October 2005

Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Saw Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit last Sunday at the O’Brien Theatre in Renfrew, where, despite it being a weekend matinee, the kids in the audience were reasonably well-behaved and kept their patter to under 100 dB or so. (Worth putting up with for $4.) Anyway, an incredibly enjoyable film, but it’s a long way from groundbreaking: the plot’s not dissimilar from A Close Shave, and the characters are static — there’s clearly a lot of affection for them, and all the old tropes (especially cheese) are trotted out. By comparison, Chicken Run had just as much energy, but a better story and polish.

So what’s new with me?

This time last week I was presenting most of the symptoms of salmonellosis — probably turkey-induced — and was worried that I’d have to reschedule a job interview that I had last Friday. Fortunately the more severe symptoms abated by the time I showed up to do my thing.

As for the interview itself, either I did really well, or I was magnificently wrong. Should know within the month. If all goes well, I’ll tell you who it was with; if it doesn’t, I’ll continue to plug away on the projects. If I had to bet, I’d say things look good.

Because the parking in downtown Ottawa is spectacularly expensive, I parked in Aylmer and took the bus in. Possibly the first time I’ve been on a city bus in more than a year. The ride in was smooth enough, but outside of rush hour the STO’s schedule is less than skeletal: one milk run bus per hour. It took me twice as long to get back to the car as the inbound trip, and, naturally, I was a wee bit motion sick by the time I got off the bus. Stupid No. 42 bus.

So I walked it off at the Galeries Aylmer mall, where I’d parked. Stopped by the real-estate kiosks to see what was listed. Noticed that they had the rural stuff for my area in addition to the Aylmer listings. Browsed around a bit. Saw photos of our old apartment — living room, bedroom, kitchen — replete with our cats. Froze.

Our old landlords — great people, incidentally — were putting the building up for sale; the real estate agents had been by in the spring, before we’d moved out, to take measurements and pictures. This I knew; I just didn’t expect them to be on display in a mall. I’ve been trying to decide since then whether I’m bothered by this, and, in the end, I don’t think I am: for one thing, we don’t live there any more; for another, it’s no different from all the photos I’ve posted online myself anyway. But on the other hand, it’s one thing to be relatively open about what you decide to reveal about yourself and your life, quite another to have someone else make that decision. In this case, though, I’ll live.

Saturday was Railfair, where I behaved myself and only bought one book, despite the presence of Proto 2000 Alco S3s in the right paint for only $90. I decided it’d be better to regret not having bought something than to regret having bought something; money’s tight right now. The crowds were unbelieveable, though: tightly packed, rude, inattentive to their surroundings. And not every vendor seemed all that interested in selling things. Just like reptile shows, in other words. Hobbies are not dissimilar.

Since then, not much. The AS has flared up again, and to say that I’m uncomfortable is putting things mildly. It’s the season for it, and the fact that I’ve been expecting it, to some extent, helps me cope.

It’s hard, though, because it does slow me down a bit, and while I understand intellectually that I should give myself permission to be disabled, it doesn’t make me any less restless in practice. Between this and the salmonella, I’m feeling awfully behind at the moment.

Two more reptile-related photosets

Belated photo update: I’ve created two new photosets on my Flickr account. This one is a selection of photos from an impromptu OARA field trip two weeks ago; this one is a collection of photos of my snakes engaged in the horizontal mambo. By far my most popular photos on Flickr are a couple of closeups of my corn snakes doing the nasty, presumably due to people using “graphic sex” as a search term, and getting grossed out by the results. Well, tough; here are some more.

On a related note, there are two Flickr groups roughly equal in size with roughly the same mandate: Herp Photography, which I started about a year ago, and Reptiles and Amphibians. Duplication inevitably happens with user-created groups on community sites, but it’s rare to see two of equal quality that do equally well. I wonder if we should consolidate, assuming that we even can.

More entries below »

WSPA Canada’s zoo audit

WSPA Canada’s audit of Ontario zoos is getting a lot of attention, but a closer look needs to be paid to the details. Overall, the idea of the audit — evaluating the captive care of animals in several private zoos in Ontario — is a good idea, and their observations are worth noting, but it’s important not to give the report more significance than it deserves.

The report only covers 13 private zoos, plus three CAZA-accredited zoos, and it only looks at a few mammalian species (primates, ungulates, wolves, bears, and great cats); it’s by no means comprehensive. The standards by which the zoos were evaluated were not external, but set by WSPA Canada, and were exacting enough that even the Toronto Zoo’s grizzly bear exhibit failed. (There’s a difference between failing an easy exam and failing a hard one: the number of outright failures is augmented by the marginal cases.) And they’re by no means disinterested evaluators. WSPA Canada is an animal rights group, and they do have an agenda: it’s a part of their campaign against roadside zoos.

Among their recommendations (pages 71-72 of the PDF, 9.2 MB) is the regulation of exotic animal ownership in Ontario — whether privately or in a zoo. They want standards, inspections, and formal training: fine for zoos, problematic for private citizens (more on that in a moment). But from my quick glance at the report, I can’t see how that conclusion follows from their observations, especially since their study was limited to medium-sized to large mammals in zoos, rather than all exotics in all captive scenarios. I think there’s a missing step, there.

As a reptile keeper, my concern is that their understanding of exotic animal ownership is based on large mammals, but that they would apply those mammal-based norms, willy-nilly, to all exotics, including birds, reptiles and fish, regardless of difficulty of care. It’s one thing to argue that tiger or kangaroo ownership should be regulated, quite another to say that every time you buy a cichlid, cockatiel, crested gecko or corn snake, you have to ask the provincial government’s permission, get formal accreditation, and meet professional standards of care.

Regulating zoos is by no means a bad idea, but it’s important to focus on outcomes rather than processes. Regulatory regimes are a pain in the ass to conform to; if they’re largely unenforced (think government understaffing), they’ll be ignored. (Lack of enforcement of wildife conservation laws, applicable to native species, was one issue of concern in the report.) The ostensible point is to improve the care of captive animals in zoos; I’m largely indifferent to how that’s done, whether through moral suasion via public attention, self-regulation through professionalization, or regulation.

But regulatory regimes, being, as I said, a pain in the ass to conform to, also have the benefit of discouraging participation in the regulated activity, if they’re onerous enough: not only would several zoos be shut down (not necessarily a bad thing), but the wind would be knocked out of the exotic animal hobby, particularly if the regulations apply to private individuals. I wonder if that’s exactly what WSPA Canada has in mind: to stop, rather than to improve.