Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Playing it Safe Means Not Playing at All

At the current Canadian Cardiovascular Congress held October 24 – 28, a 7-year study was released which looked at 20,719 grade 9 students. Most notably, in the findings were that cholesterol levels grew from 9% in 2002 to 16% in 2008 of the 14-15 year old students studied. This translates to almost one in five teens being at a very high risk of developing either Type 2 Diabetes or premature heart disease. Concurrently, the study found that levels of 90 minutes physical activity (at least 5 days a week) dropped from 28% to 22% in the same time period.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to read into this study: youth today need to be more active. The elephant in the room that no one is talking about is: How?
Consider these reasons:
Ø Right from the time infants are able to walk, restrictive activity is enacted and only due to the social aspects of how we live and work today. Structure is introduced at a very early stage of growth, mandating the times of where, when, and what activity will be available to the toddlers, especially for those who attend a day-care or similar facility. Statistics indicate that ‘stay-at-home’ mothers/fathers raise children who not only eat better, but also engage in more physical exercise.
Ø As children age, the tendency is to enroll them into some sort of group or sporting team based on interest and availability. In a UK study released in March 2009, it was found that the cost of sport and cultural activities rose by 67% over the past 10 years. Compounding this rise in costs is the decreased cost for technological products like video games, DVDs, cell phones, et al; which fell between 17 – 29% depending on the category.
Ø Let’s not forget about protecting children from harm. There are about 16,200,000 Google matches for the search phrase “protecting children”. Everything from sex, to predators, violence, food, the environment, to you name it: there’s a way to protect your child from it. Today’s parents have more information at their fingertips on the perils and cautions of raising a child then those of earlier years. Being cautious and apprehensive becomes natural, as a result of being more aware of the risks. I wrote an earlier piece on “Fear”, and how rules and practices are enacted just on the anticipation of something wrong…this carries into the home life as well.
Ø Certain stereotypical perceptions can affect a willingness to engage in organized activities. There is the “hockey parent” who is affectionately known as overbearing and verbally abusive; who can in affect cause individuals to lose interest in getting their children involved just because they don’t want to expose themselves or their children to this type of boorish behavior.
Ø And then there’s the issue of competitiveness. According to the National Alliance for Sports (US) some 20 million kids register each year for a myriad of sports activities. However, approximately 70% of them quit playing by the age of 13, and never play them again. The number one reason according to the National Youth Sports Coaches Association is that they quit because it stopped being fun. As children age, the introduction of ‘winning’ versus ‘losing’ overrides the premise of playing ‘just for fun’. While I’m not advocating removing this mindset…in fact, I believe it is essential to a child’s preparedness for adulthood; there remains a lack of objectives around ‘house league’ versus ‘competitive (rep/select) league’ play. While it’s okay to lose a ‘house league’ game, one shouldn’t feel demeaned by their coach/parent/peer just because they chose to play at that level. As it is, they chose to play at that level either for the reason that they didn’t want to play competitively, or lacked the ability (something that parents far too often interject their opinions).
We have a ways to go to remove barriers impeding healthy active lifestyles in youth. Everything from affordability to setting standards and expectations of play. At the risk of sounding like grandpa on the front porch, sipping lemonade and spinning tales of old…I remember when I was involved in coaching soccer in London, Ontario: we had simple rules for play; non-sponsored teams; simple rules for the parents; (a rule that after 4 weeks of play, we could move players around to even up the teams – although parents of kids on the stronger teams opposed this ideology, especially if their kid was the one to move to a weaker team); substitutions were structured to ensure fair play for all; we kept score, and posted the standings; everyone made the playoffs. Most importantly, there was open communication to all parents and players. While it wasn’t a perfect system, I would have to say it was by far the most enjoyable for me as a coach, parent, and participant (we later started an adult mini-soccer league using the same guidelines…it was a hit!)
It is also imperative that we look at the affordability of participation. All too often, youth are left behind due to the high cost in being active. Much like the high cost of healthy eating, just being physically active also carries a healthy price tag (pun intended).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What's In A Name?

In the City of Hamilton, Ontario a movement is afoot from some Councilors to ensure the protection of the currently named Henderson Hospital, named after Nora-Francis Henderson, the first woman on Hamilton council and social activist. Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS), who manage the operations of Henderson Hospital, received a gift of $20 million from Charles and Margaret Juravinski to aid in the redevelopment of Henderson Hospital. Overall, the Juravinski’s have contributed around $43 million to community health-care causes, including a major contribution to the neighbouring Juravinski Cancer Centre. In exchange for their kindness, HHS stated that the hospital will now be named the Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre.
Under the new redevelopment project, due to be completed in summer 2010, the hospital will have expanded in size and resources. One could argue that it is a brand new hospital. And, not to be forgotten, HHS plans on naming a wing of the (re)new(ed) hospital in Henderson’s name. The curious point in all this is that this started some three years ago with nary a peep from neighbours and councilors regarding the name change. However now that they are drawing to completion, and most likely ceremonies are being planned and booked, folks are starting to voice their displeasure in changing the name.
City Councilors Tom Jackson, Terry Whitehead and Scott Duvall who rule the roost around the hospital grounds are taking up a fight with HHS begging them to keep Nora-Francis Henderson’s name alive on the front of the hospital. For the record, these same three were members of the ill-fated committee aimed at bringing the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes to Hamilton, of which included the allowance to sell the naming rights of Copps Coliseum (named after former Hamilton Mayor Victor Copps). From a political angle, one could assume that both the HHS and area Councilors failed to properly communicate the change to the community three years ago; however that would open a nice finger –pointing exercise not worthy of anyone’s time.
Named ‘public’ buildings are usually done so to honour, to recognize, or to brand a person or product/service; whether done so as a courtesy or as a sold proprietary license. The application of these ‘names’ seem to differ depending on the building applied. Sports facilities have a long-standing tradition in offering up the naming ‘rights’ to companies as a means to generate revenue for the host team. Libraries apply names in either recognition or through gift-giving. Hospitals on the other hand tend to be more representative of the community in which they reside (at least in Canada). A cursory view of the list of Canadian hospital names shows no ‘privately’ named hospitals. If we were to look at Ontario’s powerhouse of health care resources, Toronto we’d see that it is managed by the University Health Network (UHN). They once received a single donation of $37 million towards the development of cardiac research at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, situated within the Toronto General Hospital.
So was it wrong to offer the name change to the Juravinski’s in return for their contribution? Probably.
Did HHS communicate to the politicians the change? Yep.
Did the politicians voice their concern at the time? My guess would be no, and I’d say it was because they saw the value and the reasoning at the time. But now the phones are ringing from disgruntled citizens expressing their displeasure, and as a habit they go out looking for a fight…instead of communicating the facts from the start.
It is indeed sad that the Henderson name will be removed from the front of the hospital, and a new name will grace its place. It’s a wonder that HHS didn’t look to give the location a new name like Hamilton Mountain Hospital, with the Henderson Wing & the Juravinski Centre, in order to promote Hamilton. It would appear that HHS moved too quickly in the offer of the name in return for their generousity, and now the Juravinski’s are looking like the bad guys. As it stands now, a precedent as been set for future contributors, who are now going to be looking for something more than just their name on a wall within a larger institution.

Friday, October 9, 2009

How Stable Are Electricity Prices?

In an article published in the October 3rd issue of The Hamilton Spectator, Hamilton Horizons was appealing to the Ontario Energy Board to increase rates by about $0.32/month to homeowners, and $0.80/month for businesses. Their reasoning: because of a revenue shortfall of more than $2.8 million due to the shutdown of US Steel Canada. So what’s a half-a-dollar between friends? Let’s go deeper…
According to Hamilton Horizon’s spokesperson Sandy Manners, the reason for the request was due to fixed costs of supplying and servicing an electrical grid. Furthermore, Horizon sets its rates based on projected revenue. To that, Manners states that while they have managed to avoid increases the past two years due to added efficiencies, there is only so far that they can go. Translation: by using (or consuming) less hydro, your rates will actually increase because the costs associated with managing the electrical grid are fixed.
Now I’m not a business major, but I would suspect that there are not a lot of businesses out there who wouldn’t set their rates based on projected revenue. If Tim Horton’s set their coffee prices based on consumption, then theoretically prices would rise every time a location closed, or a competitor opened up nearby causing a reduction in customers, therefore less cups of coffee being purchased. It just doesn’t happen that way in the private sector. Hamilton Horizon is municipally owned, and therefore holds the power (pun intended).
Adding insult to injury on this ‘because we’re getting less revenue, I have to charge you more’ debacle, the Ontario Government is pushing the Smart Meter “Time of Use” rates to be in place sometime in 2010. For my household, that actually means another increase in electrical rates. Our household does not operate on a typical 9-5 lifestyle. Doing laundry at 10 o’clock at night is not an option, and leaving it to the weekend will mean less travel and consumerism, as we’ll be at home doing all the ‘heavy-load’ electrical chores (laundry, yard work, et al) in order to get the same rates that we are receiving today. So here we are stuck in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario. With the push on for electrifying our petroleum-dependant resources (cars, rapid-transit, et al), coupled with calls for restraining our everyday electrical-dependant resources (lights, appliances, et al); it almost appears as if there is an attempt to maintain a level demand system for electricity, all under the guise of protecting Mother Earth. With the news that there is a limit to how far one electrical grid can go to be efficient before fees increase, leaves a bit of a sour taste in ones mouth about the truth surrounding the fixed cost efficiencies of electricity versus the volatile costs of petroleum. I’m not sure they’re much different anymore.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Peak Oil: A Crisis Now or a Fear of a Crisis. (Thinking out loud)

Peak oil should be identified as the mid-point of available oil reserves, nothing more, and nothing less. Like most ‘curves’ in available resources or materials, there is a finite reserve that has a beginning and an end. Somewhere in the middle is the peak. Prognosticators have indicated we are close to arriving at that peak, and therefore drastic measures are needed to slow down the arrival time.
Economists and Environmentalists are both predicting a similar outcome: that oil prices are set to be much higher than what they are today, albeit with vastly different reasons. We already got a glimpse of this in July 2008 when oil hit $147 a barrel. Yet, it quickly fell to $33 a barrel before stabilizing at around the $70 a barrel price, only slightly higher than it was in 2005.
Today, we can find many books, blogs, and articles on what we should and should not be doing to preserve not only our oil reserves, but the planet itself. The proliferation of ‘greening’ our home and workplace, to ways and tips to ‘protect’ the environs in which we live. There’s no doubt about it, the generation which follows us will be more acutely aware of the consequences of their actions…whether good, bad, or indifferent.
A few years ago I happened upon a book titled “God Wants You To Be Rich”, written by Paul Zane Pilzer. If you get a chance, pick it up at your local library or listen to it on-line. Pilzer is an economist, but with a very keen sense on why and how we approached the world we live in today. His take on the progression of technology, coupled with his apotheosis that there is no such thing as limited resources, since all resources are man-made (or at least their use is man-made), thereby meaning all resources are limitless.
Pilzer’s best example of this was the history of how and why we came to use oil reserves today. Dating back to the use of whale oil, and including the infamous ‘gasoline’ shortage of the early ‘70s. Whenever mankind has faced a crisis, either real or implied, Pilzer identifies (and correctly so) that we have the capacity to adapt our lifestyle to minimize the impact of said crisis.
Since I have you in a reading mood, take a spin over to “Fear: The History of a Political Idea” written by Corey Robin. The opening paragraph notes that “…fear is the first emotion experienced by a character in the Bible. Not desire, not shame, but fear” Robin takes the reader through the consequences of not responding to ‘fear’, and goes further to identify on how ‘fear’ has shaped policies and laws created over time.While we may or may not be close to attaining ‘peak oil’, the fact that there is a ‘fear’ of what can happen once this occurs, is spurning change. While Pilzer embarks on a journey that equates change with logical adaptation, Robin draws on our emotional weakness which causes change. Who knows, maybe it’s a bit of both.