1.22.2017

pupdate, pressure, and poor customer service

Diego at the beach
Three weeks after losing Tala, Diego became violently ill. The usual home approaches didn't work, but when the trip to the vet didn't work, I was really worried. Seeing this dog -- normally the picture of happiness, with a voracious appetite -- so quiet and sad, and unable to eat, was very scary. He ended up staying at the vet clinic for two nights, on intravenous medications and fluids.

I have been feeling very put-upon. Just before the Christmas holiday, Allan was in a car accident. He wasn't hurt, but the insurance company declared our car a total loss. Then Tala. And then Diego. Service from the insurance company was horrible, adding to the stress, and we needed to buy a car -- fast. All this while I am under a lot of pressure to get both library work and union work wrapped up before our trip. And we need a healthy dog before we leave, too!

This morning we picked up Diego from the clinic, and he is once again his happy self. A huge relief! Our vet strongly suspects inflammatory bowel disease, and is optimistic that a special diet and continuing medication will do the trick. The car saga should end tomorrow, when our friend M@ helps Allan return the rental and pick up our new (to us) car. We're bleeding money, but not for the first time, and undoubtedly not for the last time.

Two notes I wanted to share.

I have been raving about Rollover, the semi-soft dog food that we've been using as training treats. (I mentioned it herehere, and elsewhere.) We've now learned that the high fat content of this food makes it ill-advised for many dogs. Diego has been getting large quantities of this, in place of some of his regular food, for about 20 months. Our vets do not want to guilt us, but I'm sure it contributed to his current issues. If you are using Rollover, please make sure your dog can tolerate a higher-fat diet, and you might want to keep his or her regular food very low fat to balance it out.

The other note is about our insurance carrier, Aviva. Getting in an accident just before the holidays, I realize that service may be slower, and things may take a bit longer to sort out. But that excuse only goes so far. The rep assigned to our claim was unavailable for more than two weeks -- and then appeared only to tell us that we should talk to someone else. But there was no "someone else" -- our information was unavailable to other agents.

Meanwhile, the policy has a cap on the rental of a replacement vehicle. The settlement offer was unreasonably low, and we're about to be out-of-pocket for the rental, because of the agent's incompetence or unavailability. She didn't return phone calls, and when we asked questions by email, she would reply with a five-word "please call me to discuss" -- but would not return our calls. It was very frustrating, and created a lot of extra work and inconvenience for us.

Finally, Allan called the general number, asked to speak to the agent's manager, and left a message saying he was calling to complain. What a surprise, later that day, the rep called us, extended the rental, made a better offer, and mailed a cheque. I realize this may be an aberration, but I'm not so keen to deal with Aviva again.

1.18.2017

chelsea manning will be free!!!!

This is the best news I've seen in a long, long time.
Chelsea Manning, the US army soldier who became one of the most prominent whistleblowers of modern times when she exposed the nature of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan, and who then went on to pay the price with a 35-year military prison sentence, is to be freed in May as a gift of outgoing president Barack Obama.

In the most audacious – and contentious – commutation decision to come from Obama yet, the sitting president used his constitutional power just three days before he leaves the White House to give Manning her freedom.

Manning, a transgender woman, will walk from a male military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, on 17 May, almost seven years to the day since she was arrested at a base outside Baghdad for offenses relating to the leaking of a vast trove of US state secrets to the website WikiLeaks.

Nancy Hollander, Manning’s lawyer, spoke to the Guardian before she had even had the chance to pass on to the soldier the news of her release. “Oh my God!” was Hollander’s instant response to the news which she had just heard from the White House counsel. “I cannot believe it – in 120 days she will be free and it will all be over. It’s incredible.”

. . . Human rights groups welcomed Tuesday’s decision. Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said: “Chelsea Manning exposed serious abuses, and as a result her own human rights have been violated by the US government for years.

“President Obama was right to commute her sentence, but it is long overdue. It is unconscionable that she languished in prison for years while those allegedly implicated by the information she revealed still haven’t been brought to justice.”
I could post about a million more links. I'm relieved and overjoyed that Chelsea Manning will finally be free.

1.08.2017

what i'm reading: four realistic youth novels

Young-adult publishers' mania for series, with the emphasis on fantasy, has finally ebbed. There are still plenty of fantasy series to go around, but the new crop of youth novels is chock full of individual titles in the realistic mode. (In YA land, "realistic" means the opposite of fantasy: set in the existing world with real humans only.)

I've recently read four such novels. I chose three of them because the titles and covers intrigued me, and one based on the author's previous novel. Here are my impressions.

Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard
On the ever-expanding LGBTQ youth bookshelf, Girl Mans Up appears to be the first book to feature a butch lesbian, and I must say it's a welcome addition. All the other female gay protagonists I'm aware of are written in the "just like everyone else, but gay" vein, people whose orientation would not be guessed if not already known. Not so for Pen.

Pen is butch and a little bit genderqueer. Her old-world European parents don't understand her. Her guy friends accept her -- as long as she conforms to their expectations. Her brother is her rock of strength and unconditional love. But in order to be fully herself, she'll have to "man up".

The best thing about Pen is that she's comfortable in her own skin. She has no doubts about her identity or gender. Her problems arise from other people's expectations or intolerance. Her problems also stem from her best friend -- who is a jerk, if only Pen can see him clearly.

One could say this is a book where nothing much happens. Life happens. Regular, ordinary, everyday life, as lived by a teen in the process of finding her place in the world. For some readers, this is enough. For me, it's a welcome change from the conveniently placed life-tragedy that yields wisdom, a staple of youth fiction. For many readers, though, it will not be enough, especially clocking in at 384 pages. One thing is certain, you will love Pen.

The Great American Whatever, by Tim Federle
Quinn, the main character of Tim Federle's first youth novel, is coping with the aftermath of his sister's death, and his mother's subsequent depression. He's also gay, and that's not a problem.

Up to now, Quinn has been hiding in his room, wrapped in his love of old movies. When his best friend Geoff convinces him to take a step forward, Quinn meets a hot guy and falls for him.

Quinn is a fun narrator, and his friendship with Geoff is more important to the story than his new crush. Not a lot happens, but enough happens to make it interesting. Things play out realistically, which I appreciate.

If you're well-versed in contemporary youth fiction, the plot, the themes, and even the voice of The Great American Whatever may seem cliched and derivative. The dead older sibling. The parent with serious depression. The parent who walked out. The wise-cracking male narrator. We know them all. But if you're new to realistic youth novels, or just can't get enough of this type of book, TGAW may seem fresh, breezy, fun, and meaningful.

What Light by Jay Asher
Jay Asher is the author of the 2007 blockbuster youth novel 13 Reasons Why, which explores a teen suicide -- its causes and its aftermath. The book, widely promoted and popular at the time of publication, is now seeing a second life with the current interest in bullying. The publisher has released a 10th anniversary edition, a rare honour in the YA world.

It would be a lot to expect Asher to live up to the promise of this earlier, but I did expect a book with some weight and significance. I was very disappointed. What Light is a sweet, fluffy Christmas romance. The characters are flat and lifeless. Thoughts, feelings, and actions are described in excruciating detail. Girls think about boys, shopping, and who gets to own the title of Best Friend.

Of course, many readers love Christmas romances, and there's no harm in that. But there is harm hiding in this snowflake of a book. Sierra falls for Caleb; Caleb has a big secret, something shocking from his past that he is afraid to share with Sierra. The secret turns out to be a violent episode, in which Caleb was completely out of control. Only because of someone else's quick thinking, the episode did not end in tragedy.

The reader is repeatedly told that this incident was a one-time event, that Caleb is a good person who only needs a second chance. I thought Caleb might be dangerous. But apparently with the love and understanding of a nice girl, the past can be left behind and everything can be forgiven.

The audience for this book is almost exclusively female, and I am concerned about what messages they will take away. No matter what's in a guy's past, if he's charming enough and really sorry, you can overlook it. Warnings from parents and friends can be ignored. And if a guy has a problem, a smart girl can fix it. Sierra is a bland, blank character brought to life by her desire to fix Caleb, throwing herself into the project almost immediately after meeting him. It disturbs me that anyone writing for youth in the 21st century thinks this is appropriate.

The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis
I've saved the best for last. The Female of the Species is searingly honest, powerfully frank, disturbing in all the right ways, yet ultimately hopeful in a realistic way.

Alex Craft's older sister was abducted, raped, and murdered. (Dead sister, absent father, depressed mother.) In response, Alex has locked herself in mental and emotional armour. Also in response -- this will sound like a spoiler, but isn't -- she has murdered her sister's assailant.

In addition to Alex, trying not to feel, there is Peekay, trying not to be perfect, and trying to get over a broken heart. Good-looking and gifted Jack is trying to create a life with more meaning. Jack simultaneously pursues sex with the classically beautiful Branley and is ashamed of his shallowness. He craves something more lasting and authentic, and finds himself drawn to Alex. The gorgeous Branley, envy of all girls and object of desire of all boys, is collapsing under a self-worth based entirely on beauty and sexual availability. Adam, Peekay's ex, is sleeping with Branley. All are haunted by the memory of Anna, Alex's sister, but rape is not only a memory. Rape is an ever-present possibility.

The Female of the Species is about violence -- the violence and the threat of violence that hangs over every female in our society -- and the coping strategies we employ to deal with it. The violence runs the gamut from washroom graffiti and street harassment to roofies, rape, and murder. Many reviewers have noted that the book is about rape culture, which is true. But Alex and Peekay's volunteer work in an animal shelter show that the violence is not limited to women and girls. It is perpetrated, every day, on the powerless, the very creatures it is our responsibility to protect.

I had two problems with this book, but I'm guessing teen readers won't be bothered by either of them. First, the story is told from three different perspectives -- Alex, Peekay, and Jack -- but they all sound exactly the same. It's a challenge to write in different voices, but as an author, if you're giving three different first-person perspectives, you've accepted that challenge.

My second, more significant problem was that I found Alex's abilities hard to believe. As a revenge fantasy, it totally works. But as reality -- a teenage girl who literally gets away with murder, in a small town, where everyone knows everyone else's business -- it strains credulity. None of the reviewers on Goodreads mention this, so I might be the odd reader for whom Alex's revenge didn't seem real.

Despite this reservation, I can say this is an excellent, hard-hitting, honest and gripping story. It's one of the few youth novels to bring an unflinching eye to violence and the society that has more than enough of it to go around.

1.07.2017

update from the land of the missing white dog

We miss Tala a lot. Of course. Need it even be said.

Somehow I have gone from abject grief to poignant acceptance quicker than I expected. I have no idea why this is. With each dog we have said goodbye to, eventually I get to a place where, thinking of them, I feel sad but at peace -- fortunate to have had their love, assured that we did everything we could for them, and a kind of happy-sadness at their memories. My heart still aches for Tala, but somehow I'm at peace with it.

Everyone is asking about Diego. He is doing really well. He seemed "off" for a couple of days -- he seemed to be waiting for Tala to come home. For all we know, he still is. But he has quickly adapted to a new routine, and seems almost like his usual happy self.

I miss the howling, and the rough-housing. I wonder if Diego misses it, too.

I'm grateful that I was home for almost a full week before we suddenly had to say goodbye to Tala. If I had been out of the house at work and union meetings, I would have missed precious time with her. I'm also grateful that the decision was completely obvious. As soon as we saw the chest x-rays, we knew.

I'm having trouble reconciling myself to why we didn't help her sooner. She was having some symptoms, but we attributed them to her chronic spine condition and to age, never imagining something else was going on. She was struggling for a few weeks. But was she suffering? The thought of one of my animals suffering is unbearable for me. My brain tells me we did everything we could, and even if we didn't, we can't go back and re-do it. But my heart is not fully on board.

Tala's death has made me think about all love and all mortality. I'd say this is a sign of age, but in fact each time I lose someone I love, I feel this way. Our ability to love is infinite, but the creatures we love are always finite. And since we human animals are aware of our own mortality, we know that our love will lead to loss. But love we must.

I envy those people who believe in an eternal afterlife. When I say goodbye to someone I love, I realize what a beautiful fiction that is.

1.06.2017

the lost comments of wmtc

I was randomly clicking around, and for absolutely no reason, clicked on Blogger's spam comment folder. And in that folder, I found a bunch of spam comments -- and several real comments from wmtc readers! There were comments from M@, James, deang, and Amy. This was quite a surprise.

I put all the comments through. They are all on very old threads. Strangely, I have not received them by email, as I normally do. Weird.

The lost comments have now been recovered. We can all breathe a sigh of relief.

12.29.2016

tala

We must say goodbye to our sweet Tala today. At the vet yesterday, we got the worst possible news, and we know we must do this right away. I'm grateful that it's a clear decision.

Tala, Tala Bobala, Talabo, T-bo, T. Skinny Face. Princess Tala. My Little Girl.

She started life in a puppy mill in Tennessee. She was rescued to Ohio, then to Husky Savers in Western New York State. Then finally to Canada -- on the underground railroad to freedom. We fell in love with her on Petfinder and have been that way ever since, now one month shy of 10 years.

Talabo. Spinning wildly in circles, a white blur. Patroling the perimeter of her yard to keep us safe from the evil squirrels. Barking and spinning in the car, nonstop. Barking until someone would finally spray her with a hose, hopefully until she was soaked. Staring at the hose, waiting for someone to spray her, or perhaps trying to will the hose to spray her.

At the sound of the word "upstairs," even in casual conversation not directed at her, getting up and walking upstairs to go in her crate. Eating bees. Live bees, buzzing around in her mouth before she swallowed and caught another.

In her younger days, picking on small dogs at the dog park. If they would turn around and give her what-for, she was happy to let them chase her. If they cowered, she bullied them until we could finally distract her.

Mostly nice to other dogs, always sweet to humans, especially children. When we first brought Tala home, Cody hated her, but Tala didn't care, she kept trying to get Cody to play with her, until Cody finally gave in. Tala, best friend to Diego from the moment they met.

Degenerative disc disease or cauda equina syndrome forced us to change her life. She adapted without complaint. Not once, but two or three times, when we had to re-boot her rehab from the beginning. In May 2016 she had a soft tissue sarcoma. We had it removed and she was quickly back to herself.

White, soft, fluffy, with magic self-cleaning fur that repelled water and never looked dirty. ("How do you keep her so clean?" People would ask me all the time.)

Goodbye, my little girl. We will love you forever.








After diagnosis

Rehab



Cherry Beach

Waiting... hoping...

Waiting for a neighbour to spray her.






After one of the wmtc parties.

After her surgery this past May.


This will always be my favourite picture of her.

The picture on Petfinder.
L: "Where is Churchville, New York?"
A: "I don't know, but wherever it is, we're going."






Gypsy, November 28, 1987 - November 12, 1998
Clyde, October 21, 1989 - August 4, 1999
Cody, April 19, 1999 - August 24, 2010
Buster, December 14, 1999 - November 16, 2005
Tala, January 29, 2007 - December 29, 2016
Diego, April 26, 2011

12.27.2016

down these mean streets: raymond chandler's "the simple art of murder"

Netflix has added many older movies to its library, including several classics and modern classics. Among them I noticed "Mean Streets," the 1973 film that put both Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro on the map. I always thought Scorsese took the film's name from Piri Thomas' autobiography, Down These Mean Streets. Thomas' work is a landmark of urban and prison literature, and was highly influential. What I didn't know was that both Thomas and Scorsese borrowed their titles from a common source: an essay by Raymond Chandler, published in 1950, called "The Simple Art of Murder".

The essay is a gem. Chandler analyzes and critiques the murder mystery novel -- its formula, its artifice, its unreality. He refutes the idea that the murder mystery or detective novel cannot also be well crafted piece of art -- and he goes one step further, dismissing the false division between "quality" literature and "escapist" fiction. I loved this part, and agree with it entirely.
In her introduction to the first Omnibus of Crime, Dorothy Sayers wrote: "It (the detective story) does not, and by hypothesis never can, attain the loftiest level of literary achievement." And she suggested somewhere else that this is because it is a "literature of escape" and not "a literature of expression." I do not know what the loftiest level of literary achievement is: neither did Aeschylus or Shakespeare; neither does Miss Sayers. Other things being equal, which they never are, a more powerful theme will provoke a more powerful performance. Yet some very dull books have been written about God, and some very fine ones about how to make a living and stay fairly honest. It is always a matter of who writes the stuff, and what he has in him to write it with. As for literature of expression and literature of escape, this is critics’ jargon, a use of abstract words as if they had absolute meanings. Everything written with vitality expresses that vitality; there are no dull subjects, only dull minds. All men who read escape from something else into what lies behind the printed page; the quality of the dream may be argued, but its release has become a functional necessity. All men must escape at times from the deadly rhythm of their private thoughts. It is part of the process of life among thinking beings. It is one of the things that distinguish them from the three-toed sloth; he apparently -- one can never be quite sure -- is perfectly content hanging upside down on a branch, and not even reading Walter Lippmann. I hold no particular brief for the detective story as the ideal escape. I merely say that all reading for pleasure is escape, whether it be Greek, mathematics, astronomy, Benedetto Croce, or The Diary of the Forgotten Man. To say otherwise is to be an intellectual snob, and a juvenile at the art of living.
Chandler then goes on to explain what he thinks Sayers was really poking at, which leads him to extol one detective writer above all: Dashiell Hammett.

It's a brilliant essay, so beautifully crafted. It shares a certain voice with the George Orwell essays that I love so much -- authoritative, but generous and warm; erudite but easy to follow, with just a hint of wry humour. Reading this essay reminded me that I know Chandler's work only from the film adaptations of his novels; I've never read any of his books. Sadly, the same is true about Dashiell Hammett and James M. Cain, although I love both film noir and hard-boiled detective films and series. Time to remedy that. I'm going to read at least a couple of books by each.

The penultimate paragraph of "The Simple Art of Murder" brings us the mean streets of both titles, and a soaring ode to the hard-boiled detective himself.
In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption. It may be pure tragedy, if it is high tragedy, and it may be pity and irony, and it may be the raucous laughter of the strong man. But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. I do not care much about his private life; he is neither a eunuch nor a satyr; I think he might seduce a duchess and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin; if he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things. He is a relatively poor man, or he would not be a detective at all. He is a common man or he could not go among common people. He has a sense of character, or he would not know his job. He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him. He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness. The story is his adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure. He has a range of awareness that startles you, but it belongs to him by right, because it belongs to the world he lives in.

If there were enough like him, I think the world would be a very safe place to live in, and yet not too dull to be worth living in.
A Farewell to Piri Thomas, One-time Criminal Who Became A Youth and Peace Advocate, the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (2011)

Roger Ebert on Scorsese's "Mean Streets" (2003)

Writers in Hollywood: Raymond Chandler, The Atlantic (1945)