Monday, December 31, 2007

Random Predictions for 2008

  1. Convergys diversifies and opens a call girl centre in St. John's.

  2. Cruise ship tourism will increase as word spreads that the rich color of St. John's harbour is rust from sunken German U-boats from WWII.

    Tourists inquire about harbour diving expeditions of the "wrecks".

  3. An extra lane is added to several city streets just for the Tim Horton's drive-thru line ups.

  4. You're going to get a gas tax break at the pumps because there is a small chance the price of gas may rise this year, just maybe.

  5. Danny Williams will change his ABC slogan to ABH, Anybody But Hearn, after Hearn's latest remarks about knowing the "inside scoop" on the 8th floor.

  6. There will be more tourists staying at B & B's and hotels, causing net Inn migration.

  7. There will be more transparency in government. Apparently Staples had a huge boxing day sale on overhead transparencies, and they sold like hotcakes to government.

  8. Labrador adopts the song "We'll Rant and We'll Roar Like True Newfoundlanders" as its regional anthem.

  9. Banks will take away all the ATM fees. Remember Jack Layton pressuring federal finance minister Jim Flaherty to encourage Canada's banks to drop ATM fees? Well the banks will finally cave because they know how fresh that idea still is in the publics mind.

  10. Prime Minister Stephen Harper will absolutely, totally deliver on his equalization promise to Newfoundland and Labrador because he feels so bad, and because Quebec wants it that way, because they gave NL a crappy option on the Upper Churchill, and feel guilty about it after all these years.

  11. St. John's will lose it's city with the highest obesity rate (36.4%) in Canada status because

    well, the tax dollars are rolling in with the St. John's economy on fire after all, and

    because Mayor Andy Wells will care enough about the citizens of St. John's and the 1000's of students who walk the life-threatening streets each day (and who contribute to the local economy), to invest in serious sidewalk snow clearing, and hence peoples' health. (oh yeah, there is also a Royal visit coming up and the Queen wants a city tour, in winter)

  12. Karlheinz Schreiber gets his own reality tv show (Karlheinz Catch-up) which has him hire ex-Prime Ministers, and pay them cash, which they will store in a safety deposit boxes for 5-6 years without earning interest.

  13. Federal and provincial levels of government will invest in the largest public education program ever to teach money-managing skills to youth in elementary, high school and post-secondary schools; and to educate the public about all harmful ingredients in food.

    The health care system will project a saving of $5 billion over 10 years. As a consequence banks will experience smaller profits due to better student money managing habits, decreased student loan need, and fewer credit cards being issued to students.

    As well, food companies will experience smaller profits because people will start avoiding dangerous foods.
    (Ok, that one's a joke, had to throw it in there ... (snicker) giving too much useful information to people where it potentially hurts big industry's interests .. yeah, right )

  14. Spring will start early this year, March 21.

Monday, December 24, 2007

No Offence, but Merry Christmas

Some shopping centres in some of the country's bigger cities took down "Merry Christmas" and replaced it "Happy Holidays", so that non-Christians won't be offended. Before the political correctness factor popped up some years back, either greeting, plus others, were typical without one giving a second thought to it. There's a sense, to me at least, that using neutral greetings like "Happy Holidays" is equated with "knowing better". Memorial Universitys greeting on Christmas Eve is "Best Wishes for Personal Growth in the New Year." Nothing wrong with that or other neutral greetings. On many Canadian Universities, you won't find the word Christmas on the front pages at least. On this Christmas Eve some have no acknowledgment of Xmas or the "holiday season" at all, and some have "Seasons Greetings".

There is nothing inherently offensive about saying Merry Christmas. It really just means "good wishes to you", or "enjoy the Christmas holidays". With over 70% of Canadians being Christian of some stripe, there's a good chance the greeting Merry Christmas will resonate with most. The fact is that Dec. 25 exists, it's a birthday of a special and good person, and from what little we do know, he lived an exemplary life, which is cause for celebration. You don't have to be religious to appreciate that.

Many public organizations like tv stations, universities, and governments will say something more general or nothing. From their point of view I guess it is less confusing to avoid a specific religious greeting as they could get pressure from other religions to display a specific religious greeting for their special times of year. Then it can get more complicated since the number of occasions can become numerous and imposing on broadcast and web space.

On the other hand, one could ask, "what makes the holiday?" Answer: Christmas, so why not say "Merry Christmas". The Telegram did today.

There are people who don't care for any type of organized religion, and those that grew up with the tradition and still partake to some degree or other. If you see or hear a greeting that does not apply to you, ignore it. Different religions have their own special days, and accordingly they like to wish each other some related greeting. That sure doesn't offend me. They can display it any window, or say it anywhere. No offense taken. If Walmart wants to display "Happy Hanukkah", "Happy Eid", or "Happy Diwali", that's perfectly fine. These holidays don't apply to me but they do apply to someone, and everyone is entitled to celebrate whatever it is that is important to them.

In a multi-cultural society, it's a given that there are special days to all. "Merry Christmas" should not be viewed any differently.

What is offensive is hearing on radio stations, "Don't worry, you still have "X" number of weeks to shop." If anything should go, that's it. However, as long as the word "Christmas" keeps selling stuff for business we'll be hearing that again. Anyway, don't worry, there will be 10 months to go before you hear that again, 11 if we're lucky.

Merry Christmas (i.e., best wishes) and have a safe holiday.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

With Barrels of Extra Oil Revenues We Should be Pumping More Into Nurses

It's Christmas, and Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will pump $100's of millions into the economy to keep the business community afloat. We don't have enough nurses, but there's lots of money floating around everywhere. This year, Newfoundland & Labrador hit the jackpot with crude revenues helping to more than triple the projected provincial surplus of $261 million. On Dec. 10, Finance Minister Tom Marshall announced that the projected surplus was $881 million. Yet, our health system, and people are suffering because of a continued shortage of nurses.

The latest nurse news is from St. Lawrence. There is a nursing shortage there. In fact on the Burin Peninsula, there are actually 95 nursing positions "to boot", and 20 are still unfilled. The problems are workload, money and job security.

Nurses in Newfoundland and Labrador currently earn between $45,000 and $82,000 a year.

The nurses union says those are the lowest wages in the country, $8 an hour less than nurses in Ontario. - Debbie Forward, President, nurses union

Though measures have been taken by government to encourage new graduates to stay in NL, it does not seem to be enough. Forward also wants the government to commit to jobs for new graduates and to step up recruitment efforts.

This is not a new problem. Here's a similar problem in 1999 when there was a nurses strike:

They want more full time positions created to deal with what most everyone agrees are overworked conditions for nurses. And finally they want more money. Nurses in Newfoundland are the lowest paid in the country. (CBC NL)

There is reason for optimism though. Last month the NL government announced that they will begin negotiations on a new nursing contract months earlier than was originally scheduled.

Earlier this fall an emergency room crisis at the St. John's Health Sciences Centre caused a commotion, which led to more nursing staff hired on there. We could use more nurses, and more incentives to keep them here. With $100's of millions from oil being pumped into the economy, there are barrels of opportunities to pump more into nurses, getting hired and staying here.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Bad Xmas Gift Ideas II

  • "How to Become Good in Bed When You're So Pathetic & Useless"
  • "How to do Simple Everyday Things, for Dummies"
  • "'Twas the Night Before Daddy sauntered in Loaded and Ruined another Christmas"
  • "Under the Table: How to Avoid Paying Taxes on Income" by Brian Mulroney

  • Mulroney / Karlheinz Schreiber Snakes & Leaders game
  • Sponge Karlheinz Schreiber Square Pants
  • The Game of Trouble Shooting: Find the Missing DLL files for new Software
    (fun for the whole family including nan and pop)
  • The Token Corporate Community Donation Game: Who can donate more than corporate giants

  • An Eye Pod
  • The Rebuilt Commodore 64 Computer System

  • A Will Kit
  • Electric Bagpipes
  • Major League Baseball Steriod Injection Kit
  • $50 Gas Fill-up Gift Certificate (use immediately)
  • The Q-Ray Contraceptive Bracelet
  • Kelloggs Stool Softener
  • Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Sings Yiddish & Chrismas Classics with Stephen Spielberg
  • Mike Tyson' Riverdance Video
  • Home pregnancy test Barbie, and School Bully Ken

    See also Bad Xmas Gift Ideas for Kids

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Writer of "White Christmas" Did Not Live Here

"I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" is the chorus in the best selling single of all time, "White Christmas", written by Irving Berlin.

Berlin, born in Russia (Belarus), wrote the song in 1940, by a poolside spa in hot Arizona. He must have been a long time removed from the hardships of winter - shovelling, freezing cold, scraping, trudging.
Winter unofficially ended 7, maybe 8 months ago here. Sure, it is literally pretty, but the reality of winter is for many, a nightmare. Images of winter appear quaint to many in warmer climates, and that is easily appreciated.

The refrain, however, "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas", can sound absurd to someone who lives here. It equates to a northerner writing, "I'm Dreaming of a Swarm of Locusts", or, "I'm Dreaming of a Small Earthquake, or a series of Hurricanes", "... just like the ones I used to know..."

For wishers of a white Xmas, dream no more. For anyone hoping for an early end to winter, keep dreaming.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Sending Out an S.O.S. - Message in a Bottle

In April this year, bisphenol A, a chemical used in plastic containers and in cans, got major media scrutiny, as it had been identified as a dangerous substance that is found in drinking bottles and many other children's and household containers. Bisphenol A has been linked to cancer and reproductive problems in animals. The Globe ran a story on it, but you can not access it without paying, so here is some key information from that article that is worth re-iterating:

Low amounts of bisphenol A have been suspected to be associated with:
  • the early onset of puberty
  • declining sperm counts
  • and the huge increase in breast and prostate cancer

In April, it looked like this chemical would surely be in the news again, and affect the bottling and canning industry. Today, and several days ago, bisphenol A has indeed gotten more national attention. This is good news. The lead story on the Yahoo Canada home page is "Canadian retail chain pulls plastic water bottles".

Vancouver-based Mountain Equipment Co-op became the first major Canadian retailer to stop selling products that contain bisphenol A over fears the chemical can leach from plastic food and water containers.

"Inconclusive science and regulatory uncertainty presently surrounds bisphenol-A (BPA)," the company said in a statement.

Here are a couple of extra pieces of information of interest from the Yahoo site:

Besides hard-plastic water bottles, bisphenol A is also used in some baby bottles and the linings of some food cans, including most major brands of infant formula, according to a study co-released this week by Environmental Defence Canada and the Washington-based Environmental Working Group.

"We have study after study showing that this chemical is toxic,... and there are safe and available alternatives that are affordable, (ed. emphasis)" said Aaron Freeman, policy director of Environmental Defence Canada.

Another piece of promising news is the federal government's creation of a chemical substance web site. Harper's government appear to failing in the eyes of the world on its role in climate change. However, some credit to them, on what appears to be the right direction in protecting Canadians from harmful substances. From CTV on Saturday,

The government has pledged $300 million towards assessing 200 potentially harmful substances on the market, and regulate the most toxic within the next few years.

Here is a list of other potentially hazardous substances listed on the government chemical substance web site as Chemical Substances of Interest to Canadians.

Here's more on bisphenol A from the Gov. of Canada web site.

There is a number 1 - 7 system used on bottle bottoms to represent what kind of plastic is in it. Check the number at the bottom of bottles for information on what type of bottle you're using. Bisphenol A is a polycarbonate bottle, that is # 7 on the bottom of the bottle. Here's a link for more detailed information on what these numbers mean. No. 1 bottles should never be reused.

Pop drinks like Coke, add bisphenol A to the linings of cans to prolong shelf life. It helps make food and beverage companies extremely rich and is dangerous for people at the same time.

Hmm, there are messages in the bottles. See if you have unlucky 7. Bottoms up.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Remembering John Lennon

December 9th was such a strange day in a way. The previous night a prolific creator of new exciting, inventive and melodic music, who was blessed with a unique, interestingly engaging voice, was shot and killed. As a post-high school student at the time, the day after started normally. Oddly, throughout the whole day, no one mentioned it, no talk from instructors or fellow students. But upon seeing the Telegram's headline after the 5 o'clock class, shock, sadness and disbelief immediately set in. It was inconceivable, 40 year old Lennon dead by gunshot. Could this be a reporting mistake in the paper? Well, supper time news confirmed it, as the story was the story for days. It was way too early for old film clips of the Beatles concerts or press conferences to be replayed as part of an obituary for one of them, but yet, there it was.

He had just released a double album, the first release of new material in five years, and was planning to do a follow-up tour in 1981. Lennon by this time had also written enough material for another album. Since the Beatles broke up in 1970, the world wanted them to reunite. For years bitter court disputes, and some hard feelings between the lads after the breakup, had dashed any possibility of them reuniting. However, after the mid-70's John Lennon and Paul McCartney were becoming a little closer. It was possible that had he lived there may have been a Beatles reunion in some way, either new recorded music, or a concert, or tour. In a 1974 video-taped interview with a friend, Elliott Mintz, he said that it was possible that there was a good chance that the Beatles as a group would some day, make music together.

(Actually, that same year, there was a recording with John and Paul singing together. It was not a polished piece of serious music business, rather, the two along with Stevie Wonder and some other friends jammed and did a cover of Lucille, and a couple of other songs. It was rough, but interesting to hear Lennon & McCartney sing in the same room after the break-up.)

A few years ago, a British survey revealed that the majority of British people considered Lennon's voice to the the greatest of all time. That opinion differs from place to place and from time to time. But there is some quality about his voice that is clear, identifiable, and convincing. He could be a soft singer as in the perfect "Across the Universe", "In My Life" or "A Day in the Life". Or it could be powerful, partially raspy, with a controlled screechy kind of scream as in "Revolution" or their cover of "Twist and Shout". A song of his could have soft voice sections, and at different times seque into a passionate, throaty "screech", while still being a clearly enunciated expression, as in the refrain, "Don't Let Me Down", or "I'm So Tired". He sang with conviction.

Combined with catchy, upbeat but sometimes interestingly but strangely arranged music compositions as in "I Am the Walrus" or "Tomorrow Never Knows", Lennon's voice completed the high quality of each song. Together, Paul McCartney and John Lennon sang in perfect harmony. Their voices both incredibly strong, and unique, blended on so many high notes, as in "Ticket to Ride" to strike an emotional string in the listener. It was mesmerizing musical magic. All four Beatles had unique and distinct voices, but John and Paul's together complimented so perfectly to make beauty from sound.

He gave the world wonderful music, a fascinating voice, and peaceful words. Lennon was ahead of his time when it came to marketing peace - spending a honeymoon in a hotel room with the world's media around to get people talking and thinking about peace. He wrote the simple sounding but sweet "Imagine" with political change in mind, and later admitted to Rolling Stone magazine, "now I know how to make social and political statements in song, accepted - sweeten it with honey." John Lennon was a complex and very creative person, a clever writer and music maker. He left fantastic music, while reminding the world that peace and understanding is possible.

Monday, December 03, 2007

"Calm" After the Storm

Cape Spear, just a few miles from St. John's, is an exciting place to be when the winds are in the right direction (easterly), or like today, after an early winter storm, with the Atlantic churned up.
(Note: not sure why users get a prompt to save pics - will try and fix)

Some Drivers Need to Learn to Drive

Every day without fail there are people running red lights, speeding, weaving, tailgating, whizzing by pedestrians waiting at crosswalks. It has been happening forever in the old capital city of St. John's, but in just this year alone, there seems to be an increase in mania on the local drag strips cross-town arterials and city streets.
There is a low unemployment rate in the city, and possibly more workers, but there does not need to be reckless driving. Yet, the risks of accidents, injuries and possibly death, to me, seems to be rising. With only 100s of metres between many of the red lights, you would think "why rush and push, be patient", but in reality it's as if WWIII has started and panic has set in. The Mario Andrettis in the city should find a more appropriate drag strip to play race car driver, or, leave for work earlier, before someone gets hurt or killed.

Careful out there folks, these are dangerous times. There's an improving economy, but there are many break-ins and serious crimes, much drug-related, and on top of that, the Christmas economy booster rockets have fired, and drivers are out in droves. To the road racers, slow down, relax, the world is not ending tomorrow, and God-speed.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Car Prices: People Power Making a Wheel Difference

It looks like there is so much cross-border car shopping that Canadian car dealers are starting to make efforts to win customers back (see CBC video report).
Since November 2007, reports had Honda Canada offering incentives on some Civic, Accord and Pilot models, ranging from $1,500 to $5,500 if you pay cash.

Used car prices in general in Canada are also dropping. That's because there has been a record number of imported vehicles from the U.S.
Canadians imported 24,873 vehicles in October alone - a 68 per cent jump over September's numbers and twice as many as in October 2006

The high number of used imports is creating a surplus of used cars for sale in Canada and hence driving down prices, at least on the mainland. It is still wise to compare U.S. prices before the big decision to buy from a Canadian dealer. See a couple of recent car price comparisons here.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Bad Christmas Gift Ideas for Kids

You may want to think twice before buying the ..
  • Hooked on Foniks Ready to Reed System
  • Type ll Diabetes Ken
  • Obesity Barbie
  • Processed Food Sodium Booster 6-Pack
  • Robbie Bubble Pretend Alcohol Power Drink
  • Barbie as Britney Spears Doll (now with 50% less lead)
  • Lead Zeppelin Heavy Metal PJs (Made in China)
  • Baby Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's 'Holocaust Didn't Happen' storybook.
  • Cabbage Nicotine-Patch Doll
  • Stéphane Dion non-Action Figure
  • "The Wisdom of George Bush" written by Mrs. Bush
  • 'Twas The Night Before the Horrific Day of Shopping at Walmart and other Hellish Zoos

    The following Tickle Me Elmo knock-off dolls have been taken off the market:

  • Tickle Me Hitler
  • Tickle Me Harper
  • Tickle Me Bush

Sell also Bad Xmas Gift Ideas II

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Car Buyers Beware: Compare with U.S. Price First

Canadian car dealers are charging much more than U.S. dealers for same model vehicles. When the Canadian dollar is on par with the American dollar, or as it has been in recent weeks, even stronger, you can really compare apples to apples, or for the unfortunate souls described here, lemons to lemons.

Compare the 2008 Mitsubishi Eclipse Coupe GS for example:

5 speed manual transmission


Total Selling Price $ 27,493

(click GS for detailed view)


Total Selling Price $ 20,254

Save $ 7,239

Compare the Sunroof and Sound Option price
$ 3,300
$ 1,850
Save $ 1,450

Compare the Honda Accord Sedan

Starting Price

$ 25,090

Starting Price

$ 20,360

Save $ 4,730

That's over $ 7,000 more to buy the Eclipse from a Canadian dealer, and
$ 4,730 more for the Civic Sedan in Canada. What gives? There is a discussion at the Ottawa Business Journal on this issue. The price difference is huge and can hurt sales for Canadian and local dealerships. They may want to consider better deals as people start comparing Canadian and U.S. prices. Nobody likes being gouged.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Experts say There's No Fuel Shortage; Reduced Demand; and "Energy Militants" are a Big Factor in Price of Fuel

For non-expert mortals like this blogger, the factors affecting gas and oil increases can be a confusing and complex mix of information. We often hear about the huge growth in the Chinese and Indian economies, and how their demand for oil and gas is continually rising. We also relentlessly hear about how world conflicts affect oil prices, because it could disrupt the supply of oil. Oil is close to $100 a barrel now. Local fuel price prognosticator, George Murphy, provides a regular heads-up on price changes. His forecast for the coming winter and summer is, not surprisingly, dismal. On his blog he outlines factors that influence prices - one of which is international political volatility. However, according to this Globe & Mail article, the overall international demand for energy has been reduced three times in recent months by 901,000 barrels a day. One might wonder, "shouldn't prices be falling?"

In the Globe story, and it's no big surprise, several oil industry analysts say that the current environment of rising fuel costs is largely generated by geopolitical fear speculation. Michael Economides says that "Energy Militants" such as Iran's mullahs, Russia's Putin, and Venezuela's Chavez, use their energy resources as weapons, as their economies are "based on high oil prices". (3 years ago Economides predicted that oil would reach $100/barrel)

"He also dismissed as irrelevant refinery and other shutdowns that news reports sometimes cite as contributors to rising prices." (Globe article)

Tim Evans of Citigroup Global Markets Inc. says that

"we are not in a situation of tight inventories or imminent supply disruption here." (Globe article)

Oil analyst Fadel Gheit at Oppenheimer & Co. in New York dismisses the current environment as a bubble.

“It's a farce, ... The speculators have seized control and it's basically a free-for-all, a global gambling hall, and it won't shut down unless and until responsible governments step in.”

“The players have solved the riddle, ... They know what is coming they can make a bet on that. It's almost like fixing the score in a sporting event.” (Globe article)

Michael Ecomonides even speculated that you would see oil at $150 a barrel if a headline read, "Israel Attacks Iran."

That area of the world has been in a continuous state of combustion for decades, so even the suggestion of events like this can certainly be used to fuel rising fuel prices. It's quite plausible for leaders like Putin and Chavez to cryptically promote through any channel that helps, like the media, suggestions that there are immediate threats to energy supplies. We've been hearing that for years, and now the price of oil is just about $100 a barrel. It certainly benefits oil selling nations and oil companies.

The huge profits from bloated oil prices won't be money in the bank for average consumers, but rather directly more money out of pocket, and less spending power for other things. For the individual it is financially hard. Someone will benefit though. The only compensation, which comes with mixed emotions, is knowing that there is a silver lining for Newfoundland and Labrador in the much higher than expected oil revenues the province will benefit from.

Oil analyst Fadel Gheit mentioned responsible government stepping in to shut down the rising price trend. In the past, there have been calls for federal and provincial governments to cut taxes on fuel. The trend sadly looks like oil will top the $100/barrel price. There may be a renewed pressure on governments to give people a break at the pumps, but with overflowing tax profits, it may fall on deaf ears.

In the meantime, here's a suggestion. For Christmas, that spending/giving time of year, wrap up a gas station gift certificate for that special someone. It's a gift they're sure to use, and it just keeps on getting more valuable. So don't be embarrassed when you tell someone, "this Christmas, I gave my better half gas" - they'll thank you at the pumps. One way or another, it's hard to avoid getting gas.

Here are some fuel-saving tips from a 2006 post.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Dion Quits Party

Support wasn't strong enough apparently. Oh, that's Celine Dion by the way - she cancelled a concert scheduled for Aug. next year. Media personnel are to blame - according to Dion's husband and manager, Rene Angelil - radio and newspapers comments continually insulted her. Angelil quoted specific reporters. One, David Rodeniser, said, "Oh, no. Say it ain't so. Celine Dion is our big Concert on the Common news? What could be more of a letdown?" Rodeniser responded by pointing out positive things he also mentioned in his comments. (see CTV story and reader comments here)

CD apparently performed there four previous times, so perhaps the "Dions" are a bit touchy this time. Otherwise, it could cost the city of Halifax a couple of million dollars in revenue. It didn't help that negative comments about her were given public space, but, that's freedom of the press, and it would be much worse to cancel that.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Historian Janice Stein has Kind Words for Gen. Rick Hillier

In a special Globe and Mail section yesterday, Janice Stein answered some questions from readers about Afghanistan, politicians and Gen. Hillier. While she noted that policy regarding Canada's stay in that country should be determined by civilian leadership, Hillier did not overstep his bounds by publicly saying that the mission could take another decade. There appeared to be support for Hillier from readers as well. Here are a couple of responses from Janice Stein:

Gen. Hillier is an inspirational leader, respected and admired by soldiers serving in Afghanistan as well as many others who serve in Canada.

He has the capacity to connect to officers and enlisted men/women, and he is certainly the most effective "communicator" the Canadian Forces have had for decades.

His leadership matters enormously to those who are serving in Afghanistan.

She says Hillier made a military expert comment about how long the mission would take, and that's the type of information that policy makers need to make an informed decision on.

Gen. Hillier is obligated to speak privately to the civilian leadership about Canada's capacity to execute operations and about the conditions that he sees in Kandahar.

When he is asked publicly to comment about these issues, I think that it is important for him to share his informed analysis. This is what he has done.

It is not appropriate for a Chief of Defence Staff to advocate policy — such as, should Canada stay in Afghanistan after February 2009 or leave — and this he has not done.

In practice, these clear lines can blur and sometimes create difficulties.

On balance, however, Canada benefits from a clear and forthright analysis by Canada's military leaders, analysis that stops short of advocacy.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Heart & Stroke Foundation Promotes Foods that Increase the Risks of Heart Attacks & Strokes

This symbol
is Misleading. It should be seen more as a warning than an endorsement of a food product.

When it is somehow allowed to be placed on an advertisement for a burger, a juice with much higher sugar levels than pop, then you know something's wrong.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation (HSF) promotes a Health Check program that is supposed to recommend food products that are beneficial, and not harmful to a person's health.

From the HSF article entitled, Judge a food by its label, is this statement about the Health Check symbol:
The Health Check symbol on menus is designed to help you make healthier meal choices when you are away from home.

On the contrary, and this is appalling, the Health Check stamp is getting stamped on products that are excessively unhealthy, and increase the risks of cancer, obesity, strokes, heart attacks, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.

The HSF is a volunteer-based health charity, that is regularly seen in public ads. They have done great work in raising research funds - $90 million in 2005, and as it says on their splendid web site, they promote healthy living. It does not fit the image or the otherwise good work that this huge organization does, to be endorsing foods that cause the very illnesses they fight against.

Dr. Yoni Freedhoff is a specialist in obesity and weight loss. He was consulted by journalist Wendy Mesley for last weeks broadcast of Markeplace, which reported on sodium in food.

His blog, Weighty Matters, gives the scoop on the Heart and Stroke Foundations Health Check program. This current blog post is spreading the word about the revelations posted at Weighty Matters. Dr. Freedhoff's evidence-based information backs up his assertions that the practices of the Health Check program is unethical and misleading. (for future reference check his November, 2007 archives)

The criteria for a food product getting the coveted Health Check stamp is that the product has to meet the Canadian Food Guide standard. There's a big problem - the Food Guide that is still being used is 15 years old, has been criticized as deficient, and therefore, drops the standards so that many unhealthy meats, drinks, and children's food products, can get the Health Check symbol.

In light of the major study released just over a week ago that showed the relationship between red meats, high sodium level, and cancer, many of the foods that are endorsed by the Heart and Stroke Foundation are detrimental to one's health.

As Dr. Freedhoff points out,

"Health Check, the Heart and Stroke Foundation's program that with their little logo, steers patients to products in a manner that they promote as,"

when you choose foods with the Heart and Stroke Foundation Health Check symbol, it's like shopping with their dietitians.

This is what people want to hear alright. People want to trust national health organizations.

Health Check's CEO Sally Brown, pointed out that "products must comply with nutrient criteria based on Canada's Food Guide."

That sounds great too.

Unfortunately, what sounds good is not what it seems. The Canada Food Guide that Ms Brown refers to is the 1992 Canada Food Guide. That, according to Freedhoff, "even Health Canada recognized as being deficient and behind the times."

A revised version was released in February of 2007 - "slightly less woefully deficient" (Dr. Freedhoff).

You would think that the criteria has also changed for applications for products to get Health Checks. The Heart and Stroke Foundation site says that the criteria will be revised and they hope to finish their revisions "in the next few months." It's 9 months since, and no revised criteria.

Why the hesitation? Work overload? Laziness? A cozy relationship with big meat and food companies? Money? Possibly. This is interesting - the Health Check program generates over $3 million annually.

From the good doctor's blog:
Perhaps it is that $3,000,000 annually, a $3,000,000 that has explicitly purchased the Health Check seal, that prevents Sally Brown from explaining how it is the Heart and Stroke dietitians are unable to state that in fact red meat's not healthy, that refined flours lead to metabolic syndrone, that sugar contributes to calories which contributes to obesity, that using cartoon characters to promote nutritionally deficient foods to children is wrong ...

Even though there is a small print disclaimer on ads, saying "this is not an endorsement", the Heart and Stroke Foundation actually brags about it.

With ground beef burgers being one of the most popular meats in the summer months, having the Health Check symbol in place now helps consumers understand that lean and extra lean ground beef can be part of a healthy diet.

The Health Check symbol is a powerful label, with magnetic product-selecting effects on the consumer. Food companies know this. In fact, in a 2004 research study, an HSF dietitian, Carole Dombrow said,

65% of consumers recognized the Health Check logo as meaning the food is
'nutritious', 'healthy', good for you', or 'approved by the Heart and Stroke Foundation.' Sixty-eight percent agreed with the statement: 'I can rely on Health Check to help me make healthy food choices.'

Here's an example of one the "healthy food choices" that Health Check endorses for kids:
Disney's Buss Lightyear Milk Buddies - a sugar sweetened milk beverage.

It has 22 grams of sugar per serving along with 140 calories. That' 5.5 teaspoons of sugar per 200 ml. Drop per drop it's the same amount of sugar found in Coca Cola and almost double the calories. For an obesity specialist like Dr. Freedhoff, calories and sugar are key players in diabetes and obesity. For more examples and detail, see his post on how Health Check sells junk food to children.

Just over a week ago when the World Cancer Research Fund released the results of an extensive report which recommended no more than 500 grams of red meat a week, not surprisingly, the Big Meat industry complained about it.

In his blog post, Why the Food Guide Matters Part II, Dr. Freedhoff points out, they turned to Canada's Food Guide to defend their product.

"Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide continues to recognize red meat in the diet. The Food Guide recommends 1 to 3 servings of Meat & Alternatives per day."

Again, that guide is outdated, but still used as criteria to allow food products to get the coveted Health Check symbol.

The informative Weighty Matters blog reveals much about the HSF and the Health Check program. Dr. Yoni has written letters to them in protest, outlining specifically the harmful food products they put their label on. He continues to discuss openly with HSF representatives this whole issue, and demands answers - but the answers do not justify the actions. The HSF and Health Check are being exposed, and will lose the public's trust if they continue to promote foods that lead to strokes, heart attacks, diabetes, cancer and other medical problems. Right now the Health Check symbol is very misleading, and that has to change.

Monday, November 12, 2007

If you're low on sodium, go to a sit-down restaurant, that should take care of you for 2 or 3 days

Eating out is enjoyable. You don't have to cook or clean away, just sit, relax, chat, eat, drink and walk away. There's usually a wide array of choices on the menu, but what's not usually on the menu are a few basic pieces of information about the dish. As Wendy Mesley of Marketplace points out, it is very easy for restaurants to add three things after each menu item - calorie count, fat, and sodium amounts, but they don't. (it is worth seeing the whole show)

And it's not the fast food drive-thru restaurants that are the focus here. Restaurants such as Montana's, Boston Pizza, Red Lobster are some of the joints that get covered. A food chain representative tried to put a positive spin on their "nutrition information" campaign. 75% had no information available at restaurants. People were very surprised to learn how high calorie counts were. (check out this sample of typical meals calorie, fat & sodium amounts as compared to ¼ pounder burgers scroll down the page)

Here's a preview:

It was also alarming to see the extreme amount of sodium in some appetizers and the main courses. It's recommended that a person not consume more than 1500 mg of sodium a day. Many meals had over 3000 and 4000 mg of sodium. That's the type of information that's still being hidden from easy public view. Restaurants and government are not too hungry to change this. More on this in a later post.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Cutting Cancer Risk, and Health Costs

It's the kind of news there ought to be more of ... by controlling lifestyle habits, we can prevent cancers from occurring by one third. This week's announcement of a study showing the relationship between weight and risk of cancer, is very positive for anyone, and positive for governments' budgets.

It had been suspected that too much fat in our foods and bodies, too much alcohol, and not enough exercise could lead to a higher risk of cancer developing. This study (here's a related CBC video interview), is significant. A team of nine independent scientists from around the world, analyzed 7000 other related studies, over a period of five years - very comprehensive.

The main findings in the study were:
  • excess weight increases the risk of cancer
  • the consumption of alcohol, red meat and processed meat also elevates cancer risk.
Specifically the report recommends:
  • (Limiting intake of cooked red meat to about 500 grams (1.1 lbs) per week)
  • Limiting intake of high-fat and sugar-rich foods that are low in fibre, including most fast food
  • Avoiding completely bacon, ham, sausage and luncheon meats
  • Limiting alcohol to no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.
  • Limiting consumption of salt
  • Eating mostly foods of plant origin
  • Being physically active every day
  • Breastfeeding
The study had new recommendations for body mass index (BMI).
The BMI is an indirect measure of body composition, based on your height and weight.

It was surprising. According to one of the lead scientists, Dr. Phillip James, the leaner the person, the better (with limitations). His suggested weight to height ratio may seem alarming to many people. As Peter Mansbridge pointed out to him in an interview, people who appeared slim and healthy, were still over the suggested BMI number. Here is a tool to measure your own BMI. (This works in Firefox, and if it does not for IE, try this link: ) A normal BMI is between 18.5 - 24.9, i.e., the BMI with the least risk of developing cancer.

Another health news item that got wide attention in the past two weeks concerned sodium in food. A coalition of 17 health groups in Canada called for reduced sodium levels in packaged food.

(from CTV's web site) In a National Sodium Policy statement, the coalition urges the federal government to:

  • Set graduated targets for sodium levels according to food categories;
  • Monitor and report on progress by 2012 and 2016
  • Establish effective monitoring systems to track sodium levels in the diets of Canadians
  • Educate Canadians on the health risks of high dietary sodium and how to reduce consumption
  • Provide incentives to the food industry
  • Ensure health professionals understand the need to reduce dietary sodium and educate their membership about health risks and how to reduce intake

  • This is in the right direction. The story revealed that Canadians are getting far too much sodium in their diets. The recommended level for a person to get each day is no more than 1500 mg. Unfortunately, many get double that, many men, triple that. High sodium levels have been linked to coronary problems. If you don't already read food nutrition charts, it is truly worth your while to take a look at the next can of soup, pizza, beans, or any product. The sodium levels in some of these is already startingly high. A 240 ml can of Campbell's chicken soup has 890 mg of sodium - over half of the recommended amount.

    News items like the above are so welcome for the publics knowledge. More credible information like this on other foods, preservatives, colorants, and any dangerous ingredient needs to be repeated to the public. Changing dietary habits is not easy, and can take years for some to learn and make healthier lifestyle changes, so the health news and messages need to be promoted more, and continually over time.

    This will save lives, and save the troubled health care system millions. It's a win-win situation for people and government.

    There has been criticism from Canadian & American meat associations because of the potential affect the news could have on the beef, and pork industry. In the end, it will be peoples' deitary habits that determine how well any product sells. Things probably won't change much overnight for sales of these meats. In the future, however, meat producing companies may have to be content with lower sales at least domestically, but they can always look to exporting more internationally.

    For consumers, continue reading the nutrition charts on food products, get more knowledgeable about what's in processed foods, and what you're feeding your system. Is it good or harmful? Garbage in, problems later. There are 1000s of studies done every year on food effects, they may be commissioned by food companies themselves, or by an arbitrary health association, or by government. The study referenced in this post appears to be very credible, and a cut above the rest.

    The federal government in particular might want to consider putting more money into public service health announcements promoting healthy living, preventative lifestyles. The investment now, could very well save $100s of millions in the future.

    Monday, October 29, 2007

    "Elle" Presidente

    Cristina Fernández de Kirchner went from First Lady to the first lady President of Argentina. She has ample experience too - serving as senior advisor to her husband, President Nestor Kirchner, for four years, and other elected positions in the last 20 years. Both have been credited with keeping Argentia afloat as the country faced complete economic collapse with its $100 billion debt. It's an unusual combo, husband and wife that is, running the country back to back.

    In 1998, four agreements were signed in Buenos Aires by Newfoundland and Labrador companies during the Team Canada Trade Mission to South America.

    Saturday, October 27, 2007

    Albertans React Strongly to Stelmach's Royalty Plan - Support, but Plenty of Anger

    It was reported that 80% of Albertans supported Premier Ed Stelmach's royalty policy to boost the royalty amount to 20%.

    But the proposals have received overwhelming support from Albertans, with polls showing eight of ten backing a higher take. (Globe's Report on Business)

    In 2006, 84% of Albertans felt there should be a review of oil sands revenue.

    A most recent reaction, at least at the Calgary Herald "Sound Off" web page, is largely anger towards him. It would be interesting to know how many of the 200+ commenters from the Calgary Herald "Sound Off" site, had vested interests in the oil sector.

    There were a full range of views - from complete support to "let's wait and see" to complete outrage.

    The outrage had its ignoramus angles, like assuming because Premier Stelmach worked on a farm in a past career, that he couldn't possibly be capable to make wise decisions for his fellow Albertans. It's seen in references like

    "OK< can Albertans please take the farmer out of the office and put him back in the fields?",

    "what do you expect from a pig farmer?",

    It was interesting that the National Post writer, Claudia Cattaneo, made a similiar reference/inference to Mr. Stelmach's background, just a few days ago,
    The premier, a farmer from Northern Alberta, showed little appreciation for the implications of his actions, suggesting the sector will continue to thrive.

    What an ignorant attitude! Stelmach indeed worked on a farm, and also attended the University of Alberta studying pre-law, but because of a family tradegy, had to return to the family farm. He has had 11 years experience in retail business, managed on a shoestring budget, and let's not forget he served in four different portfolios including, Minister of Agriculture, and Minister of Transportation in Alberta's government (see bio). Anyway, I digress - back to comments of outrage.

    "Goodbye Ed...don't let your government pension hit you in *ss on the way out the door next election",

    "Often wonder how the people of Venezuela and Ecuador can be so uneducated to blindly fall for the arguments of Chavez and his cronies. Can't they see they're killing there own economy's? Then I look outside and see people in this province fall for the same thing. Sad.",

    "It's funny how on TV interviews, those people who wanted more from the oil companies are all barbers or cashiers or other low level uneducated workers. Gee I wonder why."

    Support references included:

    "Well Done Mr.Stelmach, it is after all the people who voted you in to act in their best interest and that you have done."

    "The increase is great for Alberta!! Alberta has one of the lowest royalty rates in the world and it's by far the safest in the world for security and for investment climate."

    "For all of you fear-mongers, think about this as an owner would. Would you really pay somebody more than 50% to extract a resource you own when you could just do it yourself? I'm all for a free-market approach, but a market is not an end in itself - societal goals are what the market serves, and so there has to be some kind of goal-setting in government to reflect societal priorities. If a few of the oil companies want to leave (and they won't), let them. When oil's really scarce a decade from now, they'll be clamouring for even 20%, never mind over 30."

    Others suggested that Premier Stelmach let the people decide on this royalty increase idea. Some say he should have asked for a higher royalty amount, while some say he is taking the middle road. From this cubicle in the Atlantic, he appears to be a level-headed Premier, who does not appear arrogant and loud, and is willing to risk, to some extent his political career, or at least some political support. Making the royalty increase policy his platform in the next Alberta election might just end this debate very quickly.

    Thursday, October 25, 2007

    Alberta's Ed Stelmach - the new Hugo Chavez?

    A couple of hours ago, Alberta's Premier Ed Stelmach went on live television to announce a new royalty regime for oil and gas developments. The new regime will put an extra $1.4 billion into Alberta coffers by 2010. This is about a 25% reduction from the recommendations of a panel set up to study the new royalty plan. A National Post editorial thinks that this is so significant that it will end Alberta's boom, and compares Alberta to "banana-republics" like Venezuela (Chavez) because it is not being friendly to big oil, in fact, starting a "new anti-oil industry" era.

    I have to wonder about how many $billions oil companies have made already from the Alberta oilsands, and how much they will still profit even with Alberta's new royalty policy. It was not stated in the NP piece. Are oil companies really just scrapping by? From reading the National Post, one might think so. How much profit is enough?

    When one hears references that the oil sector will hurt as a result, one should not necessarily view it as some poor sap of a business put out of business. Today, the Globe & Mail reported that Suncor's profits were down. It will earn a third quarter profit of $ 677 million, but that's down from $682 million from a year ago:(

    Many already think that big oil, like banks, are the poster children for greed. Like banks, oil companies are regularly making record profits in quarterly reports, and will likely "survive" Alberta's new royalty rate. Despite being a rich province that has eliminated its debt a few years back, Alberta still has problems in health care, and it's share of social problems. An extra $1.4 billion could go a long way to alleviating problems and helping secure peoples' future and well being.

    NP's Claudia Cattaneo says that the oil companies are responsible for "lining the pockets" of Alberta, but from an outside observer's point of view, it was quite reciprocal. Alberta has been very friendly with oil & gas companies, but it seems they will always have allies with Canada's "national" newspapers.

    Wednesday, October 24, 2007

    For Maple Leafs Fans

    Thankfully fall is a nice time of year, and leaf color change lingers for weeks. Here are some maple leafs, in various colors of transformation.

    Saturday, October 20, 2007

    The Ten Commandments of Spending Money

    Thou shalt spend money on things because it brings happiness, for a while.

    Thou shalt shop till thou hast dropped, because ye only live once.

    Thou shalt spend money rather than save it.

    Ye shall have no other priorities with thine money than to spend it on material things.

    Remember the Sabbath, and every other day and night, to goest out shopping.

    Honor thy credit card.

    Spend money, even if thou doest not actually have any.

    Take control of thy life, and spend money on some products and that will improve the quality of thy life, even if ye already have that product.

    Thou shalt solve financial troubles by spending money on one of the many credit card low rate solutions available.

    Forsake spending on problems like public health care and poverty, and let 99% of thine spending be on products and services that benefit oneself and the economic engine.

    Sunday, October 14, 2007

    Chrétien Sought Third Term as PM out of Spite

    When Jean Chrétien found out in the spring of 2000, that Paul Martin and his "gang of self-serving goons" had met at a Toronto airport hotel, to presumably discuss pushing Chrétien out of office, he then decided to stay on for a third term as Prime Minister of Canada. The alledged scheming by Martin and his supporters not only hurt Chrétien, but angered both him and his wife Aline. They both felt that Chretien, the PM, and the husband, was not going to give in to Martin's ambitious plans.

    This revelation is one of the highlights of a new Chrétien book, My Years as Prime Minister. Politics sure gets personal, and leaves wounds everywhere.

    Chrétien also lambastes Martin for Canada's current role in Afghanistan, being on "the killing fields", as he puts it. He also paints Martin as a very selfish man, who passed responsibility for criticized economic decisions, like $700 million to farmers, to the Prime Minister, when he himself, had suggested less be given to them.

    There will probably be more fallout from this, as Martin's spokesperson said it was too bad that Chrétien has opened past wounds.

    Apparently from Chrétien's writing, Martin certainly seems to be the bad guy. It is also revealing about Chrétien, and this is not really a big surprise, that he stayed on just to spite Paul Martin.

    By trying to force me to go, they aroused my competitive spirit, ignited my anger, and inadvertently gave me the blessing I needed from Aline (his wife) to fight for a third term. For that, ironically, I owed Paul Martin a great deal of thanks.

    Ok, that's good for you Mr. Chrétien, I guess, but is that a good example to set for aspiring leaders - to stay on out of spite? Shouldn't the reason for anyone being a leader, be because they have something to offer, are perhaps fresh, have a vision for the nation, and a passion to see it through?

    Maybe Paul Martin is writing a chapter about how Canada just missed dividing, by a hair, in the 1995 Quebec referendum. That was under Chrétien's watch. Talk about close voting, it was 50.58% "No" to 49.42% "Yes". The Brian "Captain Canada" Tobin led "Love Quebec" rally, may have converted an important number of the Yes voters. Martin could have fun analyzing Chrétien's legacy.

    Tuesday, October 09, 2007

    Pass the Bottle, "What Was That?"

    A tsunami of blue - If you were a Liberal MHA tonight, you'd be looking for some of that free booze to drown your sorrows. The Liberals have managed to get 3 seats, barely enough for official party status. It looks like there will be a judicial vote recount in the Gerry Reid riding of The Isles of Notre Dame, as there is a 7 vote difference between Gerry Reid (2364), and Derrick Dalley (2371). In the Port De Grave district, Liberal Roland Butler barely held on to make it a Liberal caucus of three. Everyone knew there would be a huge majority, but this is colossal -
    PC: 43     Liberal: 3     NDP: 1.

    In terms of popular vote, it was 70% for the PCs, 21% for the Liberals, and the NDP were just over 8%. The NDP, despite just maintaining their seat, actually increased their popular vote by several percentage points. Though it was disappointing for NDP supporters in Labrador and Burin-Placentia West, where the NDPs hopes were particularly high, their candidates performed strongly. On the Burin Peninsula, the NDP was always a distant 3rd place, but they were a respectable second this time around. Lorraine Michael's performance throughout the campaign and during the debate had been impressive. Her intelligence and smooth articulate delivery has boosted the NDP's overall profile.

    There were some seesaw ridings, but most ridings had huge gaps of margins. Labrador was a surprise, electing 3 out of 4 PCs.

    Well, people have spoken, Danny Williams and the PC party have trounced the opposition into near obliteration. With a majority like this, thank God that the auditor general has analyzed the spending scandal already, and new spending rules have been put into place, because if corruption could happen, it would more likely happen when there is next to no opposition.

    In his victory speech, Danny Williams put "Steve" and oil companies on alert - as one commenter suggested for a PC campaign slogan, "Danny Williams, Afraid of Nothing".

    Congratulations to all the candidates in all parties, for having the courage to run for public office. Congratulations to Danny Williams, and as a Newfoundlander, best wishes as Premier of our province.

    Monday, October 08, 2007

    Things That Could Make Danny Williams Lose the Election

    He promises to make the $1000 per baby retroactive to 1960.

    Liberal Gerry Reid promises $10,000 per baby, and throws in a years supply of diapers and milk.

    Stephen Harper is seen at Danny Williams' private bbq, drinking together, hugging, and singing "This Land is Your Land".

    News leaks that Danny is bragging about a new Lower Churchill deal, which is similar to the one Smallwood signed on the Upper Churchill.

    On Larry King Live, Premier Williams loses in a seal hunt debate with Pamela Anderson.

    Danny wants to leave Canada and join Greenland.

    The Auditor General announces that Danny Williams, spent $34,000 on perfume and ladies underwear - for himself.

    Thursday, October 04, 2007

    On Voter Apathy .. If You're Interested

    It's as worn-out a phrase as "it's a cliché", but, "every vote counts".

    There have been close margins of victory in NL provincial elections, too close for comfort for the candidates in some cases. In the 2007 election, voter apathy, or perhaps, complacency in this case, could make for some close races. The current political atmosphere is one where the question is not who will win, but by how many. There is an assumption that Danny and the PCs will easily win, and for that reason there may well be a decreased sense of voting importance, for anyone inclined to vote PC anyway.

    In the 2003 NL provincial election, the voter turnout was 72%. For whatever reason, 28% of eligible voters did not exercise this democratic right. If there was voter apathy then, then the spending scandal could arguably turn many more apathetic towards politicians. These people won't give any candidate their support. It could also be some people's way of protesting the behaviours of politicians.

    The electorate should keep in mind that they can be part of the process and help determine who their representative will be. Otherwise, if they do not vote, and their elected MHA is someone they really are dissatisfied with, then the voter may be sorry for opting to not vote.

    Though most election results are obviously decisive in margin of votes, from time to time, close incoming results on election night put candidates on a roller coaster of emotions. If anyone thinks that their vote does not matter, have a look at a few close results, especially this years by-election result.

    1999 NL Provincial Election

    District: St. John's Centre
    Joan Marie AYLWARD (Lib) 2609
    Paul BROWN (PC) 2443
    Margin: 166

    2003 NL Provincial Election

    District: Bellevue
    Percy BARRETT (Lib) 2623
    Joan CLEARY (PC) 2523
    Margin: 100

    District: Signal-Hill Quidi Vidi
    Jack HARRIS (NDP) 2456
    Karen CARROLL (PC) 2221
    Margin: 235
    2007 NL Provincial By-election

    District: Humber Valley
    Dwight Ball (Lib) 2153
    Daryl Kelly (PC) 2146
    Margin: 7

    The 2007 by-election was so close that a judicial recount was required (NL Elections Act (62.(1)) requires a judicial recount if the vote margin is not more than 10). Due to an inaccurately recorded result, for at least 20 minutes Kelly was celebrating as initial numbers showed him winning by 12 votes. The voter turnout was 62%. At the end of the night 8 more PCs would have officially made Kelly the winner - so every single vote matters.

    Sunday, September 30, 2007

    Teenage Waist Land: Society's unHealthy Conflicts of Interest

    Business, government & society have an unHealthy conflict of interests.

    People want better health, safer food, better and Honest nutrition labeling, and better health care. Government wants less health care costs, the tax dollars from the food industries, plus, employed citizens in the food and restaurant industry. Food businesses want your money, every legal way there is to get it, no matter what the consequences to the individual and to the health care system. Government do not want to be seen to be as anti-business by promoting too many public service health announcements that nullify the happy messages from fast food chains - those that tell you to treat your gullet to harmful food pollutants.

    A smattering of healthy eating commercials is really lip service, as the population bulges wider and wider. The problem is getting worse as more teens are broadening their horizontals. The teenage obesity rates are through the walls, and very high in Newfoundland and Labrador. The chances of much avoidable health care costs are widening as there becomes a greater risk for teens to get type 2 diabetes, heart and circulatory problems, and various forms of cancers.

    Recent serious mistakes in radiology reporting is an area to analyze. What went wrong, where does the problem lie? There are dangerous staff shortages at the emergency room at the HSC. With $billions put into healthcare many doctors are still over worked. With an aging population of over 65ers increasing more each year, the stresses of the healthcare system looks like it will heave and swell.

    Sickness and conditions will always be. Some just happen despite an individual's best health efforts. Many other problems chances of happening are increased by peoples' behaviour - in other words, those under our control - smoking, drinking, lifestyle, overeating harmful food, and not getting enough physical activity.

    Preventative medicine can take a couple of forms. One may still cost the health system money, the other, none at all.

    The first refers to people going for testing before a problem is either diagnosed or apparent at all. For example, heart exams, prostate cancer checks, blood work, blood pressure, mammograms, etc. Some argue that this doesn't save any money. If it does or doesn't, it's been known to do what's most important, save lives. The second preventative measure is where we as individual who are free to control what we do and eat, exercise discretion in what we decide to feed our nutrient-hungry body cells.

    Many health problems can be avoided, and there are scattered advertisements which promote healthy eating. There could be much much more. The anti-smoking campaign was/is on fire for years. So if too much fat, trans fat, sodium, sugar, preservatives, plastic container chemicals like bisphenol-A, and additives are negatively affecting health, which all have been reported to be, then shouldn't there be more public warnings about avoiding bad foods?

    It could save 100's of thousands of lives and improve peoples' quality of life. Of course, stepping up public service announcements above lip-service level will rile food businesses whose profits are based on the public's no fear attitude about clogging the human circulatory and plumbing system full of sludge.

    How many $100s of millions could be saved in the health care system, which, despite Canada being a G7 nation and a multi-billion dollar surplus recipient year after year, still is ailing. Health Canada Should educate the public more on healthy eating and healthier lifestyles. If that negatively affects the sale of burgers, poutines, and curly fries, then so be it. If people avoid more of the garbage and eat more healthy, then the mystery meat kings of food can adjust their menus more.
    Here is a helpful link called Teaching Nutrition to Teens.

    Friday, September 28, 2007

    Emergency Room for Error

    Facetiousness aside, there apparantly are serious problems now at the emergency room at the Health Science Complex - read the previous blog post link. Of course, health care problems are an eternal problem facing society, but what can government do? It's only the 10th straight year that there have been obese surpluses, almost $14 Billion in the most recent fiscal year. Can we not afford to properly staff hospitals and emergency rooms?

    Thursday, September 27, 2007

    Situation Critical!

    This is a link to Geoff Meeker's blog post. Today he shares a letter "delivered to him in the night" by an anonymous health care worker from the HSC emergency room unit. The letter describes in shocking detail, stressful and dangerous ER situations at the Health Sciences Centre. Staff are overworked, waiting times are very long, and more patients are sent back to ER from other hospital sections. The pressure on the ER medical team is immense, and their pleas fell on deaf ears at higher levels of HSC exec. Here's the blog post and letter.

    Evolving from Old-Fashioned Politics and Attitudes

    Having a strong, vocal, analytical, constructive opposition should ideally be a positive thing for a governing party. In fact, it should be desired by them. Let's dream in technicolor and imagine that we have evolved to a mature standard, where having a "wonderfully large" majority is not seen by the majority party, as an ideal governance structure for a province, but rather, as making them more prone to err, and rule recklessly.

    For example, a government of 48-0 or 46-2 puts all the pressure on the majority governing party to be correct on all the big issues and developments facing the province. When there is a huge majority with very little oppoistion, what can follow is an outward attitude of pomposity, and an attitude of appearing falsely and misleadingly confident. That is old-fashioned politics. It's time to transcend the idea that once you're the government, you're right.

    There may also be the short-sighted attitude that "we are so powerful with so any MHAs in government, that whatever we say, goes... and we will be seen as being correct in every decision until such time, and after much historical digging has taken place, that we will already have been lifted to a pedestal from the accolades of the people."

    Certainly each party leader will wish that their party's candidates, whom they would have befriended, will, just because of being human, want that candidate to get elected.

    Unfortunately, there has to be unsuccessful candidates in elections. Let's hope that - well it's simply going to be Danny Williams this time again, that he and the PC party, hope that there is a strong and constructive opposition. Why? To make the government think twice on issues, to offer different perspectives on proposed deals, to question government initiatives, and policies, to suggest alternatives, to simply criticize for the sake of doing what's right for the province.

    Objectively looking at opposing party's perspective, and accepting that wisdom can come from any wise person, should give the governing party more confidence to sign deals, that is, when doubt subsides, and rational deliberation has lead to a stronger consensus among all parties.

    The evolved political attitude towards an opposition party should be one where, they are seen not as an opposing hockey team competing for the annual cup, but a group of constructive and necessarily critical watchdogs, who are appreciated (albeit likely to be on the q.t.), by a thankful governing body, to have a second set of eyes, opinions, information, and options.

    Craig Westcott on CBC's Here & Now last evening, also suggested that a government without any opposition can be dangerous. Absolute power can and unfortunately do corrupt. There can very well be a false sense of bullet-proof righteousness when there is no one in opposing positions to take shots (and not insulting shots, but shots aimed to help immunize the province from missteps). To err is human. Being human, people also do not like to admit it when they do, so they will swagger as if their position was infallible - that is old-fashioned politics, just like the deceit in the spending scandal is an old-fashioned tradition. Now that that Pandora's box has been opened, future politicians will hopefully learn, evolve, and transcend that tradition.

    A government which possesses a more evolved political attitude ought to be thankful to have a strong oppositon so that there is a rational, objective, and a comprehensive analysis of major developments and financial deals, before dotted lines are signed.

    Tuesday, September 25, 2007

    The Election Comes Alive

    Congratulations to all three debaters, Mr. Reid, Mr. Williams, and Ms Michael. To this observer all three made great points, and displayed with conviction, their concerns for the province. Up to this point the election has been really just a waiting game, almost a waste of a campaign, because Premier Williams public support is so high, over 75%.

    It's been interesting to drive around St. John's to see a noticeable decrease in the number of campaign signs. It could be for several reasons - voter apathy because of the spending scandal, or just that "what's the point of spending energy on supporting a candidate who will likely lose". So this election has lacked any measure of suspense so far, any anticipation of a close race.

    The dabate tonight was very lively, heated, and impressive in some ways, and not, in another. You can't help but appreciate the pressure that a live debate puts on political leaders. They are expected to know the issues, know the province and party histories, policies, and have ideas to offer the public. For their strong individual performances they are all commended.

    While the debate was lively, it was also annoying. NTV's Fred Hutton is a good newscaster, my aunt loves him. However, during this debate, he made Jerry Springer look like a good moderator. The liveliness was mainly ignited by Liberal Gerry Reid. He was very fiesty, and convincing in his "seriousness" (anger) about issues like the energy plan, and his assertions that Williams ignores Labrador on various issues. Unfortunately, his spirited verbal shots were allowed to be totally out of control by moderator Mr. Hutton.

    The debate was too loose in the two way exchanges. Reid was not only louder than Williams and Michael but was almost non-stop talkative while the others were responding. Reid made many points but he really should have allowed the others proper opportunities to respond, rather than continue nearly shouting. It was next to impossible to hear Williams replies many times. There should have been better moderation of this debate.

    Lorraine Michael was excellent! She came across as very well spoken, level headed, calm, yet assertive, sincere and bright.

    Danny said things that his supporters wanted to hear, "no more giveaways", "we're entering a period of transition to 'have' status". He has not lost any political ground from tonight. Lorraine represented the NDP very well, and if they gain more seats, it would probably be at the Liberal's expense.

    With huge developments on the horizon for the province it would be better to see much more debate/discussion time on one major development issue at a time. For example, set aside at least 20 minutes to discuss the Hebron Memorandum of Understanding, 20 for the Lower Churchill Development, 20 for the energy plan, etc. Perhaps the media should consider this to allow more open discussion of significant developments that will affect NL's people and their future.

    Famous Moments in Political Debates

    Political debates have gotten very scripted, orchestrated and somewhat predictable in recent decades. Certain questions and topics are givens to be raised, so carefully planned responses, and gestures, can be rehearsed by politicians. The power of visual image grew as more people tuned in to the tube.

    In the famous 1960 U.S. presidential debate, a pale Richard Nixon, sporting a five-o'clock shadow, faced a tanned, healthy looking, and telegenic John Kennedy. It's been said that radio listeners had a different perception of the debate than television viewers. Kennedy's slim victory could have owed to the televised candidate contrast.

    That debate has so frequently been mentioned that it has likely influenced the "production" side of debating more than any other factor. As we know, a tidy, confident, and stately appearance has become a major factor in how the public perceives or rates the performance of candidates. Still, it must be combined with carefully worded responses, the kind that listeners "want to hear". A neatly groomed debater can look and act the part of leader but words have to match the image - and that does not always happen as we will see.

    In the 1988 U.S. Vice-presidential debate, Democratic Senator Lloyd Bentsen delivered a stinging jab to Republican candidate Dan Quayle.

    In his campaign, Quayle had been put on the defensive for his political inexperience. Leading up to a live televised debate, he had been known to compare himself to John Kennedy, to send the message that relative youth in politics is not necessessarily bad, but can represent vigor, promise and talent, as Kennedy did. (Bentsen had reportedly heard these comparisons before, and may well have had his sail-bursting response ready before the tv debate.)

    When asked by moderator Tom Brokaw about his qualifications for acting as President,

    Quayle answered: "... I have as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency ..."

    Bentsen's response: "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy: I knew Jack Kennedy; Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine.

    "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy,"

    (A lot of audience shouts and applause followed.)

    Quayle: That was really uncalled for Senator.

    Bentsen: You are the one that was making the comparison, Senator — and I'm one who knew him well. And frankly I think you are so far apart in the objectives you choose for your country that I did not think the comparison was well-taken.

    Dan Quayle dropped the Kennedy comparison for the rest of the campaign. The moment was replayed over and over, and was raw resource material for comedians.

    One joke went "What did Marilyn Quayle say to Dan Quayle after making love? 'Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy.'"

    *   *   *

    A couple of Reaganisms
    What an ambitious person Ronald Reagan was. He studied economics and sociology at College, was a radio announcer, acted in 53 films, was president of the screen actors guild, was governor of California, and re-elected in 1970, then became President in 1980.

    In his quest for Presidential re-election in 1984, he had to face Democratic candidate Walter Mondale in a live televised debate. At 74, most people would have experienced nearly ten years of retirement, but this man was applying for the mother of all jobs, and his competition was 56 years old. In the debate, Reagan's actor skills would serve him well when he smoothly, and good-naturedly quipped to Walter Mondale,

    "I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign ... I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience."

    Reagan was seen as being sharp, calm, and upbeat, which endeared him to Americans for two terms as President.

    In the 1980 debate with President Carter, Reagan asked,

    "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?"

    The timing of the question was deadly for Carter, as American hostages were still not released by Iranian hostage takers at that point, and under Carter's Presidency. That question seemed to have struck a contemplative chord with voters.

    *   *   *

    Given Premier Williams recent remark about Liberal leader Gerry Reid's so-called "scowl", for tonight's debate, Williams might joke that Reid take a tip from former Presidental candidate Bob Dole. In 1996, Bob Dole insisted that his wife be visible to him at all times, because "her job was to remind him to smile."
    *   *   *

    It is rare for a "knock-out punch" to be landed in a political debate, but that is what happened in Canada's 1984 election debate between PC Brian Mulrooney and Liberal John Turner. The knock-out punch is when a quip decisively turns the election in one candidate's favor.

    At this point, the Liberals had been in power, for what seemed like forever. Pierre Trudeau had retired from Politics in 1984, and John Turner had manned the post that year. Trudeau and the Liberals had been in power since 1968, with the exception of a brief PC Joe Clark 9 month PM stint, beginning in June, 1979.

    Mulrooney was young, fresh, and hungry for the big job. During the 1984 debate, John Turner was drilled on the issue of patronage, by Mulrooney. Turner's response that he had to rubber-stamp Trudeau's patronage appointments, had raised the already temperature-rising debate to a trigger point, when Mulrooney responded with,

    "You had a choice sir. You had a choice."

    Mulrooney's expression was with such conviction and strength that it made Turner look weak. Mulrooney went on to win the election.

    There may not be a crippling blow tonight - then again, there are plenty of issues that the opposition can take to the premier, and really drill him on. Likewise, the Premier, who is perched high, is positioned to sling some shots while affording some support loss.

    Election debates are usually interesting, and historical in any event. Best wishes to all three leaders, Gerry Reid, Lorraine Michael, and Danny Williams. May they perform to the best of their abilities, and may the exchange be for the betterment of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

    Sunday, September 23, 2007

    Baby Plan a Gamble - Check the Bonus Numbers

    C.D. Howe Institute researcher, Kevin Milligan, who analyzed Quebec's baby bonus program, says that while incentives like the $1000 per baby, can increase family size, the "effective cost per desired result may be very high." Milligan says, that between 1989-96 the birth rate in Quebec increased by 14.5%. Here's a quote from Milligan's assessment:

    "A percentage increase of 14.5 implies that the program “created” only 14.5 of each 114.5 children born — the other 100 would have been born even in the absence of the program. In other words, the subsidy was “wasted” on the families who would have had children had there been no program." (p.7)

    Quebec had initially started their "Allowance for Newborn Children" program with a $500 per child incentive, and it was later raised to $1000, and later, a third child would be rewarded with a series of monthly payments amounting to $8000. From 1989-96 this costs $15,000 per child.

    "Is $15,000 per child a lot or a little? Because no one can quantify the total benefit brought by having extra children, this question is difficult to answer." - Milligan

    In 2004, Newfoundland and Labrador had 4488 births. So if you were to round that to 4500 and for arguments sake, multiply by 15%, the birth rate would be increased by 675 per year, for a total of 5175 births. But it would be 5175 x $1000 which is $5,175,000 per year for births alone (excluding parent subsidy). Another way to look at it is that $4,500,000 will be paid out for babies born anyway, without the incentive.

    Certainly, any expectant parent would hardly turn down a $1000 cheque for a new baby.

    Part of the rationale for a birth incentive program is to increase future sources of taxes (people) to continue social programs. Quebec's birth rate did increase for a while but slipped back down again to pre-incentive times.

    In years to come, even if the birth rate had increased by 30% for a few years, who can say that that population increase will stay in the province by adulthood.

    Bonus numbers are worth reconsidering. What is also worth considering are other ways to keep people in the province now, and for in-migration to begin. It is the task of government to promote the province, encourage and help facilitate business development. It is ultimately the employers, business and public service, who should step up to the plate to, at least, not look at individuals as disposable expenses, but as provincial assets, contributers, and what makes society and the province more valuable, and most importantly, human beings who can be happier workers, and more interested in their jobs.

    If machines could do more of business's tasks, and cost less than keeping a person on payroll, often the attitude is to let the person go, even if profits are still good. If a business thinks that two or three employee tasks can be squeezed into one employee, that becomes an option, and often a reality. It is not however, always beneficial to the individual who has to doubly, multi-task. Maybe from a business perspective, good business sense. From an individual's point of view, no sense.

    Employers should recognize that the better the employees are treated, in terms of work load, and salary, everyone can be winners, including the province, which is faced with high unemployment and out-migration, the consequences of hiring too few people, low opportunities, and people dissatisfied with their salaries here.