Neil with Red Foster

September 19, 2014

Network Scan Data

Ay or Nae?

September 18, 2014

Today is the day the Scots vote on staying or leaving the United Kingdom. From a sluggish start the Yes side has had a late surge in support. Now the polls are neck-in-neck with a very real chance this ancient union will break apart.

Unusually for the British media, Canada has been oft-discussed with much reference to the 1995 Quebec referendum. Michael Ignatieff has been on BBC Radio 4’s flagship news programme Today discussing the tactics used to prevent votes in favour of Quebec separation.

For Canadians, it hits home not only with our own separatist movement but also in our history with the major role that Scots played in the construction of Canada, starting with John A. MacDonald. There are over 4 million Canadians with Scottish ancestry.

Do you think Scotland will separate? Do you think there will be an impact on us here in Canada?

Merger of Tim Horton’s and Burger King

September 5, 2014

What is your honest opinion of the proposed merger of Tim Horton’s and Burger King?

Apparently the combined company will then be the third largest fast-food company in the world.

Frankly I think Neil would have been horrified.

Tim Horton’s CEO vowed to make sure that Timbits remain “as much a symbol of Canada as the Beaver or the Mounties.”

Do you think he has a hope of keeping that promise? If the deal goes through, the combined company will own approx. 18,000 restaurants in more than 100 countries. In a thoroughly researched article, MacLean’s magazine points out that one false step and all the good will Tim Horton’s has built up over the years will dissipate. The title of their article in the September issue is “The Tim Horton’s Takeover: A Half-baked deal. Why that is dangerous move.”

Is bigger always better? Is this kind of corporate takeover good for ordinary Canadians? Will Tim Horton’s be able to maintain its’ high standard of coffee and doughnuts?

Neil’s friend, Jim, used to tease by suggesting ‘let’s stop at one of the competitors’.. Neil would yell ‘Tim Horton’s it is.’ His favourite doughnut was sour cream. What is yours?

The deal is not done yet, what would be your vote?

Neil loves golf

August 31, 2014

Neil loves golf

By Everett Fleming

I think it is fair to say that the annual game of the Madawaska foursome (Everett and Barbara Fleming, Nancy Nichols and Neil) at a course near Kingston, Ont., was the pinnacle of his golf year. Neil always maintained he did not care about the score. This is not quite so, as he was quietly interested in our games, in fact, the very last game he played with us happened to be the best he had ever played, a fact he was very proud of, and could only have known because we kept score.

Who lives? Who dies? Who decides?

August 25, 2014
From 2008 – a classic post:


Suppose there were a medical disaster such as a flu pandemic (which doctors expect sooner or later) where medical services are stretched beyond the limit. In that situation who lives and who dies and who decides?

Now an influential group of U.S. doctors have drafted a specific list of recommendations for which patients would not be treated. They include the very elderly, seriously hurt trauma victims, severely burned patients and those with severe dementia.

These guidelines are an attempt to make sure that scarce resources – including ventilators, medicines, and doctors and nurses — are used in a uniform, objective way.

The U.S. report urges hospitals to designate a triage team with the Godlike task of deciding who willand who won’t get lifesaving care. Those out of luck are the following:

  • People older than 85.
  • Those with severe trauma, which could include critical injuries from car crashes and shootings.
  • Severely burned patients older than 60.
  • Those with severe mental impairments, which could include advanced Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Those with a severe chronic disease, such as advanced heart failure, lung disease or poorly controlled diabetes.
  • Should your 85-year old grandmother get no life saving care?
  • Should your 60-year-old severely burned father get no lifesaving care?
  • Should your husband who has severe emphasyma receive no life saving care?
  • Should there be a national debate on how scarce medical resources are used in a disaster?


  1. 1
    Paul Costopoulos Says:

    This only officialises what has been going on for several years in our chronically short staffed and overcrowded hospitals and clinics. To my knowledge it has been done, although not on such a large scale or spectrum, for over 20 years. Of course the above stated policy would apply in case of a severe pandemic or disaster. In war theaters doctors, paramedics and even civilians have long been faced with those choices.
    When it goes on far away nobody notices, when it hits close to you than you start wondering what if? Don’t you!
    I may sound cynical but these guidelines do not come as a shock to me but they will relieve health professionals of a lot of guilt.

  2. 2
    neilmckentyweblog2 Says:

    Paul: –

    I fear you are right. A group of doctors in Canada say that health costs are rising so rapidly that the authorities should ration them. But by what criteria? I believe we should have a national debate on this issue.

    Thanks for your comment. Always appreciated.

  3. 3
    Cornelius T. Zen Says:

    Good morrow, all!
    It’s called triage. Work on those who are most likely to survive the procedure. Medical resources of all descriptions have always been limited, even scarce, mostly because the vast majority of the current population has no immediate need. It comes as no surprise. As for shock…welcome to reality. Like gravity and entropy, those are the facts of life. But then, I digress…CTzen

  4. 4
    Chimera Says:

    What CTZen said, and more.

    For everyone about to climb, blubbering, on the “save my grampa” bandwagon just because you happen to love him above everyone else, stop with the tug on the emotional heartstrings, already. When you do that, you demand the impossible.

    If doctors really had a “godlike task,” they wouldn’t have to pick and choose whom to save; they could save everyone. What they have is a very human task of awesome proportions, and in the case of a disaster, limited resources and utter chaos in which to work.

    Doctors work with objectivity, and so should we all, in times of disaster. If we can’t do that, we should at least get out of the way of those who can. [And for those who notice things like this, I really hate the onus of the word, "should," but sometimes there is no other way to say it.]

    If you have a hundred injured people and two doctors, does anyone think the doctors are gonna work on patients with the best cheering section or the ones with the best chance to survive, recover, and then pitch in and help in their turn?

    I rarely offer serious advice, but here’s an exception: prepare yourself to be one of the ones either pitching in to help despite your own injuries, or one of the ones being set aside because you are too severely injured to make an effective and useful recovery. Once you’ve made up your mind to do that, the rest will happen as it happens. It will, anyway, but at least you’ll be emotionally and psychologically better prepared.

  5. 5
    Paul Costopoulos Says:

    You are right Chimera. I would hate to be another Golubchuck. And I have seen to it in my last will and testament that includes a “living will”.

  6. 6
    neilmckentyweblog2 Says:

    Cornelius and Chimera,

    The scenario you paint is bleak indeed. I grew up in a society where the philosophers said the hallmark of a great society was the way it treated its most vulnerable and defenseless citizens. In our new society will will cut them loose. Necessary, perhaps, but how hard=boiled, if not evil. Didn’t Hitler try that?

  7. 7
    Paul Costopoulos Says:

    Neil, Hitler did it systematically. What we are talking about here are extreme circumstances when extreme measures are required. Still we must draw the line at therapeutic harrassment in the name of science and research or religion. We must also draw the line when the person has no more quality of life and no hope for a cure barring a miracle. A very good case is the late Mr Golubchuck whose family went to extreme lenghts to keep him alive despite all odds. He died last week looking like a still, all tubes and machines.

  8. 8
    neilmckentyweblog2 Says:

    Paul: —

    “Neil, Hitler did it systematically.” But isn’t that what Corneilius and Chimera are advocating – that we systematically abandon the most vulnerable. And isn’t that what Hitler did – with the Jews, the mentally retarded, gays and gypsies. I expect that’s not the kind of society either your or I want to live in.

  9. 9
    Paul Costopoulos Says:

    Neil, I don’t think either CTZ or Chimera meant to be that extreme. Certainly systematic eradication of the vulnerable is not what I have in mind. As I wrote, in extreme, and I stress extreme, conditions tough decisions have to be made. Other than that humanity must prevail.
    Mind you in the far north, when they could no longer pull their weight and became a danger to the tribe, the elders would walk away and allow themselves to die of cold exposure, but, again, those were extreme circumstances and a matter of survival for the clan. It is no longer done.

  10. 10
    Cate McB Says:

    The issue here is not just who on the list should get life saving care but who should get that care if they get whatever killer flu comes around. In this context, those on the list are those who from an empirical standpoint, are the least likely to benefit from the life saving care for all kinds of reasons including the ways they are already physically compromised. In the ICU where I work, they are already the least likely to survive even a moderately severe pneumonia, not to mention a killer flu in the context of a pandemic.

    I hate to sound pessimistic, but in the case of a pandemic from my vantage point within the health care system in Ontario, I wonder how we will be able to care adequately for those who empirically have the very best chances. We will do our very best and what will be will be. Until that day, I concentrate on what I really want to do in this life. After that, if some pandemic gets me, c’est la vie. I’ve already had TB and Hep. B and know what treatment involved in those situations for me as an otherwise healthy person.

  11. 11
    neilmckentyweblog2 Says:


    It is always good for us to have a comment from a professional in the field.
    Do I hear you saying that medical services will be strained to care for those who have the very best chances, let alone those who are weakened to begin with?

  12. 12
    Barbara Says:

    What I believe is meant is that, in extreme circumstances, one would do one’s best to give aid and comfort to all. However, if there was, say a limited amount of vaccine to administer during a pandemic, decisions have to be made. Do you give the same inadequate amount to all and cross your fingers or do you give the vaccine to those who stand the best chance of surviving? It is not a matter of killing off the weakest (Hitler did not just abandon the Jews, gypsies and gays, he exterminated them like cockroaches), it is attempting to save as many as you can. I believe that was what I was taught in ethics.

  13. 13
    neilmckentyweblog2 Says:


    Are we talking here about the lesser of two evils?

  14. 14
    Cate McB Says:

    Yes, I am saying that medical services will be strained to care for those who have the very best chances, let alone those who are weakened to begin with. That is the case now, without a flu pandemic.

  15. 15
    Barbara Says:

    I am not sure where it fits in technically.

  16. 16
    Cornelius T. Zen Says:

    Good morrow, all! Has it not occurred to anyone that medical resources are already strained? The news is full of horror stories of waiting lines, of vital surgeries delayed or cancelled, because of limited resources. Not enough beds, not enough nurses, not enough blood, not enough…name it, it’s scarce. Medical costs are soaring, more and more of our government budgets are being dedicated to health, and hospitals are still turning people away, or making them wait for hours, days, weeks, months.
    On one hand, Canada advertises for doctors, fully accredited in their own countries, to come to Canada. Then, it tells them, “you can’t be a doctor here, you are not accredited in our medical system.” How brilliant is that, eh? Now, imagine how much worse it is in the United States, where millions have no medical insurance coverage, and cannot afford care at all.
    I am wondering exactly who it is who benefits from this system. It would not be working (I use the term loosely, as you can imagine) this way, unless somebody wanted it to work this way.
    On the other hand, I may be assuming malice, whereas stupidity may be an adequate explanation. But then, I digress…CTZen

  17. 17
    Chimera Says:

    “But isn’t that what Corneilius and Chimera are advocating – that we systematically abandon the most vulnerable.”

    Speaking only for myself, I advocate no such thing. And Neil, you really need to take another look at your original premise before you go off half-cocked and try to compare a natural disaster to Hitler!

    Put yourself in the position of a doctor, rather than that of a victim of this disaster. You have a hundred people who are clamoring for your skills, and they are all sick or injured to some degree, some more than others. Can you honestly say you’d spend all your skills and energy and resources on a couple of people who will die no matter what you do for them? Or will you focus your energies on those who can recover, and maybe make the dying a little more comfortable on their way out.

    Imagine that you have one dose of disinfectant and one roll of bandage. Will you use it for the man who has a bleeding head wound, but can recover? Or will you throw it away on the man with the supurating belly wound, who will die no matter what you do for him? You are the doctor. You have to choose.


August 23, 2014


This is one of the most visited subjects on originally posted by Neil in 2009.

Originally posted on Exchange:

When President Obama was in Washington he said he loved Canada.  And so he should.  We provide most of the energy consumed by his country and much else beside.  Canada is America’s largest trading partner.

I expect Canada is the United States best friend.  But a new poll asks the question who is the United States “most valuable ally.”   I take it that ally connotes some military capability.  The poll showed that 36 per cent of Americans believe Great Britain is their most valuable ally.  Canada came in second at 29 per cent.  (If the Russians ever invade through the north poll I really don’t see how Great Britain can be any help to anybody.)

Also it is somewhat ironic that this poll came out the day British prime minister Gordon Brown visited President Obama in the Oval Office.  Many commentators felt Obama snubbed Brown.  No joint news conference, no…

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August 20, 2014

Originally posted on Exchange:

A reprint of a blog entry from 2008:

Are you tired of waiting?

Did you know that a new survey reveals that 86 per cent of Canadians say they’ve given up on their purchases and walked out of a business after waiting too long for service.

Department stores are deemed the worst offenders with 78 per cent of customers say they’ve bailed out.

More than half have left a bank or convenience store in frustration. Two-thirds say they’ve given up on public transit and half have abandoned a medical facility.

Have you walked out of any of these places? Other places?

How long are you prepared to wait?

On average, consumers said eight minutes was enough time to wait in a grocery store and they’d give up after 15 minutes; they’d wait up to 22 minutes for public transit and 81 minutes to see a doctor before they walked out.

View original 1,398 more words

The problem of depression.

August 15, 2014

The news of actor Robin Williams tragic death has caused widespread shock waves. As President Obama said in his tribute “he was one of a kind – he ended up touching every element of the human spirit.”

Two days ago, I sat with a group of friends watching the movie Good Will Hunting with one Robin Willliams, for which he got a well-deserved Oscar. It was a spell-binder. What a gift that man has given us – a gift that will not soon be forgotten. It spite of tragedy, and perhaps even because of it.

Now many more people are reflecting on the whole subject of depression, and the need for greater awareness about its’ nature and impact.

The Montreal Gazette has carried a series of outstanding articles on the subject (August 12-13-14).

The headline on Wednesday was “Depression does not discriminate”. It quotes Gustav Turecki, head of the depressive disorders programme at Montreal’s Douglas Mental Health Institute, who emphasises that “Anyone can become ill regardless of their means and social class.”

The article underlines the fact that “Depression is still taboo in many places. It is seen as a weakness and as flaw of character.”, so that people, especially men, are less inclined to seek help.

Thankfully, the actress Glenn Close is now playing a major role in raising public consciousness about the need to lift the stigma that has been attached for so long to the bipolar disorder that was experienced by her own sister.

Since Neil wrote an account of his own life-threatening battle with depression in his memoir, The Inside Story, I have talked with many people whose families have experienced similar trauma.

In his memoir, Neil describes the ferocious fury of the snarling dogs unleashed by depression. He says “ As those who write about depression admit, we have no language to describe it adequately. In my opinion, the American novelist William Styron has done it best in Darkness Visible. To compare depression to a prolonged blues, a malaise we all experience from time to time would be like comparing an April shower to a tornado.”

And in Thursday’s Gazette article, Queen’s University (Kingston, ON) mental health expert, Dr Heather Stuart says that “Profoundly public tragedies, like the death of the one of the most celebrated comedians in history, should be used as an opportunity for increasing awareness around suicide. Increasing early detection and breaking down stigma.”

As holder of the Bell Canada Mental Health research chair, she expresses her concern about media commentary that William somehow chose suicide. People don’t choose to have depression or any mental illness. Suicide is a catastrophic outcome of a very significant illness.. We wouldn’t dream of blaming people for dying of cancer or heart disease. We just don’t even bring that mindset to the table.”


August 12, 2014


Going back to a political brou-haha that Neil posted about.

Originally posted on Exchange:

After swearing up and down that they would not, the Maclean’s organization caved ignominiously for its vicious attack on Quebec aand Quebecers.

The pathetic apology came from Maclean’s parent organization, Rogers Media.”On behalf of the company, we sincerely regret any offence that the cover may have caused.”

And to rub salt in its wounds, th House of Commons passed a motion “expressing its profound sadness at the prejudice displayed and the stereotypes by Maclean’s magazine to denigrate the Quebec nation, its history and its institutions.”

The morale of this story is that Quebec-bashers bash at their peril.

Did Maclean’s cave?

What do you thin k?

View original

Some Irish Connections

August 8, 2014

Click below to hear my cousin Bob Fleming discuss how he rediscovered our family’s irish roots.

Writing and Ireland

Working on the biography of John Main with Neil and going to Ireland with him earlier ( a first for both of us) must somehow had an encouraging effect on my own interest in writing.

Neil had been asked to write the biography of a remarkable Benedictine Monk, John Main, who had been invited by Bishop Crowley to found a monastery right in the heart of Montreal, based on an ancient tradition of silent meditation found in early Christianity. This, at a time when many English-speaking Montrealers were leaving the city in the wake of the FLQ crisis.

Going to Ireland sparked Neil’s interest in his own O’Shea ancestors (on his mother’s side) and my determination to find the farm that our Fleming family (on my mother’s side) had left in 1847, in the midst of the famine. Neil’s family were Catholic, O’Sheas from the south and McKentys from the Glens of Antrim in the far north. My family were Northern Irish Protestant, from the Dromore/Omagh area, not all that far from the Glens of Antrim as I realised later.

Those visits to Ireland with Neil strengthened my awareness of the riches of Irish history, far deeper than sectarian differences that in many cases had economic and political causes.

The long-term result was that the book I eventually wrote, Polly of Bridgewater Farm – an unknown Irish story – was reviewed in both Catholic and Protestant newspapers and accepted into Catholic, Protestant, and integrated schools in the North.

A Dublin broadcaster told me he had never realised that Protestants suffered along with Catholics during the Famine,” the Great Hunger” as it has been called. I was asked to read from the book by the mayor of Monaghan at the first ever memorial in their city of the Irish Famine. And an Omagh school principal wrote me that “we need more books like this, that speak of hope in the midst of adversity.”

All the above experiences have shown me the power of each of our stories, to build connection with other people, and to bridge differences of outlook, age and background. Also the importance of making sure these stories don’t get lost.

Catharine McKenty


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