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)


12.26.2016

travel safety in egypt vs anywhere else in the world

When I tell people I'm going to Egypt, they are happy and excited for me. Then, almost everyone asks me if it's safe there, and says, "Be careful." The recent incident in Berlin has caused me to reflect on why this is.

First: I am not complaining about friends expressing concern for my safety. I know that they are coming from a place of care and concern.

But they are also coming from a place of fear. The media has conditioned us to think of the Middle East as inherently unstable and unsafe. Add to that the violence during and after the 2011 Egyptian revolution, and western fears that US-backed dictator Mubarak would be replaced with a fundamentalist theocracy.

In Canada, there's also another layer: what I observe as a prevalent Canadian attitude about travel safety. To my mind, many Canadians are inordinately worried about safety when travelling. They are often timid about the world, risk-averse, people who value safety over adventure, and the known world over exploration. The majority of Canadians like their travel pre-packaged, predictable, and tame. As with all generalizations, exceptions abound, but I observe this on a regular basis.

The Canadian media stokes fears of travel, with sensational reporting on crime against vacationing Canadians, especially in Mexico. From what I can glean from news stories, some of this violence seems to be directed at tourists in heavily touristed areas. This CBC story sought to put the incidents in perspective, but CBC is among the worst offenders of sensationalist scare-stories about Mexico.

When my friends urge me to "be careful" in Egypt, I think there must be some measure of Islamophobia involved. I don't think it's conscious -- but I really don't know. We're traveling to "the Muslim world" or "the Arab world," as people say. To many people, that equates with danger.

When I traveled to Europe, no one expressed concerns for my safety, despite bombings in Paris, Madrid, and London in the not-distant past -- to say nothing of the murder rate in the United States. Yet Egypt is the only destination that has earned all the "be careful"s.

It's not that I haven't thought about the risk of going to Egypt and Jordan. I've been looking into the relative safety of this trip, off and on, for a few years. I came to the conclusion that for tourism, Egypt is safe enough. I assessed the risk as best I could -- and also assessed our age, financial situation, and the timing of this trip in our lives -- and decided now was the time. (I'm also hoping that we'll take advantage of tourism to Egypt still being depressed, encountering smaller crowds and better ease of travel.)

We flew to Ireland exactly two months after September 11, 2001, and just hours after a flight leaving from the same airport crashed and burned just after take-off. We could see the lights of the emergency crews from the runway. That felt a lot riskier than the trip we're planning now. And of course, the worst thing that ever happened to me happened while I was home, sleeping in my own bed.

In terms of specific trip planning, we did make a few concessions to safety. We've ruled out a few sites that seem too far off the beaten track, which in another place and time we might have trekked to. We were considering the Siwa Oasis, but it entails a long bus ride through the desert, and the oasis itself is right near the border with Libya. We're skipping things like that.

The way I look at it, there are risks everywhere. Life is risk. We risk life every day. The most important thing is to try to live life as fully and as meaningfully as possible.

12.08.2016

librarians: celebrate human rights at your library #Write4Rights

December 10 is International Human Rights Day. The date commemorates the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the first global human rights document.

Every year on December 10, Amnesty International Canada holds Write For Rights. All over the country, Canadians use our own human rights to support people who don’t have them. We write letters in support of prisoners of conscience, and letters to prisoners to let them know they have not been forgotten. It’s a powerful experience, and very easy to do.

This year I will be writing letters, and I've invited our library system to join me. Library staff are always looking for display ideas. I compiled a list of materials, sent it out to all staff, and suggested a human rights themed display. Several people were interested, and I sent them each a poster template and Write For Rights bookmarks that I got from Amnesty.

If you create library displays, I invite you to try this! You can share photos of your displays on social media with the hashtag #Write4Rights. Here's my display, and my list.






Nonfiction
Man's Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl
Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacob
A Woman Among Warlords, Malala Joya
Chasing the Flame, Samantha Power
Dead Man Walking, Helen Prejean
Infamy, Richard Reeves
Anne Frank, Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank
I Shall Not Hate, Izzeldin Abuelaish
A Long Way Gone, Ishmael Beah
Shake Hands with the Devil, Romeo Dallaire
Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown
An Inconvenient Indian, Thomas King
The Dark Side, Jane Mayer

Fiction
The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood
Three Day Road, Joseph Boyden
Farenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
Little Bee, Chris Cleave
A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali, Gil Courtemanche
Room, Emma Donoghue
Half-Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet Ford, Jamie Ford
Secret Daughter, Shilpi Somaya Gowda
Snow Falling on Cedars, David Guterson
The Book of Negroes, Lawrence Hill
The Illegal, Lawrence Hill
A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini
The Known World, Edward Jones
The Cellist of Sarajevo, Annette Keen
The Afterlife of Stars, Joseph Kertes
The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd
Prairie Ostrich, Tamai Kobayashi
To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee
Fall on Your Knees, Ann-Marie MacDonald
Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel
Fugitive Pieces, Anne Michaels
A Mercy, Toni Morrison
Beloved, Toni Morrison
Lives of Girls and Women, Alice Munroe
Anil's Ghost, Michael Ondaatje
The Yellow Birds, Kevin Powers
The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
Ru, Kim Thúy
The Help, Kathryn Stockett
Mosquito, Roma Terme
Dogs at the Perimeter, Madeleine Thien
Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
Indian Horse, Richard Wagamese
Native Son, Richard Wright
The Book Thief, Marcus Zusack
The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman
Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card

Youth Fiction
The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
Little Brother, Cory Doctorow
The Giver, Lois Lowry

Documentary films
Devil's Knot
The Central Park Five
Waltz with Bashir

Movies
Amistad
The Book Thief
The Giver
Hotel Rwanda
Made In Dagenham
Pride
Selma
12 Years a Slave

Graphic Nonfiction
War Is Boring, David Axe
Martin Luther King, Michael Teitelbaum
Army of God, David Axe
Snowden, Ted Rall
Woman Rebel, Peter Bagge
The Imitation Game, Jim Ottaviani
Anne Frank, Sidney Jacobson
Maus, Art Spiegelman
Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me, Harvey Pekar
Louis Riel, Chester Brown

I'm sure everyone reading this can think of more titles. My list was limited to what can be found in our library system. I hope it inspires you to add some of your own. And to Write For Rights on December 10.

12.06.2016

on a language adventure with mango languages

We are going to Egypt!

We're super excited about it. It's someplace we've always wanted to go. In fact, it's the only country that Allan has always wanted to see. (We went to my number one spot -- Peru -- in 2006.) Just after New Year's, we celebrate our anniversary, and we always go away for the 5s and 10s*. I thought for number 30 we should go someplace really special! The trip is in February.

In preparation, I'm learning some Egyptian Arabic, using Mango Languages, which I can access at no cost through my library card. I'm really enjoying it.

Here's why I love Mango.
- It breaks up the lessons into bite-size pieces, which makes the process less daunting.
- You hear the language spoken by native speakers.
- You can record yourself speaking, then play your words simultaneously with Mango's, to hear a real-time comparison.
- Mango teaches language concepts, rather than just rote phrases. For example, in the lesson that included I speak, I learned how to say the verb when speaking to a man and when speaking to a woman. (In Egyptian Arabic, the verb changes with the referent [who is being addressed], as well as with the speaker.) Then, in a later lesson that included I understand, Mango asked if I could figure out how to say this when addressing a woman. And to my amazement, I could!
- Every lesson begins with a review of the previous lesson, and every chapter (four lessons) ends with a review.
- It gives you cultural notes for the language you're learning. Not only does this make it easier to learn, it gives you context, which helps prepare you for the culture you're going to experience.
- For some languages, it includes other language needs, such as legal and even texting.

This reviewer for PC Mag found Mango's content "tedious". Perhaps that is something I'll encounter in later, more advanced lessons, but at this point I don't share that criticism.

The review also faults Mango for not teaching the scripts in languages that use non-Roman characters. For me, this is a plus. If I were also trying to read Arabic as well as speak it, I would be completely intimidated. Every lesson does include the script; you click or tap for transliteration. But it seems to me that learning to read a language is very different than learning to speak it, and I'm happy to skip that for now. (Linguist and translator friends, what do you think about that?)

The reviewer also criticizes Mango for not including grading, but I don't see this as a drawback. I do not want to be graded!

My only criticism of Mango is not relevant to my present learning, but very important. Many people want to use Mango to improve their English speaking skills. Mango offers English instruction in many different languages, but none of the South Asian languages are included. In Mississauga, this is a serious drawback, as many of our customers who want to improve their English speak one or more of Punjabi, Urdu, Hindi, and Gujarati. I know the library has given this feedback to Mango. I hope they can soon add these languages to their roster.

I've also heard good things about Duolingo, another free language-learning app. However, Duolingo's list of languages is much more limited, and does not include Arabic.

Needless to say, I'll be posting a daily account of our adventures in Egypt. Stay tuned.

* Charleston, South Carolina; Bermuda; New Hope, Pennsylvania (reprise of our first trip together); The Ice Hotel; Quebec City and Montreal.

there is a major design flaw in the new blogger interface

Blogger has rolled out a redesigned dashboard. For those of us who write or manage blogs with comment moderation, it is decidedly not an upgrade. And for those of us who manage multiple blogs with comment moderation, it downright sucks.

Unfortunately I can't illustrate this post; I didn't know my dashboard was going to change, so I didn't screenshot the old one.

Previously, when I went to Blogger, which I have set as one of my home pages, I would see -- on the same screen -- all the blogs I manage. In one glance, with zero clicks, I could see if any comments were "awaiting moderation," as Blogger calls it, on all blogs.

Now when I go to Blogger, I see only one blog at a time. First I have to choose a blog. Then I have to click comments, awaiting moderation to see if there are any comments. Then choose another blog, click comments, awaiting moderation, and so on.

I did notice that when I return to the page, it has remained on the comments field, kind of like a default view, so that's not as bad as it could be.

However, many people manage multiple blogs. A dashboard that allows us to monitor activity on all blogs at the same time is very helpful. If Google will not scrap this new interface, I wish it would allow us to go back to the previous version.