The Walrus Blog

Monthly Archive: April 2011


A week of poetry: Friday

Have you heard the one about how hunters in helicopters
chase wild jokes across the flats? How they rifle
feathered darts into the herd, then sling
the groggy fallen off to urban zoos
— and how limp each witty punchline gets
once penned?

Out of context, unable to fend,
a joke makes no sense, just heaps of crap
for some kid to point a dripping milkshake at
and laugh, while his pregnant mother rolls her eyes.

Let me throw you a banana:
this joke has longed for death so long
it isn’t even funny. (more…)

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Political Pilates (Redux)

In the campaign’s final stretch, party leaders work it out

Hi, my name is Sally, and I’ll be leading our Political Pilates class today.

I know you’re all busy drumming up those last-minute votes this weekend, so I appreciate all the party leaders showing up today. Is anyone here new to Pilates? Mr. Harper? Welcome! You might want to take off your hat, though. Oh, sorry, I thought you were wearing a hat. Mr. Ignatieff, we’re going to start in a sitting position. Yes, rise up, please. Mr. Duceppe, I can see you need to work on your core strength. And Mr. Layton, I know you’re recovering from surgery, so please respect your limits. Yes, that’s a very impressive handstand, but the others need to work up to that level, okay? And you might find that hockey jerseys aren’t ideal for Pilates.

Before we begin, make sure you have your styrofoam noodle, your rubber exercise band, and some light weights. Mr. Ignatieff, please stop hitting Mr. Harper with your noodle. The Parliamentary Pilates class is down the hall. The rubber bands are for streeetching the truth… Mr. Harper, you might want to use two… and the weights are for bulking up the military, especially our fighter planes. Everybody set? Mr. Layton, please, no harmonica playing in class.

First, let’s cover some basics. Political Pilates focuses on developing the core values of your party, without sacrificing flexibility. We’ll also be paying close attention to how you breathe — and in Mr. Harper’s case, to whether you breathe. Just kidding! Hey, you’re giving me those icy eyes now. Everyone, look at Mr. Harper’s eyes — see the focus there? I want that kind of focus in your lower abdominals. (more…)

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Dear Stephen Harper

A letter to the Prime Minister
NanosNanos ResearchDaily Nanos Leadership Index for April 26, 2011

On behalf of all Canadians, sir, I would like to thank you. You have done it! You have really done it. You’ve managed to get us interested in federal politics.

This campaign season began several weeks ago with you standing solemnly in an empty Parliament to dismiss a supposedly unwanted election — triggered, of course, by your government being held in contempt of Parliament — as something sure to disappoint Canadians. You didn’t pull this dismissal out of thin air: after all, the last election, held just a couple of years ago, had the lowest turnout in Canadian history; young people between eighteen and twenty-four stayed home in droves, with less than 40 percent bothering to vote. Your party subsequently wrote off the electorate, especially its youngest constituents, and your rivals seemed to agree — in this month’s televised debates, there was very little mention of any issues of interest to young people. It seems like you all assumed that young Canadians won’t vote because they don’t care, so why waste your breaths?

But something has happened. There has been a ground swell of engagement by Canadians of all ages. The internet is ablaze with political talk, more people watched the debates than the NHL playoffs, and on campuses across the country — during final exams — students are holding vote mobs. Vote mobs, Mr. Harper! The very Canadians you dismissed as apathetic, it turns out, aren’t after all. They are forming mobs, sir, and a mob is the next best thing to a riot. (more…)

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A week of poetry: Thursday

Hunters and gatherers used to grumble that written language had given birth to craziness, and that craziness would grow up to be a culture that forgets everything it hears.

Now that cellphones have become so tiny you can clip one to your ear. You can stroll and chat with business contacts worlds away, hands-free. Today, a dozen brokers cluster like hungry mallards around my hot dog cart, each well-dressed multitasker talking to itself in the sun.

One of them, abusing my mustard container, announces to the open air that we should all expect to switch careers twelve times or more before we retire or die. The reason is the market or something. (more…)

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A Sphere of Concern

In an era of human dominance, what will we make of our only home?
Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot

What on EarthIt is becoming increasingly hard to overstate human impacts on the Earth. The Industrial Revolution kicked off a trend of unprecedented population growth and development that has yet to end, and our effects on other life forms, on earth, air, and water, and on the planetary climate itself have been just as dramatic. Geological authorities are giving serious consideration to declaring the planet to be entering a new epoch defined primarily by human influence over it: the Anthropocene. A National Geographic article on the subject reports that “38 percent of the planet’s ice-free land is now devoted to agriculture.” At the rate that biodiversity is now dropping, researchers have projected that we could reach the level of mass extinction — a loss of at least 75 percent of plant and animal species, what would be only the sixth such event in the past half-billion years — in as little as a few centuries.

We can, and we may well, remake the whole planet, a fact humanity never had to face before the twentieth century. It must now sink in that we could nuke the Earth into a wasteland, render it a ball of grey goo, carpet it in cities and farmland, or bring about any other of a multitude of configurations — and the universe would not intervene to stop us. Barring some cataclysmic change, we seem to be on a path of ever-increasing human domination.

In these circumstances, a novel question arises: what should we make out of the Earth? I acknowledge that it may be akin to asking “If you could take this road trip anywhere at all, where would you most like to go?” as your car careens over a cliff edge. But if we wouldn’t know where to drive even if we could take the wheel ourselves — that bears noticing. There are certainly practical limitations on what we will end up doing, but what we ought to try to do is another question altogether. (more…)

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Meet the Chimps

Video trailer for Andrew Westoll’s forthcoming book, The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary

Two summers ago, journalist, primatologist, and friend of The Walrus Andrew Westoll moved in with the chimpanzees of Quebec’s Fauna, a non-profit sanctuary that provides rescue and shelter for chimpanzees that have been subjected to laboratory research, including infection with HIV. Andrew’s current series for The Walrus Blog, My Time With the Chimps, published simultaneously on his own The New Animalist, introduces readers to some of the amazing creatures in his forthcoming book. The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary will be available for sale on May 3. In the meantime, we invite you to enjoy its video trailer — and read Andre Mayer’s book review from The Walrus’s May 2011 issue.

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No. 9: Tom

From a series of posts about the chimpanzees of Fauna Sanctuary
TomFrank NoelkerTom

My Time with the Chimps appears simultaneously on The Walrus Blog and Andrew Westoll’s The New Animalist. To read more about Andrew’s forthcoming book, The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary, click here.

Tom arrived at Fauna Sanctuary in 1997, with a very serious injury on his foot. Just before he’d been scheduled to leave the lab, he’d got into a vicious fight with Billy Jo, during which his foot had been badly bitten. The chief veterinarian had kept Tom back at a LEMSIP for a few extra weeks to give his foot a chance to heal, but when he finally arrived at the sanctuary, the skin on his foot was still very fragile. He was constantly catching it on things and opening up the wounds, which meant he needed to be given antibiotics to combat infection.

Unfortunately, the antibiotics gave Tom terrible diarrhea, so Gloria had to stop the dosing. Soon, the skin on Tom’s foot was seeping with infected fluid. The wound needed to be cleaned, and a topical ointment applied. But how would Gloria do this without knocking Tom unconscious?

She called Richard at the clinic. Richard gave it to her plain. “Tom’s just gonna have to do it himself.” (more…)

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Organ Donors

A week of poetry: Wednesday

When we fixed the grackle’s wing
and dabbed the grit from his cuts, we found
bits of shattered beak in the grass. It was fall,
orange foliage brittle — he had tumbled
through a rose bush after walloping the glass.

That night from his shoebox bed
he sang of flowing water and of a flightless
aquatic child who craves the summer air:
‘Afraid of submersion, it tries to swim.
It struggles for the moon
and brings us pain …’

His cuts began to stink.
Within five days the glands on his neck
ballooned into sick orange cysts. Mom made us move him
from Eric’s dresser to the shed. She was sorry, said
‘He’s going to a better place,’ but the grackle disagreed.
‘Each better place is next to nothing,’ he sang.
‘The difference is both hard and clear.’ (more…)

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Cheat Sheet

Detailed answers to last week’s “The Lay of the Land” quiz
May 2006
March 2009
January/February 2010

As an expansion of last week’s federal politics quiz, here are the complete answers along with links to the archived Walrus articles. Read on to expand your political knowledge — after, of course, taking the quiz.

Which Canadian prime minister has The Walrus called “Canada’s most celebrated shipowner”? He once said: “I’ve had this love affair with ships since I was five years old. I just love ships. I love harbours. I love ports. When I was in the business, I’d go down to the ships and crawl through the engine rooms.”

All last winter, controversy dogged Paul Martin almost daily in the headlines. Conflict-of-interest allegations, both past and potential, were being hurled at him across the House of Commons floor. But, for nearly three months, he clung fiercely to his Canada Steamship Lines empire as if to a life raft. In one indignant outburst to journalist Susan Delacourt, then writing in the National Post, he declared that he’d never have entered politics if he thought it would mean he’d have to sell his beloved boats. “I’ve had this love affair with ships since I was five years old,” he told her. “I just love ships. I love harbours. I love ports. When I was in the business, I’d go down to the ships and crawl through the engine rooms.” (more…)

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Boy Scouts

A week of poetry: Tuesday

Follow the high road, take the low.
What can it matter? When your card
is dealt, some jerk in a stiff smock
will hammer your coffin lid shut. Hell,

as far as time can tell, our names
get scratched into planks and planted
in a willow’s shade to weather
forever, as though we were saints —

not deadbeats on shoulderless roads.
Come. Saddle up. Let’s scoot.
For we have miles to ride
before we sleep

beneath a heaven dark and deep
as hell, as far as I can see. (more…)

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A week of poetry: Monday

If humans were more like plants,
a bee might make a pitstop at your crotch
to sprout a family tree you never planned for.

‘We weathered the Cold War and missed the last
fun bus to summer’ — that’s what some people say,
older folks mostly. I bet in her case, your mother

could picture that winter baby till her main squeeze
choked, pulling out at the last minute. Today your dad
steps to the window, taps a pair of metal tongs

and points across the lawn. Sporting your shades,
a knee-high terra cotta squirrel smiles back discreetly,
frozen in the bold volcanic shadow of the barbecue

like the ghost of true baroque furniture at Versailles. (more…)

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No. 8: Petra

From a series of posts about the chimpanzees of Fauna Sanctuary
PetraFrank NoelkerPetra

My Time with the Chimps appears simultaneously on The Walrus Blog and Andrew Westoll’s The New Animalist. To read more about Andrew’s forthcoming book, The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary, click here.

Early in the evolution of Fauna, Gloria Grow received some sage advice from Dr. Jane Goodall when the famed primatologist and activist arrived at the sanctuary for the first of her many visits.

“I was so embarrassed,” Gloria says now. “I had to show Dr. Goodall where the chimps were living. What would she think of all the caging, all the padlocks? She’d seen them at [NYU’s Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates] already. In many ways, this place is still a prison.”

But Dr. Goodall was delighted. She spent the day interacting with the chimpanzees and speaking to Gloria and her staff. Her visit was a priceless source of inspiration during a very difficult time. “She told me we were doing the right thing,” says Gloria, tearing up as she remembers the relief that came with this statement. “She also reminded us not to expect too much too soon.”

One other piece of advice proved instrumental. “Jane told me there are certain things the chimps might need from their past,” says Gloria. At first, this seemed like odd counsel. How could there possibly be anything in their horrible past they might yearn for? But then it occurred to Gloria that many of her charges had lived very different lives before being sold into research. “Jane suggested I try to find things that will bring back good memories. So that’s what I did.” (more…)

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