‘Goalie/poet’ Gord Downie dies

It was Sept. 1989, when this 26-year-old first heard the opening chords of Blow at High Dough on a kitchen radio at 5 a.m. in Galt (Cambridge, Ontario), featuring the vocals of 24-year-old Gord Downie.

I was hooked.

The 1980s were a wash-out for rock-and-roll inventiveness, and when the five friends from Kingston Ontario, The Tragically Hip, splashed onto the national scene with their first full album, Up to Here, it felt like something special.

Up to Here became my running companion for the next six years.

I saw the Hip many times over the years, but the best was in a small bar in Waterloo, Ontario, about April 1990, with my ex who was about 7 months pregnant with Canadian daughter 2-of-4.

I remember every moment of that concert.

Gord died yesterday of complications from glioblastoma, a terminal brain cancer.

We humans know so little about the brain.

PTSD, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), cancer, addiction, bad wiring, and yet we continue to bash our heads around, in sports as little kids, in cycling and falls around home construction sites. The three concussions I’ve had in the past three months, along with a lifetime of pucks to the head, have made me slow down, be more careful, and try to take care of my brain a bit better.

The best we can do, as Gord said, is try to lift up those around us.

Two of my favorite videos are below.

The first is from a song about North America, although the video was shot near Melbourne in Australia while the band was on tour.

May Ry Cooder sing your eulogy.

A gift from down under.

The second, here’s hoping for peace on Fiddler’s Green.

Hockey and asparagus

My cousin Tim and I would play road hockey up in the upper level of the barn, during the two weeks I would spend at their farm while my parents goofed around.

Tim is about 6 months older than me, he grows asparagus, I write about asparagus, and we both ended up coaching hockey.

Tim wrote on his facebook page tonight that, hockey season starts for our Ayr Cens and is about to start for my son Will’s Midget Flames. For some reason (other than i am obsessed with #4) i started thinking about the time i met my hero Bobby Orr at a camp Will won an invitation for. We had a pre-camp reception for the kids and parents and there was a question/answer period with Bobby. Obviously i was 1st to raise my hand for questions LOL. My question to Bobby was “when you were a kid and were so much better than everyone else what did you do on the ice?” Bobby’s answer was simple…”My Dad always told me to make sure i passed the puck to a player that hadn’t scored a goal”. Hope this makes all of us think as we head into hockey season. Best of luck to all kids of all skill levels for an enjoyable and most importantly FUN season

My cousin embraces the values that I and anyone else who coaches should embrace.

I’m proud to call him my cousin (except when we talk about genetic engineering or he does his Bob and Doug SCTV impersonation).

Going public: Embrace it; supermarket x’ and the ethics of food risk disclosure

I figured out about 45 years ago that going public was the best way to handle conflict.

I was throwing stones at the grill of a car in an abandoned lot in Brantford, Ontario (that’s in Canada), trying out cigarettes for the first time, and we got caught.

When I was 18-years-old, and went to jail, I had nothing to hide.

All incoming inmates had to strip naked in front of some deliberately inattentive guard, as part of admission.

There was nothing left to hide, and there isn’t now.

I know lots of people who hide behind their vanity; I know few whom are truly public, warts and all.

Whether it’s some academic institution or a local hockey club, bring it on; your rumors only ferment your own failures.

Julia Glotz of The Grocer in the UK writes that in the hepatitis E outbreak, supermarket X is Tesco.

Julia is referring to explosive claims that, as initially reported by the Sunday Times, hepatitis E is sickening Brits at an alarming rate.

But that didn’t stop Public Health England from sticking its fingers in its ears and loudly singing ‘la la la’ for the best part of a week. It didn’t want to name ‘supermarket x’ because the findings of its hepatitis E study do ‘not infer blame on the supermarket’.

Oh okay. Fair enough. I see the strategy here. So instead of some uncomfortable articles about a possible link between hep E infections and retail pork products, we’re going for a week of near-hysterical coverage shouting Silence On Banger Virus, and insinuating an agency tasked with protecting public health is refusing to drop a big supermarket in it. What must these brutes at Tesco be doing to poor PHE to force it into silence? Round of applause, everyone.

Anyway, the kitty is now firmly out of the bag, so it’s time to reflect on some lessons from the whole saga. After all, hepatitis E is far from the only food scandal in town right now. And, in PHE’s defence, this is really tricky territory. Risk communication is notoriously hard, and informing the public about risks related to food can be especially thorny. Food regulators and agencies across the globe struggle with it.

Doug Powell, a former professor of food safety who runs the wonderfully named BarfBlog (yes, it’s about people getting sick from dodgy food), has an entire section on his website called ‘Going public’. In it, he chronicles example after example of public disclosure foul-ups from food regulators around the world: vague press releases rushed out after hours; vital information made available too late for the sake of double, triple and quadruple checking; and bare facts and stats dumped on the public without context to help them make sense of risk.

Powell is also the co-author of a fascinating article published in the Journal of Environmental Health earlier this year, which examines how regulators approach public comms during food scares. It concludes there is widespread confusion – and hugely varying standards – largely because there is little concrete guidance on food risk disclosure. Too many decisions are made ad hoc; what little guidance there is is couched in flabby, unhelpful language like ‘timely release of information’, without defining what ‘timely’ means.

So does that mean PHE should have named Tesco right from the start? Not necessarily. Its study did not establish that Tesco products were the direct cause of hepatitis infections; it was a statistical analysis only. There are valid concerns about the potential for premature information to mislead consumers and do significant harm (though it’s worth pointing out Powell’s report found no evidence to support a paternalistic approach where members of the public are protected from ‘too much’ information). ‘Naming and shaming’ of individual companies could potentially distract consumers from other, more important information about how they can protect themselves. Might a shopper who doesn’t buy ham and sausages at Tesco, for example, tune out and not pay attention to cooking advice to minimise the risk of hepatitis E infections?

It’s a fair question. So by all means don’t name names in your scientific paper. But accept that a paper like it will very likely get media pick-up – and once it’s out in the public domain, the game is up. You have to come clean. “To support consumer decision making, available information must support what consumers want and need to know, which might or might not be what information authorities want to relay,” Powell writes in his JEH article. And in this case, consumers wanted to know who ‘supermarket x’ was.

“While PHE may have reasons for not going public – whether legislative or bureaucratic – whoever is involved will eventually be found out,” Powell added when I caught up with him about the case this week. “Trust is earned, not given, and consumers have a right to know – especially if it’s a public health issue like hepatitis E in pork.”

 It’s not all down to the regulators, though. Industry, too, has a part to play in this. If there’s any risk to public health, information disclosure must be led by the relevant agencies, says Chris Elliott of the Institute for Global Food Security. But when there is no (or a very remote chance) of a food safety problem, “then I think supermarket x should take the lead in the comms,” he adds. “But this should be agreed with the regulator, so no contradiction or confusion should result.”

It’s undoubtedly a difficult balance to get right. In Powell’s article, the killer line comes from epidemiologist Paul Mead: “Food safety recalls are always either too early or too late. If you’re right, it’s always too late. If you’re wrong, it’s always too early.”

So yes, it can be a poisoned chalice. But regulators can’t dodge it – and they have to start dealing with it more assuredly than they often do at the moment. 

Going public: Early disclosure of food risks for the benefit of public health

Mar.17

NEHA, Volume 79.7, Pages 8-14

Benjamin Chapman, Maria Sol Erdozaim, Douglas Powell

http://www.neha.org/node/58904

Often during an outbreak of foodborne illness, there are health officials who have data indicating that there is a risk prior to notifying the public. During the lag period between the first public health signal and some release of public information, there are decision makers who are weighing evidence with the impacts of going public. Multiple agencies and analysts have lamented that there is not a common playbook or decision tree for how public health agencies determine what information to release and when. Regularly, health authorities suggest that how and when public information is released is evaluated on a case-by-case basis without sharing the steps and criteria used to make decisions. Information provision on its own is not enough. Risk communication, to be effective and grounded in behavior theory, should provide control measure options for risk management decisions. There is no indication in the literature that consumers benefit from paternalistic protection decisions to guard against information overload. A review of the risk communication literature related to outbreaks, as well as case studies of actual incidents, are explored and a blueprint for health authorities to follow is provided.

I will survive, even hockey

I survived 90 minutes of pickup hockey today, first time I’ve played goal in a year.

If the pavement is going to rise up and bash me on a bicycle, I might as well let people shoot a hard rubber disk at me and get told by a 15-year-old that my technique sucks (paraphrased).

It ain’t Guelph, I was the oldest on the ice, but it doesn’t suck to go to the arena in shorts year round, at noon.

Salmonella and hockey don’t mix: 250 sickened at Riga Cup in 2015

(Thanks to a Brisbane-based colleague and barfblog.com fan who passed this along.)

In April 2015, Finnish public health authorities alerted European Union member states of a possible multi-country Salmonella enteritidis outbreak linked to an international youth ice-hockey tournament in Latvia.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), Finnish and Latvian authorities initiated an outbreak investigation to identify the source. The investigation included a description of the outbreak, retrospective cohort study, microbiological investigation and trace-back. We identified 154 suspected and 96 confirmed cases from seven countries.

Consuming Bolognese sauce and salad at a specific event arena significantly increased the risk of illness. Isolates from Finnish, Swedish and Norwegian cases had an identical multiple-locus variable-number of tandem repeats analysis-profile (3-10-6-4-1).

Breaches in hygiene and food storing practices in the specific arena’s kitchen allowing for cross-contamination were identified. Riga Cup participants were recommended to follow good hand hygiene and consume only freshly cooked foods.

This investigation demonstrated that the use of ECDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Information System for Food- and Waterborne Diseases and Zoonoses platform was essential to progress the investigation by facilitating information exchange between countries. Cross-border data sharing to perform whole genome sequencing gave relevant information regarding the source of the outbreak.

Multi-country outbreak of Salmonella enteritidis infection linked to the international ice hockey tournament

Epidemiology and Infection, pages 1-10, 14 Jun 2017, Pärn T, Dahl V, Lienemann T, Perevosčikovs J, DE Jong B

https://doi.org/10.1017/S0950268817001212

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28610640

The non-hockey fan’s guide to this year’s Stanley Cup Final

This is not the hockey I grew up watching, where players had a smoke and a beer between periods. This is fast, fun and furious.

And if Nashville can embrace hockey (the ice kind for my Aussie friends) so can anyone.

Pete Blackburn of Fox Sports writes:

So, what sport is this now?

Hockey.

Isn’t that the Canadian thing with the ice and skates that no one seems to care about?

Well, some of us care, and not just in Canada. But yes, it’s played on ice. 

But why should I care now? 

Because playoff hockey is amazing and one of the greatest viewing experiences in sports. At the end of the Stanley Cup Final all the players say the f-word on TV as they pass around giant trophy that everybody gets to kiss. It’s a lot of fun.

So, who is playing in this “Stanley Cup Final?”

The Pittsburgh Penguins and the Nashville Predators.

Wait, you mean to tell me Nashville, Tennessee has a hockey team?

Yep! They’re quite good and the city has grown to love them. It’s becoming a really fun hockey town and their crowds are wild and loud. They probably have one of the best playoff atmospheres in hockey. They’re really good at shouting mean things at opposing players in unison.

You also mean to tell me that there are “hockey towns” in the United States?

Yes, and this Final features two pretty good ones. In fact, a Canadian team hasn’t won the Stanley Cup since 1993. 

That must be embarrassing for them.

Yeah, let’s not get into that.

Well, which one of these teams is better?

Well, the Penguins are the defending champions and they have a very good team with a few of the best players in the world (Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin) so they’re slight favorites to win the Stanley Cup, even though they’re without their best defenseman (Kris Letang).

So I should root for them?  

Sure, if you want to. They’re great at scoring goals (fun!) and it would be the first time in nearly 20 years that a team has won the Cup in back-to-back years.

How many Cups have the Predators won?

Zero. This is the first time they’ve even made it to the Final. 

So they’re a bunch of losers?

No, that’s the Capitals. The Predators are just sort of new to the party. They’ve only been a team since 1997. The Penguins were founded 30 years before that. Nashville has a bright future.

Do the Predators actually have a chance? 

Some of their better offensive players got hurt earlier in the playoffs but they’ve still got talented scorers like Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson and James Neal. They definitely still have a chance, mainly because their defense is so good, and that tends to be a huge factor in the playoffs.

Defense is for nerds.

Somewhat agree, but the Predators defense is pretty good at scoring goals themselves. They’ve got a few impressive defensemen that are good at creating offense, including P.K. Subban.

P.K. what now? 

Pernell-Karl Subban. He’s on the Predators and is one of the best defensemen in the league. He scores a lot of goals and usually has awesome celebrations afterward. Plus, he’s funny and is really nice to sick kids. He once pledged to raise $10 million for a children’s hospital.

Oh, wow. Who wouldn’t love that guy?

Well…

What? 

Well, he was actually traded to Nashville last summer by Montreal in a really surprising deal. He kinda got unfairly blamed for some of their disappointing playoff finishes and a lot of people think the Canadiens didn’t like his “character issues.” 

What kind of character issues? Isn’t this the sport where the grown men are allowed to punch each other in the face?

Yeah, but some people apparently think that Subban is a clown for attracting attention to himself by having a lot of fun. The thought was that he “doesn’t hate to lose” enough. So they traded him for an older, more boring guy named Shea Weber.

How did that work out? 

Well, the Predators are playing for the Stanley Cup and Montreal lost in the first round.

Oh. Yikes.

Yeah.

Is there anyone like that on the Penguins?

Well, a guy named Phil Kessel won a Stanley Cup in his first season with the Penguins last year. He’s awesome and goofy and really good at scoring goals. Toronto basically ran him out of town, too.

Why did they do that?

The team stunk so some of the media unfairly pinned it on him and said he was lazy, didn’t care enough and ate too many hot dogs.

Wait, what?

Nevermind. Let’s just move on. 

So, yeah, you should definitely watch the Stanley Cup Final. You’ll either get to see a new-ish team with a wild fan base win their first-ever championship, or you’ll get to see some legends become the first repeat champions in almost two decades. Either way, it should be really fun and exciting, even if you’re not a big hockey fan.

But it sounds like both of these teams are enjoyable and likeable. Who do I choose?

Do you care about uniforms?

No, what kind of adult cares about sports uniforms? 

I do. A lot.

Nerd. Who has the better uniforms? 

Pittsburgh, by a mile. Their jerseys are some of the nicer ones in the league. The Predators dress like bottles of spicy mustard.

Go Predators.

Go Penguins.

Despite some first period jitters in game 1, I predict Predators in 7. And stay away from my bench (upper left, a look I perfected on graduate students who would submit writing but they hadn’t really tried; I’d get through one page and respond, try again).

barfblog.com: This note’s for you

I’m fortunate to have a partner for 11 years now who has repeatedly told me she loves me – just the way I am.

And she’s smart, and main breadwinner in our Brisbane household.

She also swears a lot more than she used too: blames it on being married to a Canadian hockey player, and taken up hockey herself.

Check your e-mail settings, I often go to your trash because I swears a lot.

Thirty years ago I had this feeling.

My hands felt just like two balloons.

By the summer of 1987, I was bored out of my mind studying Verticillium wilt in resistant and susceptible tomato lines – so much so that I would listen, not even watch, but listen, to Toronto Blue Jays games on the radio at night while I infected tomato plants in the lab and then extracted DNA.

It was a non-pharmaceutical sedative.

I decided to immerse myself in finding a bigger audience — newspapers, at the time.

When I was a gradual student back about 1986, I had started writing about science for the University of Guelph student newspaper.

Canadian daughter one was born and the next month I went to a scientific meeting to present some results about my Verticillium findings.

I spent most of my time in an outdoor patio at Carleton University, reading all I could about media and newspapers, and came up with a plan to start an alternative newspaper when I returned to Guelph.

Then I got hired as a section editor at the existing paper.

Then I became editor-in-chief.

And then I quit, and put my alternative paper plan into action.

Thirty years later, I’m going to revisit history and do sorta the same thing.

Not for ego, not for repetition, but for the same reason people wanted me to lead that other paper 30 years ago: a whole bunch of people asked me to do it.

For 25 years I have published barfblog.com and FSnet.

I openly shared this with everyone because that’s what I thought profs at public universities did.

But they had no trouble getting rid of full-professor me.

Lesson learned.

Amy and I had a visit a few months ago from a former student of mine from Ireland, who now lives in Sydney.

She told me later that I wasn’t in the right space to hear what she had to say those few months ago.

She was right.

But she recently told me, what you do is unique, people use your stuff all over the world, can you really just turn your back on all that?

Probably not.

People love food safety as long as it is free.

Universities have been good to me.

But what worked in the time of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle (the first empiricist) may not work today.

Just like we don’t want medical treatments from 2,000 years ago, providing information and the notion of the commons should also fit today.

If you see any adverts on barfblog.com, please let us know. We don’t accept advertising. We’re idealistic that way (until we go broke).

Someone will eventually pay, but until then, I’m happy to embrace the Grateful Dead model of entrepreneurship: Build it and they will come.

Oh, and I am fully aware of the hypocrisy of Neil Young singing this note’s for you, after making millions.

I try to be more grounded.