2.01.2015

pupdate!

It's been a very long time since I've posted a pupdate.

The short version: Tala is doing great!

You may recall that some years back, shortly after we adopted Diego, our Tala was diagnosed with cauda equina syndrome. Thus began a long, slow process of rest, rehabilitation, and experiments with medication. Our little girl's wild days of being on the move every waking hour were over. But we were determined to do everything we could to transition her into a more calm, but still active, life.

We have been so fortunate that our efforts have paid off. Tala can be off-leash at the dog park again - something we couldn't do for more than a year. She can walk up to 30 or 40 minutes on the leash, a few times a week. She can come upstairs to sleep every night, which was strictly prohibited for years. And we've been able to significantly reduce her medication.

When she comes upstairs, Tala usually doesn't sleep in our bedroom. A friend gave us this extra-big, extra-cushy dog bed, after her wonderful elderly dog left this world. Tala has claimed it as her throne.




When I think of how devastating it was to learn that Tala had a chronic, degenerative condition - one that could paralyze or kill her - and I see her so happy and content now, I am so grateful. I honestly never thought she'd come back this far.

In the process, Tala has become incredibly sweet! When she was younger, Tala was too busy, too active, to pay much attention to her humans. She liked to be pet and would submit to a hug once in a while, but mostly she was on the move, doing that famous Husky trot, keeping the yard safe from squirrels, bullying small dogs at the dog park, goading Diego into play. In her more sedate middle age, she's become so much more affectionate and attached to us. We love it.

She's also very attached to her toys! Anytime she's lying down, relaxing, she likes to have a toy with beside her. Her favourite is Mr. Squishy Bone. (Tala has bad teeth. After she had some serious dental damage, we were forced to switch from her beloved Nylabones to Kongs.) Mr. Squishy Bone exists in triplicate so there's always one around when she needs it.



Tala likes to chew Squishy, but often she just likes to hold it or have it close.






Outside, she likes to have an Orbee around at all times.



Of course, this is her favourite toy.



We have never had two dogs as attached to each other as this pair. They play constantly. (These videos are old, but nothing has changed - except the size of our backyard.)

video


And they do this at least once daily, often three or four times a day. (Another old video. The window has changed but the song remains the same.)

video

And how is Diego, you ask? He is the same as always: big, goofy, drooly, happy, pushy, annoying, not too bright, incredibly loving, sweet as can be.

1.26.2015

follow up: a brighter picture on ebooks and libraries, in some cases

Last summer, I blogged about the very bad arrangement between publishers and public libraries regarding ebooks, and suggested that library users could help their libraries by not borrowing ebooks.

I've discovered some additional information that works in favour of libraries. This also answers the question asked in comments here.

The $85-for-26-downloads pricing structure applies to bestsellers and other hot titles. And this is still a very bad deal. But for less-popular titles, especially genre fiction (romance, mysteries, and sci-fi by lesser-known authors), ebook prices are very low. In many cases, the cost of a digital version be only a few dollars - a small fraction of the cost of a print edition. Thus libraries can stretch their collection dollar by licensing ebooks, ordering 25 ebooks for the cost of one print edition.

Funny, though, that I didn't discover this while reading about the issue online. I had an opportunity to speak with the head of fiction selection at our library system, and she explained the ebook pricing structure more thoroughly.

The movement towards ebooks is still a problem for many customers, of course. Our library likes to say, "You don't need a special device. If you have a computer and can send an email, you can read an ebook." Technically true, but disingenuous. How many people want to read a book at their desk? Most people want a more relaxed setting for pleasure reading. And they may want to carry a book with them. For comfort and portability, you do need a device. And for many people, that need creates several obstacles between them and their reading - not something the library should be doing.

But at least we now know that if your library catalogue says "ebook only," the library is probably saving money, not spending unnecessarily. And you can borrow the title without concern for your library's budget.

1.25.2015

let them stay week 2015: january 25-31: make your voice heard

Allan guest post

Since September 2014, seven US Iraq War resisters have received negative decisions in their cases. Two veterans were given removal dates (i.e., dates by which they must leave the country). One resister received a stay of removal and the government rescinded the second removal order at the last minute. These reprieves are extremely good news, but war resisters and their loved ones continue to feel stress and uncertainty.

The timing of these initial negative decisions was odd. After no movement on any cases for more than a year, seven cases — allegedly independent of one another — were suddenly announced as Prime Minister Stephen Harper tried to increase Canadian support for the US's latest attack on the people of Iraq.

As the resisters continue their fight, they know that a majority of Canadians are on their side. Nearly two-thirds of Canadians support allowing US Iraq War resisters to remain in Canada. However, the Harper government continues to ignore both the will of the people and the will of Parliament, which has twice passed resolutions calling on Harper to allow war resisters to stay in the country. In addition, all of the opposition parties have recently reaffirmed their support for US war resisters in Canada.

The War Resisters Support Campaign is once again calling on Canadians to speak out against these attempts by the Harper government to remove remaining US war resisters from Canada.

During Let Them Stay Week — January 25 to 31, 2015 — let Minister of Immigration Chris Alexander know that you support a provision for US war resisters to remain in Canada, and that you oppose any and all attempts to deport them.

HOW YOU CAN HELP:

Sunday, January 25 – Profile Picture Day: Change your profile picture on Facebook in support of US war resisters for the duration of Let Them Stay Week.

Monday, January 26 – Media Outreach Day: Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper.

Tuesday, January 27 – Email/Phone Blitz: Call or email Minister of Immigration Chris Alexander (cc to party leaders, immigration critics, and your MP). Click here to send your email. Mr. Alexander's phone numbers are: 613-995-8042 and 905-426-6808.

Wednesday, January 28 – Mail-in Letters Day: Write a letter to the Minister of Immigration Chris Alexander, House of Commons, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1A 0A6. The letter can be sent postage-free within Canada.

Thursday, January 29 – Social Media Day: Share, post, disseminate information on war resisters on social media.

Friday, January 30 – Community Outreach Day: Call your local MP's office to express your concern; circulate the US war resister petition; make a donation to the War Resisters defence fund; post a window-sign at your home, workplace or community organization.

Below is a joint statement recently issued by US war resisters in Canada.
Joint Statement by former US military personnel who came to Canada because of their conscientious objection to the Iraq War.

We are American war resisters. Many of us are combat veterans. All of us came to the conclusion that we could not in good conscience participate in the unjust and illegal war and occupation launched in March 2003 against Iraq.

Faced with jail time and forced redeployment in support of that disastrous war, we sought refuge in Canada.

The response from Canadians has been overwhelmingly welcoming and supportive, and has made it possible for us to settle here, raise families and build communities.

But the Conservative government has directly intervened to deny us access to a fair immigration process.

We now face imminent removal from Canada. Our removal will tear apart our families and punish us for simply doing what Canadians have already done – refusing to support and participate in an illegal and unjust war.

Former Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney publicly disparaged us, instructed immigration officers to "red-flag" our cases, and labelled us "criminally inadmissible" to Canada. This has prejudiced any chance of having our cases decided on their merits.

Yet Canada's Parliament twice voted to allow us to stay. Canadian courts have acknowledged the disproportional punishment handed to US soldiers who have spoken out publicly in Canada. Those who have been forced back by the Conservative government have been court-martialed and received sentences from 12 to 24 months in jail.

It is no coincidence that so many of us are facing deportation at this very moment. It is difficult to manufacture consent for a new war when we are still here to tell the ground truth of the previous war. There is still time for Canadians to speak out – but time is running out.

1.18.2015

two random observations arising from watching a tv show from my childhood

In September, I blogged about watching "Bewitched" on Netflix as my "comedy before sleep" show. I'm still watching it, sometimes taking as many as three nights to get through one episode, so potent is this sleep aid. I want to share two random observations based on Bewitched.

People on TV have whiter teeth now.

I always notice teeth and smiles, and it was immediately apparent that the teeth of every actor on Bewitched is dull and off-white, compared to the gleaming white teeth seen on TV shows today.

This is obviously down to tooth-whitening technology. But it must mean that everyone on TV now is having their teeth whitened, that tooth-whitening has become one more appearance enhancer that is expected of actors and aspiring actors - one more way that TV does not reflect reality.

The difference is quite striking. No one with the kind of teeth I see on Bewitched would be allowed on TV today, except as guests on a Jerry Springer-esque show.

The other observation is about the two Darrins. Bewitched fans know there is the original Darrin, played by Dick York, and "the other Darrin," an expression now synonymous with casting failure, played by Dick Sargent.

As I've been plowing through Bewitched episodes, I've been awaiting the appearance of Darrin II. I purposely didn't look up when the switch occurred, wanting to be surprised. I noticed in Season 5 that Darrin was getting less screen time, and sometimes disappeared for entire episodes, "in Chicago" on business. I assumed this was a bad omen for Darren the First.

Then one day, in the cold open, Samantha calls to her husband, he turns around to face the camera... and there he is: the other Darrin. It's the first episode of Season 6. Elizabeth Montgomery has new, above-the-title billing, David White (Larry Tate) has Endora-style billing in the opening credits, and the theme song has been shortened. (Attention spans were dropping, even back then.) Thus begins Darrin the Second.

It now strikes me as very strange that a show would cast a new actor in a major supporting role, rather than write the character out of the show. I was wondering if any contemporary shows have done this, and found this: 25 Casting Fails on TV that They Expected Us Not to Notice. Many of these examples are character voicings, and many mark the disappearance of a minor character. A few are actual casting changes. But none, to my knowledge, are as major a character as Darrin was on Bewitched.

These casting changes used to happen on daytime soaps all the time, and perhaps still do. (I haven't watched daytime soaps since high school.) A voice would intone, "The part of Joe Smith is now being played by Jamie Joe-White," a new actor would enter the scene, and that would be that. The most famous instance I can think of was on a nighttime soap: when Barbara Bel Geddes was replaced by Donna Reed on "Dallas". This was an unmitigated disaster; the network was forced to concede a better contract to Bel Geddes and put her back on the show.

Does this happen anymore for major characters? On Seinfeld, Jerry's father was originally played by a different actor, as was Pam's mother on The Office. But both were minor roles. I'm wondering if any contemporary sitcoms have changed the actor playing a major role, rather than getting rid of the character.

I'm also wondering if people who watched Bewitched in real time would have known that Dick York was being replaced by Dick Sargent. Would it have been reported in some entertainment media - not in a trade publication like Variety, but in the entertainment section of local newspapers? Or did everyone just turn on their TVs and experience the shock of The Other Darrin?

we like lists: things we learn from tv detective and murder mystery shows

If you enjoy detective shows, murder mysteries, and legal dramas, you learn a lot of things that don't necessarily reflect reality. Here are some things you may learn from these shows.

1. Women are crazy and kill people.

I have already blogged about and disproportionate percentage of female murderers on TV detective shows.

In reality, about 90% of homicides are committed by men. I don't know what percent of TV murderers are women, but on some shows it's well over half.

2. Defense lawyers are all scum.

On quality police and legal dramas, most categories of people are portrayed as both good and bad. There are honest prosecutors and corrupt prosecutors. There are valiant feminist crusaders and wacko women schemers. But only one character is uniformly and consistently portrayed in a negative light: the defense attorney. On TV, there are no honest defense lawyers. They are all evil magicians who use the law - often dismissed as "a technicality" - to subvert justice.

In the modern justice system, everyone is entitled to a defense. The revelation of scores of wrongful convictions points to the need for such a system. Yet in the world of TV detective shows, when a suspect "lawyers up," she is practically admitting guilt.

The award for the most scummy TV defense attorney of all time goes to Maurice Levy (played by Michael Kostroff), who defends the Baltimore drug dealers and murderers who populate "The Wire". Levy is also the only Jewish character on the show.

In "The Wire," as in many quality shows, characters have a lot of nuance. The good guys are deeply flawed, the bad guys sometimes show compassion, and sometimes it's not so clear who is good and who is bad. Except for defense attorneys. There is only one. And he is very bad.

3. CCTV is an important and useful law-enforcement tool.

The entire UK - and, of course, much of the US, Canada, and elsewhere - is now blanketed in surveillance cameras. Study after study shows that CCTV does very little to prevent crime, except in limited, closed environments such as parking lots or stores. You'd never know this from watching detective shows, in which CCTV is often a crucial link in apprehending very bad people who do very bad things. Yet another cultural trope to remind us that if you have nothing to hide, you have no reason to oppose surveillance - that is, to value your privacy.

Anything else?

thoughts arising from the death of a defender of free speech

This week's obituaries included the last living link to two landmark moments in the history of freedom of expression.

Al Bendich was just two years out of law school when he wrote the brief that is credited with the victory in the famous "Howl" obscenity case. In 1957, Lawrence Ferlinghetti published Allen Ginsberg's masterpiece "Howl" in book form and sold it in his City Lights bookstore (now a San Francisco institution). Ferlinghetti was arrested on obscenity charges; the story of his trial is tremendous. You can read a bit about it in Bendich's New York Times obituary; the movie "Howl" is also a good primer.

A few years later, Bendich would successfully defend the performer Lenny Bruce. Of the four court trials that Bruce would endure, the case that Bendich defended was the only one to end in acquittal.

* * * *

I noticed Bendich's obituary while the law - and its many uses and abuses - was on my mind. We had just seen the documentary "West of Memphis," about a horrendous injustice perpetrated by the justice [sic] and legal systems in the US state of Arkansas. (A feature film "Devil's Knot" was also made about this case. It is terrible. Skip it and go straight to "West of Memphis".)

"West of Memphis" is the story of how three teenage boys were convicted of a crime they did not commit, while the man who very likely did murder three young boys was never even arrested. Two of the teenagers were sentenced to life in prison; one received the death penalty. Only massive, sustained, unrelenting public pressure - and the involvement of several high-profile celebrities such as musical artist Eddie Vedder and director Peter Jackson - resulted in the release of the convicted men, but not before they served 18 years in prison and without exoneration.

The personal and specific stories of what happened to these young men is awful enough, but far more terrible is the knowledge that these wrongful convictions were not unusual. The only unusual part was the public spotlight and their eventual release.

As we've learned through the work of people like Barry Scheck and The Innocence Project, and Northwestern Law School's Center on Wrongful Convictions, wrongful convictions occur all the time. While they may happen for many reasons, most wrongful convictions have one root cause: political pressure. Prosecutors feel they must produce a suspect and get a conviction in order to retain public confidence in the criminal justice system, and ultimately, their jobs.

What kind of justice is that?

I can think of few things more awful - more frustrating, more anger-producing, more disillusioning - than a person serving time for a crime he did not commit. And I can think of few things more useless in terms of justice. Wingnuts who complain about the (supposedly) liberal fixation on wrongful conviction conveniently forget that each wrongful conviction represents a murderer and/or a rapist who is free to continue to terrorize and kill more victims.

* * * *

I used to refer to myself as a law-school refugee; when I was in university, I was under a fair bit of paternal pressure to take the LSATs, apply, and attend law school. The idea held a certain amount of appeal. (Me and my subconscious puns.) Through my early 20s, I still occasionally considered it, to get involved in constitutional law, as practiced by organizations like the Center for Constitutional Rights and other left-leaning public-interest groups.

"West of Memphis" left me thinking about the many paths lawyers may take. For a long time, I worked as support staff in law firms where wealthy lawyers help even more wealthy corporations make more profit, pay less taxes, destroy the environment, and buy legislation to do more of all three. They're on one end of a spectrum that ends, for me, with the legal warriors who work to overturn wrongful convictions, defend the environment, defend free speech, defend human rights and civil liberties.

So... thank you, Al Bendich!

1.11.2015

solidarity forever

Poor neglected wmtc. In addition to having absolutely zero time and mental space to write, I have some kind of head-cold-thing. So instead of trying to string words together in an order that conveys meaning, I will use this blog as a Tumblr, something formerly known as a photo blog.

I've been seeing such beautiful, creative displays of solidarity lately. These actions can be so inspiring - reminding us that we can demonstrate not only against bigotry and hatred, but for love and compassion, and for justice.

After anti-Muslim rhetoric was scrawled into an Uppsala mosque wall yesterday hundreds of residents gathered to paste cut-out hearts and messages of support onto the entrance of the building, ahead of Friday’s prayers.

The previous day police reported that a Molotov cocktail was tossed at the religious building fortunately failed to catch fire.

Hundreds gathered in the countries three largest cities, Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo, to condemn the attacks across the country under the banner: “Don’t touch my mosque”.

Kobe Bryant and his Los Angeles Lakers team-mates are the latest NBA players to join the protest against police violence.

Bryant and the Lakers wore “I can’t breathe” T-shirts in the warm-up for their game against Sacramento on Tuesday night.

The Cologne Cathedral and several other landmarks across Germany went dark last night in protest against marches by Pegida, an anti-Islamization movement that has rocked the country in recent months.

Several University of Oregon football players are facing potential disciplinary action after celebrating their recent Rose Bowl win over Florida State University by chanting “no means no” — apparently in mockery of Florida’s quarterback, Jameis Winston, who was accused of sexually assault in a case that has been fraught with controversy for the past two years.

Joe Sacco's brilliant response to Charlie Hebdo attacks


Hands Up Don't Shoot

12.31.2014

happy new year from wmtc

"Hey Diego, wanna hear a secret...?"
It's been an exciting year here in wmtc-Joy of Sox-land: me working full-time in my new career, completing a year as a youth-services librarian, Allan publishing a new book, which was well received and got great reviews.

It looks to be an exciting year ahead, too: I was recently elected head of our library workers' union. Our membership finally has an appetite for a stronger union, and we have a revamped leadership team to show for it. I expect all my accumulated experience and skills will be put to the test as I navigate some brand-new territory.

Other than that, let's see. Read a lot, wrote too little, watched a lot of things on Netflix. Suggested lots of books to lots of people, answered a ton of questions. Helped some great teens read, discover, create, and socialize. Went to Paris with my mother. Participated in an inspiring socialism conference.

Took the dogs - both in good health - to the park at every opportunity. Sat in my backyard and drank iced coffee, also at every opportunity. Paid off a lot of debt, enough to start thinking about our next big trip.

I'm looking forward to a lot more of the same, plus one huge change: 2015 is the end of the Harper Government.

I wish you all a wonderful year ahead, full of good friends, good health, good books, and unexpected joys. Happy New Year!

12.27.2014

what i'm reading: four classic graphic novels for adults who think they don't like graphic novels

Despite the increased attention given to graphic novels in recent years, many readers don't consider graphic novels when thinking about what to read next. In this "what i'm reading" post, I highlight four graphic novels considered classics of the form.

At least three of these books are included on high school and university curricula, and taken seriously as literature. These are certainly not the only graphic novels to achieve that standing, but if you asked a bunch of non-graphic-fiction readers to name some well-known and influential graphic novels, these would likely top the list. Each is worth reading, and perhaps will lead you to explore the format. (Or not.)

First on any such list has to be Maus (now known as Maus I: My Father Bleeds History). Art Spiegelman is the godfather of the modern graphic novel, and this book, first published in 1986, might be his best work. It is a foundational work of graphic fiction, and a definitive work of the Holocaust.

Maus is both disturbingly realistic and a fable. In this Holocaust tale, the Jews are mice, the Nazis are cats, the Poles are pigs, the French are frogs, and the Americans are dogs. The effect invites the reader to imagine familiar events in new ways. That alone is a tremendous feat.

To write Maus, Spiegelman interviewed his father Vladek, a Holocaust survivor, about his experiences. The book recounts those, but also reflects on the burdens of the next generation, and the burdens of knowledge that successive generations must confront.

To date, Maus is the only graphic fiction to win the Pulitzer Prize. The Wall Street Journal called it "the most affecting and successful narrative ever done about the Holocaust"; the New York Times anointed it "the first masterpiece in comic book history".

Maus II: A Survivor's Tale: And Here My Troubles Began (1992), which I own but have never read, focuses on Spiegelman's difficult relationship with his father, illuminating the unique experience of the adult children of Holocaust survivors.

In 2011, Spiegelman published MetaMaus: A Look Inside a Modern Classic, a beautiful "making of" book. There is also The Complete Maus, 25th Anniversary Edition, which dates that quarter-century from when Spiegelman was publishing the material in serial form in his Raw, his comics magazine.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood is Marjane Satrapi's memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution.

Satrapi weaves a condensed but vivid history of Persia/Iran into her family's history and her own coming-of-age. Satrapi was a rebellious, outspoken child raised by Marxist parents who were also descendants of Iran's last emperor. She witnesses the overthrow of the Shah, the installation of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating war with Iraq with a child's incomplete understandings and sensitivities - and also a child's egocentrism.

Persepolis is funny, sad, sweet, and revealing. It is political, historical, and deeply personal. I think most Western readers would find the history portions fascinating and new.

The stark black-and-white drawings are powerful, easy to interpret, and deepen the reader's understanding - something graphic novel illustrations should, but don't, always do.

Persepolis was originally published in French; the English translation was published in 2003, Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return in 2005, and the excellent movie adaptation came out in 2007.

Ghost World, by Daniel Clowes, is an ode to teenage alienation.

Two girls, best friends, spend their days wandering around their unnamed town (somewhere in the US), criticizing everyone and wondering what shape their lives will take. As they grow up, they also grow apart, as each must decide whether to leave behind the shield of ironic detachment and cynicism and participate in the world.

Clowes quite brilliantly captures a type of teenage experience that is easily dismissed or misinterpreted from the outside. You can feel the longing that lies beneath the cynicism.

Like our two anti-heroes, Ghost World is more a meandering collection of scenes than a fully realized story, the form perfectly reflecting the characters' reality. (If I recall correctly, the movie, which I liked very much, is stronger on plot than the book.)

It's a fast read, but can leave you wondering what you missed. But then it's worth reading a second time.

Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth was, I believe, the first adult graphic novel I ever read.

Ware's illustrations are more complex, less straightforward, and more varied than any other graphic novelist I'm familiar with. His style can make for a challenging read.

Add to that, the story itself is extremely sad - a study of generations of abandonment, loneliness, fear, and depression. Jimmy Corrigan is very good, but I recommend it with a warning sticker. Although I read it many years ago, just thinking about it makes my heart ache.