8.26.2015

in which i help a skunk and it kind of says thank you

My apologies to wmtc readers who saw this on Facebook, but this story must be recorded on this blog!

Yesterday morning the dogs were barking at the back door, really going nuts, and not settling down. Checking to see what was going on, I got quite a surprise. A skunk with a container stuck on its head was running in circles, frantically trying to get the thing off. What to do?? I wanted to help it, but I'm not keen on getting skunked! Our dogs have been sprayed many times over the years; our suburban landscape is full of skunks.

Watching this poor creature run wildly around the lawn was so horrible. I called Allan to lure the dogs away from the door, then ran outside with a broom. I thought I could knock the container off the skunk's face from a distance, then get inside before he could hurt me. I hit the container with the broom several times, but it wouldn't come off. The whole time I was muttering, please don't spray me please don't spray me please don't spray me...

Finally I trapped the little guy in a corner with the broom, grabbed the container and pulled - but it was tightly wedged around the skunk's neck and would not budge. I realized the poor thing might have been stuck in the container all night, or even for days.

There was only one thing to do. I took a deep breath, held onto the container, and lifted the skunk in the air. We use an ex-pen to keep the dogs away from one part of the yard, and I held the container on the other side of it, shaking the container over and over, with the skunk dangling from it!

After maybe 10 shakes, the skunk finally fell out. I ran in the other direction... and promptly tripped over the garden hose, falling on my hands and knees on the patio. Ouch! But I got in the house unsprayed. I'm guessing the poor creature was weak and disoriented, dehydrated and hungry, so it had no defense left.

Some people found this story comical, even hilarious. Believe me, it didn't feel funny at the time.

8.22.2015

things i heard at the library: an occasional series: #17

A customer comes to the reference desk to ask about Zinio. I tell him that Zinio allows him to get full access to hundreds of magazines, all at zero cost, through his library account. His eyes light up.

"This is all free?"

"Yes, it's completely free. Do you use a computer at home?" He does.

"Do you have a tablet, by any chance?" Even better, he does.

I show him how he can create an account, then sort magazines by language or interest, then download or read anything he wants.

"When I was growing up in my country, my brother and I walked 12 kilometres to the library. The names of the books were written on little cards. The librarian would write our names on the cards. We would read the books like this." He pantomimes opening a book a tiny bit, to preserve the spine. "And now, look at this..." He sweeps his arm to take in the entire library. "There is so much here." He shakes his head, speechless. "So much. It is so wonderful."

wheelchair rugby finals, parapan am games 2015

The 2015 Pan Am Games and Parapan Am Games were held in Toronto and the GTA this summer. Although I regard these events as a ridiculous waste of money, a very bad deal for residents of the host cities, there was one very bright upside for me: the opportunity to see some disability sports, nearby and at a very high level of play.

Mississauga hosted wheelchair rugby and goalball. I saw goalball at the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta, and it is a unique and thrilling sport, played by blind athletes. Wheelchair rugby is irresistible, as millions have discovered through the excellent documentary "Murderball".

I couldn't get to goalball, but I snagged good seats to the wheelchair rugby finals, which eventually sold out. I went with a friend who had never seen - or even thought about - wheelchair sports before. When we got to the arena, we learned that the gold medal game was between the US and Canada, the same teams that face off in Murderball.

Bronze medal game: Colombia vs. Brazil

In the bronze medal game, Colombia played Brazil. The game started with dull, lacklustre play, not at all what we expected. It looked more like a trial game in a rehab centre than elite international play. But gradually, speed and strategy picked up.

One Colombian player began to dominate the court, not with size or strength, but with agility and finesse. (I think it was Jhon Orozco Nunez, wearing number 4, but I'm not positive.) He used his torso to pivot and swivel and wind his way through openings. The crowd noticed him and began to cheer his every move, and his game came on stronger and faster. By the last quarter, the stands were packed, and every time #4 touched the ball, the crowd went wild. (Also, Brazil had been cleaning up in the medal count, so many people were cheering against them, for the underdog.)

Brazil ramming crowd favourite #4
Despite our favourite #4, the teams were well matched, and the score was neck and neck throughout. In the end, Colombia won the bronze medal: final score 50-48.

Gold medal game: USA vs. Canada

By the time the gold medal game started, the stands were completely packed, a sea of Canada red with the occasional Stars and Stripes visible here and there. The North American players were noticeably bigger and more athletic looking than the South American players. My friend and I were both struck by the difference, leading us to speculate about the difference in healthcare, rehab opportunities, even nutrition and education. Most wheelchair athletes must travel in order to practice and play in tournaments. Depending on where they live, their opportunities to actually play their sport may be very limited.

The game was wild. The US took an early lead, with Canada playing catch-up right from the start, down four or six points. The American team was so strong, we felt that if Canada fell further behind, it was cooked.

Canadian Zak Madell
Just as #4 emerged as the crowd favourite in the bronze medal game, Canadian Zak Madell, wearing #33, quickly established himself as the dominant player. He seemed to either score or assist in every goal. Once he touched the ball he was virtually unstoppable, at one point frustrating four defenders to score. But every time Canada scored and threatened to tie the game, the US would edge further ahead.

Madell with the ball, as usual
In the third quarter, Canada finally tied the score, and the crowd went insane. The score seesawed back and forth, each team squeaking out a goal, then the other team answering with a goal of their own. Finally, with the crowd roaring, Canada took the lead in the fourth quarter, and held it throughout, winning the gold with a score of 57-54.

I ducked out before the medal ceremony, as it was already late and I was working the following morning, which gave me an out from the national anthem issue. (It looks very disrespectful when I sit for the Star Spangled Banner, then stand for O Canada.)

The gold medal wheelchair rugby game was the highest level of play I've ever seen in a wheelchair game. I took a ton of pictures, which are not very good - partly because I was not on the sidelines with a huge lens like the professionals, and partly from my inexperience with sports photography. But if you're interested, they are here.

8.16.2015

help my christian friend vote, or why the harper government must go

A friend of mine is undecided about which party to vote for in the upcoming federal election.

She normally votes Conservative, but may not this time. She dislikes the Trudeau Liberals, and is deciding between sticking with the Conservatives or voting New Democrat. Strategic voting is not an option for her. She wants to vote with her conscience, something I applaud.

My friend is a committed Christian, a person of deep faith with a strong moral compass and a clear sense of justice. She is a mother, also a working woman. I am privileged to know many people whose spirituality informs their daily lives, and she is one of them.

She is researching how to vote. The NDP's platform is out there for all to see. Whether or not one believes that they will (or will be able to) deliver is a separate conversation. But we do know what the NDP stands for.

The Harper Conservatives first formed a government in 2006, and have been in power ever since. They have a long, consistent track record, but you won't find it in their campaign information. You can't just Google up an answer to my friend's dilemma. (Although if you do, the results are very fruitful!)

I was speaking with my friend about the great sense of urgency I feel around this election, and I remembered this wmtc post from 2008: we don't want another harper government because..., a wrap-up of an earlier post called play the "why we don't want another harper government" game.

So I thought... let's play another round of this game. This one's for all the money, because we've never been closer at ridding this beautiful country of this horrible government as we are right now.

Wmtc readers, join me in listing the many ways in which the Harper Government has been un-Christian, has repudiated family values, and has made Canada less democratic and less just.

I don't know if this format will work again, how many people will join in, or if everyone will answer on Facebook. But let's give it a shot.

The rules:

1. One item per comment.

2. Be as factual and specific as possible. Saying "C-51" is not enough. You must explain something you dislike about bill C-51.

3. No duplicates. If someone else has already posted that item, think of another. Different examples of the same item are ok, though. A different problem with C-51 counts as a separate comment.

As we count down to October 19, help my friend decide how to cast her vote.

I'll go first. The most difficult thing will be choosing one!

8.09.2015

a brief history of privatization

Privatization 101.


Another take, also correct.


Chomsky courtesy of Sugaring Off, a post about Harper privatizing Canadian health care. I disagree with the blogger's assessment of Harper's intentions, but I certainly agree with her/his conclusion.

what i'm reading: plainsong trilogy by kent haruf

I've recently read three books by Kent Haruf: Plainsong, Eventide, and Benediction, also known as the Plainsong Trilogy.

These novels are set in the rural US west, in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado. Plainsong is a small, quiet, poignant story, about how some unrelated people come together to form a chosen family. Through various characters, especially boys and men, the author explores different visions of manhood and of parenting, different paths to being a good and decent person.

A pregnant teenage girl, two elderly brothers who are ranchers, a schoolteacher whose wife has left him, two young boys whose family is in crisis, some reckless teenagers and their thoughtless, self-absorbed parents. These characters and others are set against minimal, almost elemental descriptions of rural and small-town life on the high plains.

The book had me quite teary-eyed, but not from sadness. As in life, characters do not automatically reach a happy ending, but anyone searching for connection and redemption can find it - often an unexpected form - in a fellow human.

I originally read Plainsong when it was published in 1999, loved it, then lost track of the author. Through a library customer, I learned that it was the first of a trilogy. When the author died last year, I remembered that conversation and put holds on all three books.

Plainsong was as beautiful as I remembered. I continued with Eventide (2004) and Benediction (2013). Those were very good, and worth reading, but Plainsong stands alone as a truly wonderful book. These three books are not strictly a trilogy in terms of plot and events; they are set in the same town and there is some overlap of characters. You can read Plainsong on its own with no loss or loose strings.

Some months after Haruf's death, his Our Souls at Night was published to excellent reviews. I plan on reading that, too.

8.08.2015

thoughts on re-watching m*a*s*h, one of the greatest tv shows of all time

Can the comedy-before-sleep slot be filled with overt social and political relevance? We'll soon find out. After struggling through the last seasons of 30 Rock, I've rewarded myself by starting M*A*S*H from season 1, episode 1. (Thank you, Netflix!)

It's no coincidence that M*A*S*H, one of the best and most daring sitcoms of all time, first aired in 1972. It was a time of great openness and risk-taking in mainstream movies, radio, and publishing. That risk-taking extended right down to network television, bringing realism and social commentary to a level previously unseen - and not tolerated - on the small screen.

Even with that openness, no one could have made a movie and a TV show openly criticizing the Vietnam War while it was still raging. Larry Gelbart (like Robert Altman, who made the movie version), found a solution both elegant and obvious: set the action in a different war. The Korean War, fought from 1950 to 1953, was the perfect stand-in, an illustration of the maxim "comedy is tragedy plus time". We get Southeast Asia, anti-communist rhetoric, young people wounded and dying far from home - everything we saw on the nightly news. It was recognizable, yet safe.

Like most TV watchers at that time, I watched M*A*S*H religiously, often with my parents, who also loved the show. I'm guessing I stopped watching around 1980 - about the time it stopped being funny - although I did tune in for the famous final episode.

When I started the re-watch after not having seen the show in 30-odd years, I wondered, would it still be funny? Also, when it would become itself? When you re-watch a classic show, you often learn that the first few episodes, or even the entire first season, was clunky, or forced, or simply not itself yet; the writers and actors hadn't yet found the show's true voice. I was very curious to see when the show would become the M*A*S*H I remember.

The answer is: immediately. The show is itself - and funny - from the very first episode. It becomes overtly political only a few episodes later. Alan Alda, whose work as an older actor I find insufferably pompous, is a gifted star in the role of a lifetime. But then, the entire cast is perfect.

If I recall correctly, M*A*S*H may be one of the few shows that actually improved with later cast changes, becoming more nuanced and less broad. I'll find out if that perception holds up, along with my memory of the show becoming maudlin, overly sentimental, and repetitious towards the end.

The show was anti-war and anti-racist from the beginning - despite the early presence of an African American doctor bunking in "The Swamp," with the lovely nickname of Spearchucker. (He disappears after a few episodes.) And despite the adult female nurses being referred to as "girls" - as they would have been in the 1950s, when the show is set - women are portrayed as strong, competent, thinking people.

M*A*S*H isn't sexist or racist, but is it ever homophobic! This was the norm in all TV shows until very recently, but it still makes me cringe.* Even so, our hero Hawkeye is unafraid to hug, kiss, and even sometimes dance with other men in the unit.

The show may also be great for not-yet-famous cameos. So far I've seen Leslie Nielsen as a gung-ho corporal whose unit has abnormally high casualty rates, and Ron Howard, billed as "Ronny Howard". Pre-Richie Cunningham, viewers would have thought, "Isn't that the boy who played Opie?"

I'm sure my M*A*S*H re-watch will inspire several wmtc posts.

* Update. The homophobia ended in the middle of the first season. Hawkeye frequently makes frequent joking come-ons to all the different men, either met with joking acceptance ("I thought you'd never ask") or with eye-rolling. And there are all the jokes about how hot Klinger looks, what "little number" he should wear. But no more jokes about how hilarious it is to be "one of those" men.

7.28.2015

35 survivors of cosby assaults speak out in new york magazine

In a powerful show of courage, strength, and feminist solidarity, 35 women (of the 46 total) who have officially accused Bill Cosby of sexually assaulting them share their stories in New York magazine.

Read, watch, listen.

7.26.2015

preparing for the inevitable and diego's mid-term report card

As the days count down until we move from house to apartment, I'm having trouble shaking my sadness.

I'm very aware of the privileged position I'm in. We were able to find a really nice apartment, and although moving is expensive, we'll be able to absorb it. Right now we have a ridiculous amount of space for two people, so it's not like it will hurt us to downsize. But all that awareness takes place in my rational brain. In my heart, I am so sad, both for myself and for Tala.

We lived in apartment with dogs for almost our entire time in New York. I always said dogs could have a good life living in an apartment, as long as their people are committed to getting them enough exercise. It was true then and it's true now.

But when I see Tala relaxing in the grass, or even staring out the window at passers-by, I fear that I'm about to ruin her life.

Tala willing the hose to spray her
Diego will be happy wherever we are. He doesn't much like to stay outside without us anyway. He wants to be with his people, full stop. But Tala is an independent kind of dog. She's sweet and affectionate, but she has her own mind. Sometimes it seems like she has her own plans for the day. Let's see, today I'm going to make Mommy hold the food bowl while I eat, then get Daddy to spray me with the hose, then make Diego play with me, then spend some time outside in the shade.

I have a real fear - irrational, but very potent - that after we move, Tala will become depressed, and go into a decline from which she will never recover.

It's ridiculous. I know it's not going to happen.

I think I know it's not going to happen.

I might know that. Might not.

University of Diego

We are working hard to get Diego apartment-ready. It's still difficult to imagine him regularly passing other dogs in the lobby without melting down, or sitting calmly when an elevator door opens, but we've made real progress in the two or three weeks since we started, so... I am cautiously optimistic. Although still quite anxious about the whole thing.


...must stay... must stay... must sta
For motivation, along with heaps of praise and love, we are using this amazing stuff called Rollover. When doing serious concerted training, it's common for dogs to gain weight, and also to overdose on salty or fatty snacks, causing all kinds of problems. But Rollover is nutritionally complete dog food. However much we use for the day's lessons, we subtract a certain amount of regular kibble from their dinners.

It comes in a giant roll, like an enormous cooked sausage. We cut off a thick slice, then chop that up into bits. We keep a day's worth of treats in packages in the fridge, so we can monitor what he's getting. You can freeze it long-term, too. It's even made in Canada, from Canadian beef (or New Zealand lamb) and Canadian grains, processed in Alberta.

Rollover is what the trainers call a "high-value reward". A lot is being asked of Diego, so we have to reward him with something really special. From his reaction, I'd say this is about as special as it gets. Both dogs are absolutely wild for it. I've started to rub bits of the stuff on Tala's medications, then throw the pills in her dinner. She's eating with an almost Diego-like fervor.

And the big boy is getting lots and lots of Rollover! There's the leash training, walking-past-dogs-and-distractions training, and there's regular command ("trick") training, which our trainer says is an essential component of this whole project. Diego is not only learning new associations and new behaviours - he's also learning how to learn. Supposedly all the training works together.

Yesterday Diego heard a dog bark behind a fence, and looked at me! Today he heard the neighbour's gate - a huge trigger that usually sends him crashing down the space between houses, barking and jumping like a maniac. He took two steps towards the sound, then faced me and came running over for his reward. A+!!!

If you're curious about the process, our trainer sends us videos as background materials. Here's a quick one, counter-conditioning a Jack Russell Terrier away from aggressive behaviour. Here's a beautiful Tala-like dog learning not to bark, and doing the emergency U-turn. Here's some trick training: the paw-target touch. Diego learned this in about two seconds, thwacking his big paw down with great gusto. Whoo-hoo, hit this with my paw, get Rollover!

We have a weekly schedule, to be sure that one of us is working with Diego every day, and to build progressively more challenging scenarios. The trick is to move the training forward but not go so fast that he has setbacks. We're told that the adrenaline and cortisol rush that occurs from a negative encounter has lasting negative effects.

Buster feeling safe inside
The training has made me think of our beloved Buster, for whom walking outside was an ordeal, every single walk of every single day. He really only felt safe and secure inside. And because he could never play in a dog park, he never got enough exercise, so he had little opportunity to release his energy and tension.

Thankfully Diego will not have that problem. Living in an apartment will be great motivation to take them to the dog park more often. If we can just get him down the elevator and out of the building.