Words the Dog Knows

Words the Dog KnowsJ. R. Carpenter’s long-awaited first novel Words the Dog Knows follows the crisscrossing paths of a quirky cast of characters through the Mile End neighbourhood of Montreal. Simone couldn’t wait to get out of rural Nova Scotia.In Montreal she buries her head in books about far off places.

Her best friend Julie gets her a job in the corporate world. Traveling for business cures Simone of her restlessness.

One summer Julie’s dog Mingus introduces Simone to Theo. They move in together. Theo is a man of few words. Until he and Simone get a dog, that is.

They set about training Isaac the Wonder Dog to: sit, come, stay. Meanwhile, Isaac the dog has fifty girlfriends to keep track of and a master plan for the rearrangement of every stick in every alleyway in Mile End. He introduces Theo and Simone to their neighbours. He trains them to see the jumbled intimacy of Mile End’s back alleyways with the immediacy of a dog’s-eye-view.

Words the Dog Knows isn’t a story about a dog. It’s a story because of a dog.

I never had a dog as a kid, which is surprising considering I grew up on a farm. We had every other kind of animal. Ninety head of cattle to keep the one bull busy. A pen of pigs to keep the one we’d eat company. A roost of free-range chickens run ragged by a mean white rooster. A hutch of show rabbits not good for much of anything. And thirty-five hives of honeybees – white wooden worlds unto themselves – each one run by a queen.

I had a housecat named Feather of the Fairies. Children below a certain age should not be granted the power to name. The barn had its own cats. They kept their own company, lived according to laws unknown to us, and came and went and fed and bred and killed in anonymity.

We had a horse named Red, even though he was brown. Red decided how fast or slow he’d go by the weight of his rider. The heavier you were the faster he went. My mother was barely five feet tall. But according to Red she weighed plenty. No sooner was she settled in the saddle than he was off and running. Splashing through the shallows of the cattle pond, up the slope to the rock wall, along its length to the northwest fence, and down again for a victory lap around the first pasture. Unable to rein in his canter, my mother did her best to avoid Red altogether.

My father was six-foot-two at least, and solid as a cast-iron skillet. He rode Red to a froth. The two of them lived for round-up. There were other dairy farms nearby, much larger than ours. Most ran round-up with dogs. On our stretch of the Sloane Road alone there must have been fifteen herding and hunting dogs. And that’s not counting over at the Doyle place where they kept a pack of sled dogs, twenty-four or more, chained all seasons. Their howled chorus blew our way on the same south-easterlies that made the power lines whine. It’s not that I wanted a dog. It’s that I was surrounded by something that was missing.

J.R. Carpenter website

Image: One Bark at a Time

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The Decline of Book Making

About 1860, it was noted that printing quality was suffering in the throes of the Industrial Revolution.

Pennyroyal Caxton Bible

Henry Stevens, a Vermont-born rare-book seller in London and recognized proponent of fine printing wrote, “The disagreeable fact that our books are deteriorating in quality is assumed for the present and taken for granted. The fault exists and is daily becoming more and more manifest…”

“Our printing presses are teeming and steaming with books of all sorts (with some striking exeptions) not up to the mark of the high calling of book-making. It is no excuse to say that the rapidity of production has been largely increased. That amounts merely to confessing that we are now consuming two bad books in the place of one good one…”

“It is not the amiable public that is so hungry for cheap printing and cheap books, but the greedy provider of cheap and cheaper books with which the public is crammed like Strasburg geese, that are in fault. This downward tendency is not so much the fault of the consumers as the manufacturers. The manufacture of a beautiful and durable book costs little if anything more, it is believed, than it does to manufacture a coumsy and unsightly one.”

“Good taste, skill, and severe training are as requisitie and necessary in the proper production of books as in any other of the fine arts.”

Henry Stevens was engaged by the librarian of the British Museum, to collect historical books, documents and journals concerning North and South America; and he was purchasing agent for the Smithsonian Institution and for the Library of Congress, as well as for James Lenox, of New York, for whom he secured much of the valuable Americana in the Lenox library in that city, and for the John Carter Brown library, at Providence, Rhode Island. He became a member of the Society of Antiquaries in 1852, and in 1877 was a member of the committee which organized the Caxton Exhibition, for which he catalogued the collection of Bibles.

Image: Pennyroyal Caxton Bible

101 Dalmatians or Faux Fur?

101 Dalmatians First EditionPongo and Missis Pongo are a pair of Dalmatians. They live with the newly married Mr and Mrs Dearly (their “pets”).

Missis gives birth to a litter of 15 puppies. The Dearlys are concerned that Missis will not be able to feed them all and Mrs Dearly looks for another dog to act as a wet nurse. By chance, she finds an abandoned Dalmatian mother in the middle of the road in the pouring rain. She has the dog treated by a vet and gives her the name Perdita, from the Latin for “lost”. Later Perdita tells Pongo about her own lost Dalmatian love and the circumstances that led to her being abandoned in the middle of the road.

Mr and Mrs Dearly are invited to a dinner party hosted by Cruella de Vil, an intimidating and very wealthy woman with one side of her hair coloured white and the other side coloured black. They meet her furrier husband and her abused cat, and discover her fixation with furs.

101 Dalmatians Storyboard

Shortly after the dinner party the puppies disappear. The humans fail to trace them but through the Twilight Barking, a form of communication by which dogs can relay messages to each other across the country, the dogs manage to track them down to Hell Hall, in Suffolk.

We keep 7.5 million cats and 6.1 million dogs as pets but do we know where that fake-looking fur trim comes from? Today in China over two million cats and dogs are killed each year for their fur and for their skins. Among other things, these furs are used as linings in boots and gloves, jackets and coats, blankets and rugs.

Pongo and Missis try to explain to the Dearlys where the puppies are but fail. The dogs decide to run away and find them.

After a journey cross country, they are met by Lieutenant Pussy Willow, a tabby cat and the Colonel, an Old English Sheepdog who shows them Hell Hall, the ancestral home of the de Vil family. He tells them to rest overnight and that they will see their puppies the next day. They then discover there are 97 puppies including their own 15 and many others who later turn out to have been legally bought. They also discover that the puppies are being kept in Hell Hall by Saul and Jasper Baddun, two crooks who work for Cruella de Vil as caretakers of Hell Hall.

According to government estimates, 500,000 garments sold in the United States every year are trimmed with bobcat, fox, rabbit, or other animal fur, potentially with nothing on the label to indicate there is any fur on the garment. With the labeling loophole in place, consumers are left in the dark; they have no idea that their new clothes may contain fur from animals—even dogs and cats—whose treatment can include being skinned alive, anally electrocuted, or held struggling underwater to drown.

Cruella DeVilCruella de Vil appears in the middle of the night and tells the Baddun Brothers that the dogs must be slaughtered and skinned as soon as possible because of the publicity surrounding the theft of the Dearlys’ pups. Pongo and Missis devise an escape plan and agree that they must take all the puppies with them, not just their own 15. They escape on that same night, the day before Christmas Eve.

Pongo says that they need a miracle and find one when they are offered a lift in a removal van. The Dalmatians have rolled in soot to disguise their white hair, and they are able to hide in the darkness of the removal van with the help of a Staffordshire terrier whose pets are the movers.

The fur trade does not deny that it deals in dog and cat skins and it is quite legal for products made from this fur to be sold in Britain and Europe. Fur products do not have to be labeled by species. One cat fur coat alone requires the killing of up to 24 cats. 12 to 15 adult dogs are killed to manufacture each coat made from dog fur – and a horrific 40 or more if puppies or kittens are used.

Arriving back in London, they go to Cruella’s empty house. Her cat is still there and invites them in to destroy Cruella’s collection of animal skins, fur coats and mink bedsheets.

When the Dalmatians return to the Dearlys’ house where they are not recognized because of the soot. Once they are cleaned up, Mr Dearly sends out for steaks to feed them.

Presently, China is the second biggest commercial partner of Canada. According to Industry Canada, the Canadian fur and retail industry imported $5 million in animal pelts and $28 million in fur trimmed apparel from China in 2004. Despite the distinct possibility that many of these imported furs are from dogs and cats, the government has indicated that it has no intention of prohibiting these imports. By the year 2010, the Canadian government hopes to double commercial trade with China.

Later, the cat drops by to tell them Cruella has fled. The shock of discovering her furs have been destroyed has turned the black side of her hair white and the white side green. The Baddun Brothers have also been arrested. Hell Hall has been put up for sale and Mr Dearly buys it with a sum of money he has been given by the government for sorting out a tax problem. He renames it to Hill Hall and intends to use it to start a “dynasty of Dalmatians” (and a “dynasty of Dearlys” to take care of them). They adopt the cat, and promise her a white persian husband.

Finally, Perdita’s lost love, Prince (the one hundred and first Dalmatian) shows up. His “pets” can clearly see that the two wish to be together and allow him to stay with the Dearlys.

101 Dalmations was originally written in 1956 by Dodie Smith, and illustrated by Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone.

Bill Peet and 101 Dalmatians

Bill Peet storyboards for 101 Dalmatians.

Ecological Fur

Faux fur or not?

Animals Make Us Human

Animals Make Us HumanTemple Grandin’s Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior occupies a special place among the animal books of the last few decades. Grandin’s autism gives her a special understanding of what animals, whether house cats or cattle, think, feel and — perhaps most important — desire. There is a revelation on almost every page, and Grandin’s prose (she wrote with Catherine Johnson) is ungainly in the best possible way: blunt, sweet, off-kilter and often quite funny.

Grandin’s new book, Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals, also written with Johnson, picks up where Animals in Translation left off. It has a slightly different focus: she concentrates this time on the emotional rather than the physical life of animals, although the two are clearly related.

Grandin bases many of her observations in Animals Make Us Human on the work of Washington State University neuroscientist, Jaak Panksepp, who identified a series of core emotion systems in animals: seeking, play, care and lust (on the positive side) and fear, panic and rage (on the negative).

“The rule is simple,” she writes. “Don’t stimulate rage, fear and panic if you can help it, and do stimulate seeking and also play.”

There are provocative chapters here on dogs (she quibbles with some of the alpha-male ideas of Cesar Millan, television’s “Dog Whisperer”) and cats. Grandin is at her best, however, when she is talking about animals like cows, pigs, horses and chickens, as well as wild animals and those in zoos.

Grandin has designed humane and stress-free slaughter systems that are used now to process about half of all the cattle in the United States and Canada. There is some cognitive dissonance here. She is often asked “How can you care about animals when you design slaughter plants?”

Her reply is that “some people think death is the most terrible thing that can happen to an animal.” She argues that “the most important thing for an animal is the quality of its life.”

She adds: “The more I observe and learn about how dogs are kept today, I am more convinced that many cattle have better lives than some of the pampered pets. Too many dogs are alone all day with no human or dog companions.”

She worries about the “totally adversarial” relationship between animal advocacy groups and the livestock industry. She has kind words for companies like McDonald’s and Wendy’s (she has consulted for both), which are forcing their suppliers to treat animals more humanely. But she also praises activists. “The big companies are like steel, and activists are like heat. Activists soften the steel, and then I can bend it into pretty grillwork and make reforms.”

One of the major points in Animals Make Us Human is the importance of hiring and training good people to work with livestock. Strong, caring managers are needed; bullying and sadistic employees should be fired; and because turnover in these industries is high, constant training and retraining are necessary, as well as constant auditing from the outside.

Grandin is in favor of almost total openness — she’s among the writers who believe that slaughterhouses should have glass walls. “No animal should spend its last conscious moments in a state of terror,” she writes, and any visitor should be able to observe that they do not.

She loves solid, declarative sentences: “Cattle hate being yelled at”; “Pigs are obsessed with straw”; “Cows like to learn new things.”

We’re lucky to have Temple Grandin.

She has already written one very fine memoir, Thinking in Pictures . Human beings can often be made to feel like cattle, especially in large cities. What would she have to say about subways, housing projects, stadiums, prisons, office cubicles, long-distance buses, shelters for the homeless, elevators or the security line at an airport? What are her thoughts about urban planning in general?

This blogger would love to know.

Full review by Dwight Garner at New York Times, January 20, 2009.

Atlas of Dying Languages

Earlier we blogged about the efforts of Canadians to save their dying languages.

UNESCO has now introduced an atlas of 2,500 languages worldwide that are in danger of becoming extinct or which have recently disappeared. That is out of a total of 6,000 world languages.

UNESCO Atlas of Languages

In a presentation Thursday of a new world atlas of endangered languages, linguists stressed the list is not restricted to small or far-flung countries. They also sought to encourage immigrants to treasure their native languages.

“Language endangerment is a universal phenomenon,” said Christopher Moseley, an Australian linguist who edited the atlas’ third edition, which is to appear in digital and paper versions.

The atlas says 200 languages have become extinct in the last three generations, and another 199 languages have fewer than 10 speakers left.

More than a fourth of the 192 languages once spoken in the United States have disappeared. Another 71 are severely endangered, according to the atlas.

There is Gros Ventre, spoken by fewer than 10 people in north-central Montana. All are elderly, and none is fully fluent. The last fully fluent speaker died in 1981.

Or Menomonee, spoken in northeast Wisconsin, with just 35 speakers left.

The digital version of the atlas invites users to contribute with updates and allows them to search according to country, degree of endangerment, name of languages or by number of speakers.

Type in Russia, and color-coded flags appear ranging from white (unsafe) – denoting languages such as Lezgian, spoken in the Caucasus Mountains – to red (critically endangered), marking those such as the Tundra Enets, spoken in Arctic islands.

Not all is bleak, however. Some endangered languages like Livonian are being revived by young people and through poetry.

Marleen Habard, editor of the atlas’ Andean regions, said indigenous groups in South America have been at the forefront of preserving their regional tongues by pressuring governments to recognize indigenous rights.

Some languages have only recently been discovered. Andoan was not known until a journalist discovered a small group of its speakers on the border between Peru and Ecuador in 2000, Harbard said.

Francoise Riviere, deputy director of culture at UNESCO, said raising awareness of the importance of mother tongues is a crucial goal of the project.

“We are trying to teach people that the language of the country from where we come is important, and what counts is being proud of one’s own language,” she said.

A paper version of the 2009 atlas – which was funded by Norway and involved a team of over 30 linguists – will be launched in May.

Source: Toronto Star, February 20, 2009

Helvetica

HelveticaHelvetica is a feature-length independent film about typography, graphic design and global visual culture. It looks at the proliferation of one typeface (which celebrated its 50th birthday in 2007) as part of a larger conversation about the way type affects our lives. The film is an exploration of urban spaces in major cities and the type that inhabits them, and a fluid discussion with renowned designers about their work, the creative process, and the choices and aesthetics behind their use of type. The film had its world premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March 2007.

Helvetica encompasses the worlds of design, advertising, psychology, and communication, and invites us to take a second look at the thousands of words we see every day.

HelveticaHelvetica was developed by Max Miedinger with Edüard Hoffmann in 1957 for the Haas Type Foundry in Münchenstein, Switzerland. In the late 1950s, the European design world saw a revival of older sans-serif typefaces such as the German face Akzidenz Grotesk. Haas’ director Hoffmann commissioned Miedinger, a former employee and freelance designer, to draw an updated sans-serif typeface to add to their line. The result was called Neue Haas Grotesk, but its name was later changed to Helvetica, derived from Helvetia, the Latin name for Switzerland, when Haas’ German parent companies Stempel and Linotype began marketing the font internationally in 1961.

Introduced amidst a wave of popularity of Swiss design, and fueled by advertising agencies selling this new design style to their clients, Helvetica quickly appeared in corporate logos, signage for transportation systems, fine art prints, and myriad other uses worldwide. Inclusion of the font in home computer systems such as the Apple Macintosh in 1984 only further cemented its ubiquity.

More about the film.

What font are you? Take the quiz!

This blogger is Times New Roman.

Reality Check Haiku

Tatsumi Shimura

Image: Tatsumi Shimura, Portrait of a Lady (detail), 1930
Haiku: Reality Check Haiku, Nicky Kaa Walker