divide them into the ‘benefactors’ and the ‘scourges.’

The benefactors are basically old money that has survived generations by carefully protecting and building the capital. Both the Toronto-based Thomson and Weston families fit into this category. They are considered benefactors because of the charitable foundations this group often create to control charitable giving and to ensure the maximization of tax benefits.

With wealth comes privilege and these people sit on the right boards of both business and charities. They attend the right galas as their children attend the right schools. They are part of the community and stay in plain sight.

The scourges, on the other hand, are the newer wealth that cares little for the communities and people earning their wealth for them. They prefer gated communities and obscurity. This group brings to mind the fortune that K.C. Irving ripped out of New Brunswick and took with him to the Bahamas. His will was reported to stipulate that his sons had access to the billions only if they left the province.

Stephen B. Roman of Denison Mines was also in this category. His generosity seemed to be mainly in seeking to buy politicians and succor for his immortal soul at his tomb east of Ontario Highway 404 under the golden domes of the Slovak Cathedral of the Transfiguration of our Lord.

It is hard to measure Canada’s one per cent beyond the few obvious billionaires. Not that many lists are produced. Our prime minister barely makes the list of millionaires despite the inherited family wealth of the Trudeau’s that has been passed down from Justin Trudeau’s grandfather.

But the point of this is that we can hardly blame the one per cent for being wealthy. It is what they do with the wealth that matters. There are well meaning people with wealth and there are the skin-flints. They are all human. Our politicians are obviously doing a very poor job of making sure that the wealth of Canadians stays in Canada. And there are too many tax loopholes letting them keep more of their wealth than they should.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Meet the Elites: The News Media.

Saturday, January 7th, 2017

It has always come as a surprise to us that the news media could think of themselves as one of society’s elites. (And just because Donald Trump says it, does not make it so.)

But there is a growing distrust of the news media that is hard to deny. We cannot speak as knowledgably of the American scene but the distrust in Canada is there for all to see. It is in the corporate dominance of English television by Bell, Rogers and Shaw, the weaseling of the Postmedia chain of newspapers, the omnipotence of Péladeau’s Quebecor newspapers and television network in Quebec and the steady dismantling of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Radio Canada that worries Canadians.

It seems a little out of touch for news people to consider themselves among the elite when already close to half their numbers are competing for work at call centres. And with Postmedia and its Sun newspapers acquisition already on the wrong side of bankruptcy, it looks like Chairman Paul Godfrey has received his last million-dollar bonus.

But the major concern with this media elitism was obvious many years ago when we were on a panel discussing the news media with among others the editor of the Ottawa Citizen. It was when we mentioned that the parliamentary Press Gallery reporters got their best leads from the reporter on the next bar stool, the editor got angry. What must have made him angrier is that the remark got good coverage in the Ottawa news media—including a Citizen reporter in the audience.

But this media elitism is obvious today when you check out the political discussion panels on television. They are mainly news media interviewing news media about what the politicians mean by what they are saying. They rarely seem to ask the politician.

It is also the source of the media problems that needs to be understood. When in the early 20th Century radio challenged print and magazines, print rose to the challenge and became more colorful and aggressive. When television came in the second half of the century, radio had to change and print media had to offer a more in-depth product.

It was the Internet and cell phones that joined the mix at the end of 20th Century that brought us to where we are today. Print has tried to adapt to the Internet and the various platforms but has still to arrive at the right formula. Radio has become an automobile and elevator background noise and the Internet has been swallowing more and more of the advertising dollars.

And where are our media elites? They are writing tweets and making video clips for YouTube. Being an elite in modern life is fleeting.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Tom Clark, we are going to miss you.

Monday, January 2nd, 2017

That has to be some kind of a make-up or lighting trick. How can Global Television’s Tom Clark look so young and yet admit to 40 years in broadcasting? When he announced his retirement on his New Year’s day West Block program, it came as a surprise.

But having been there for Tom’s remarkable career has always been a pleasure. His father, Joe Clark was a friend of ours. Joe was our predecessor as head of communications with the Ontario Liberals and proved to be an excellent mentor.

As a young reporter, Tom always had insight into the Liberal Party. In his lengthy career with John Bassett’s CFTO and the CTV network, Tom brought integrity and objectivity to the news. We can think back to one incident back in those early years where a fractious CBC news staff and CFTO news staff were fighting over first coverage of a story and we had to admire Tom’s ability to dance out of the way. He won both ways by staying free of the fray and getting the interview that the others were fighting over.

We can admit now that Tom was also an excellent choice as a trainer when we were teaching business people how to handle television interviews. Bringing in a guest journalist always gave the training authenticity and Tom was sympathetic to their problems and gave the business people good advice.

And few could blame him for walking out on CTV back when stalwart Lloyd Robertson retired and Tom was passed over for the promotion to lead anchor in favour of Lisa LaFlamme. Tom had travelled in too many war zones and the world’s trouble spots following the news to be set aside. His outstanding reporting from Washington alone had earned him the top spot.

Tom also did an excellent job with Global Television over the past seven years. His West Block show on Sunday was a must-watch. We should admit though that we never liked the Plane Talk episodes where he took politicians for a ride while the cameras rolled. Despite being ex-air force, we have never liked flying in anything smaller than a Boeing 747. The small plane proved distracting.

Tom Clark’s high-calibre brand of journalism will be missed.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Spreading stupid stuff on the Internet.

Saturday, December 10th, 2016

You have got to be kidding! Are there that many people who actually believe what they read on the Internet? As someone who was accessing databases on remote computers before the Internet became a reality, you learned to never accept any information without considering the source and why they posted the information. And if Donald Trump does not stop tweeting, someone should do him a favour and make the White House a ‘No Twit’ zone.

But what is really disturbing is that people are believing things like blogs. Blogs are not news. Blogs are, at best, opinions. The individuals who write in these personal spaces are sharing their opinion about their world. Whether our opinions are valid is for you to decide. There are no guarantees.

It is like in the early newspapers. In North America, many newspapers were created to support a political party or the objectives of a community of interest. Even today, we have large dailies with political opinions. We even have radio and television networks that do not keep their political bias out of their news articles and programming.

Even when a large and relatively respected news organization is behind an article on their web site, it does not mean that the writer is not letting personal bias paint the story.

There is also the reader’s bias. Years ago, an older gentleman was asking me about something he read in his daily newspaper. It only made sense when he produced the original item. It was discovered that he was reading the Letters-to-the-Editor, thinking they were news items.

But nobody wants to see an Internet that is rigidly controlled and edited. They might try to do that in some totalitarian regimes but our communities are far better off with a free and open Internet. We might need some parental controls on it but any limitations will be at the cost of our freedoms.

We are entitled to read the differing opinions and to make up our own minds as to what is of interest and what we believe. And just because some of us will not waste our time on Facebook or Twitter, it does not mean we do not understand the social media. What people need to do is always question the source of information. There are many sources that want to manipulate for their reasons—not ours.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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The slippery slide to sophistry.

Monday, December 5th, 2016

Not all communications from readers are complimentary. There was a reader the other day who accused us of the dastardly use of comma splices. It was only by Googling ‘comma splice’ that we found out the nature of the problem. It seems we were being pilloried for using commas where you really need a colon or semi-colon.

The specific complaint was about our comments on a television interview with Conrad Black. As you might know, Lord ‘Cross-the-Pond’ has a penchant for ‘veddy-veddy’ correct grammar. He acts like he was the guy who taught the late Henry Fowler ‘Modern English Usage.’

But what the former newspaper publisher does not understand is that there is no standard for English in Canada. And there is ample evidence of the disarray this has caused. It used to be that Canadian Press would try to help news editors but fewer newspapers subscribe to Canadian Press services today. Periodically University English Departments try to do something but nobody appears very interested.

And from once being the bulwark of English language pronunciation in Canada, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation seems to have surrendered to Americanized mumbling. (We actually woke up the wife the other evening by shouting: “Did you hear what Peter Mansbridge just said?

“So, what,” she mumbled and went back to sleep. It was some minor mispronunciation that you might have expected from an American announcer but never from the CBC’s lead guy.)

But who cares. The only reason you want to have a standard is so that people can understand each other. Americans figured that out years ago and decided they did not want to be understood. Never, ever try to get into an argument with an Alabaman and a Bostonian at the same time. It will drive you nuts!

Even the English stopped talking the same language many years ago; after giving the world a common language for science and international air travel. English was the ideal alternative to Esperanto.

Anyone who relies just on their computer’s spell check operation is very foolish. And, by the way, anyone who chooses to capriciously argue the case is guilty of sophistry.

But we responded to our critic with an appropriate ‘mia culpa.’ We told him that we really do try to edit our work, though not always successfully. We had looked at the original copy of the Conrad Black piece and felt embarrassed by the colons and semi-colons that were used. It was as though Conrad had written it himself. So, we followed normal newspaper practice today and changed them all to commas.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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