Jonathan Crowe

Book reviewer, cat photographer, fanzine editor, map blogger, snake whisperer.

Quebec Election 2018: Pontiac Candidates

Every election, I try to take a look at what’s happening in my own constituency. For the 2018 Quebec provincial election now underway, that constituency is Pontiac, which takes up the Pontiac MRC, the Municipality of Pontiac, and most of the Aylmer sector of Gatineau.

While on the provincial level this election promises to be one of the most interesting we’ve had in decades, the outcome in my constituency is almost certainly a foregone conclusion. Pontiac concentrates most of the Outaouais’s anglophone population and as a result is one of the safest Liberal seats off the island of Montréal.

Pontiac constituency results by percentage, 1981-2014

The only time the Liberals got less than 50 percent of the vote in the last 40 years was in 1989, when Mark Alexander of the Unity Party1 took 30.6 percent of the vote. A Liberal candidate losing here would signal a province-wide electoral wipeout.

That being said, here are the candidates I’ve been able to find out about. A new twist this time: candidates for the provincial NDP and the provincial Conservative Party, both newly established (or re-established, if you like).

  • Roger Fleury (Green), an activist;
  • André Fortin (Liberal), the incumbent MNA and minister of transport;
  • Samuel Gendron (NDP), about whom no information as yet;
  • Olive Kamanyana (Coalition Avenir Québec), a federal civil servant with a fairly impressive résumé, and the only candidate likely to provide Fortin with any real competition;
  • Louis Lang (Marxist-Leninist), perennial candidate;2
  • Marie-Claude Nivolon (Parti Québécois), a longtime party activist from Châteauguay who looks to be a poteau or paper candidate;3
  • Kenny Roy (Conservative), a construction worker; and
  • Julia Wilkie (Québec Solidaire), a student.

The election takes place on Monday, October 1.

Spring Peeper

A Herpetological Roundup

  1. With fewer than 100 individuals believed to exist in the wild, the Lake Pátzcuaro Salamander (Ambystoma dumerilii) or achoque, found only in and around Lake Pátzcuaro in Michoacán, Mexico, is critically endangered. They’re getting help from an unusual corner: Dominican nuns at a nearby convent, who for the past 150 years have been raising the salamanders in captivity. (They use them to make a “mysterious” medicine: a cough syrup called jarabe.) See this long and fascinating read in the New York Times, which is accompanied by first-rate photography.
  2. A biologist is warning that Okanagan populations of the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus) are 100 years from extinction. The snake is at the northern limits of its range, and it’s down to between 1,500 and 2,500 individuals. It’s listed as a threatened species. There are populations in more trouble, and sooner (see above), but this is worth keeping an eye on.
  3. Male rattlesnakes engage in ritual combat during mating season. Here’s video of a pair of male Timber Rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus) getting fighty with each other. Here’s another video from California, species unidentified.
  4. A beautiful essay by Laura Marjorie Miller on the controversial plan to reintroduce the Timber Rattlesnake to an island in the Quabbin Reservoir in Massachusetts, which I’ve mentioned in previous roundups.
  5. Where do snake-handling cults get their snakes? As The State discovered, South Carolina. Thanks to the lack of restrictions on the sale of venomous snakes, snake-handling preachers from other states regularly buy their snakes at reptile shows.
  6. CityLab takes a look at Isha Serpent, a volunteer snake rescue group in Madhurai, India; the snakes being rescued include spectacled cobras, kraits, and Russell’s and saw-scaled vipers. The group’s been active since 2009 and has relocated more than 2,000 snakes—with, they claim, no envenomations.
  7. A new study suggests that cats have a significant impact on reptile populations: in a field experiment, cats were removed from six 64-hectare plots; over a two-year period, reptile populations rebounded significantly in those areas. [Biological Conservation]
  8. A fossil snake embryo or neonate from the late Cretaceous has been found preserved in amber in Myanmar. [Science Advances]
  9. One of the most common questions people like me get from strangers: how do I snake-proof my yard? Here’s a comprehensive answer: I think I’ll point people to it from now on.
  10. Last month the Herpetologists’ League gave Richard Vogt the Distinguished Herpetologist award. Vogt, who made the significant discovery that incubation temperature can determine a turtle’s sex, proceeded to pepper his plenary lecture with photos, some of which were “censored” with coloured boxes, of his scantily clad students. (Research on aquatic reptiles often involves swimwear, but Vogt was apparently, and regularly, gratuitous.) Stories soon followed about Vogt, who appears to be someone female herpetologists have to warn one another about. News coverage in the #metoo era—local from the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, national from the New York Times—was inevitable. Vogt’s award was rescinded, the League’s president has resigned, there was much huffing and puffing from one former league president on Vogt’s behalf (and presumably others), and the League’s new president is taking a tough line on harassment and misconduct. A code of conduct is in the works.

Question I’ve answered on Quora recently:

Featured image: Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) found on our property on August 10, 2018.

Mastodon Is the Dreamwidth of Twitter

Here we go again. Twitter is once again being awful and clueless—to the point of paralysis—about it now being the last safe harbour for online harassers, trolls, Nazis and other bad actors, and a good chunk of its user base is sufficiently fed up about it to threaten a mass walkout.

But walking away from Twitter is difficult, because social media is pervasive and addictive for a reason: it solves a problem. Human beings crave connection, and social media makes connections practically frictionless. Problem is, it’s pretty damn hard for users to connect when they’re subjected to torrents of abuse and harassment by bad actors, especially when Twitter not only refuses to deal with said bad actors, but seems to think that the existence of abuse and harassment is a feature rather than a bug.

Okay, so what about switching to another social media platform, one that doesn’t seem quite so keen on deep-throating Nazis? Apart from the questionable logic that the solution to social media problems is even more social media, other platforms are either problematic in their own right (Facebook), irrelevant (Google+, Tumblr, the new social platform of the week that gets the same few early adopters at launch, such as Ello or Vero), or Instagram.

And then there’s Mastodon, a decentralized, open-source and surprisingly well-designed alternative to Twitter that has measures to combat toxic behaviour built into its design. I’m on Mastodon. I like it. But in the same way that Dreamwidth is not the solution to LiveJournal, Mastodon is not the solution to Twitter.1

Read More

A few years ago, frustrated at the time and emotional overhead required to moderate their comments sections, bloggers began moving away from having comments at the bottom of their blog posts. The point of blogging, the logic went, was writing; dealing with spam and bad behaviour was outside the remit, especially when the noise exceeded the signal and comment spam hammered web servers to the point of shutdown.

The net effect of that was that commenting—that conversation—moved to social media. Not that it wasn’t already happening. But while it made sense at the time, in hindsight leaving reader feedback to the various toxic hellscapes looks more and more like a mistake.

Suddenly having the ability to host, moderate and curate comments makes sense again. And since I upgraded my hosting a while back and (for the moment at least) have CPU cycles and RAM to spare, I’m going to give it a try here again. So, starting now, comments will be open on new posts. They will be subject to spam filtering and moderation, and will close after 14 days.

To be honest I don’t expect to have that many regular commenters, but occasionally I write something that goes viral, and I think there’s some value in having at least some of the discussion that follows take place here rather than elsewhere.

AE Is Back Online

AE, the Canadian online science fiction magazine, is finally back online after a hiatus of nearly two years. It went down in September 2016 after being hacked; its resurrection took a lot longer than anyone expected, including those working on it, but as of today the fiction and nonfiction archives are accessible again. Peruse at your leisure! New material is coming, too: I’ll let you know when the first new issue launches, if for no other reason than I think I have a review essay in it.

Previously: AE Is Resurrecting Itself.

Books Read: May-July 2018

Reading has been slow going. Presbyopia is now in full flower, and I haven’t picked up a set of reading glasses yet. (Soon, though.)

  1. The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts. Novella set in the same universe as “The Island,” “Giants” and “Hotshot.” Review forthcoming.
  2. The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien. Reread (of course), because it had been a few years since the last time and I needed a comfort read.
  3. The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien. Reread.
  4. The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien. Reread.
  5. Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly. Secondary-world queer fantasy set in an stand-in for interwar Europe during the rise of fascism, full of secret agents, intrigue, and nightclubs. If Cabaret had been a fantasy novel. Disturbingly easy for the reader not to see the oncoming danger as danger, which is the whole point. Not as much my cuppa as you might expect, for stylistic reasons: I keep bouncing off historical fantasy (and this is close enough) with modern prose style.
  6. How to Lie with Maps, 3rd edition by Mark Monmonier. Reviewed at The Map Room.
  7. The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien edited by Humphrey Carpenter. What few secrets about Middle-earth revealed in this book are wrapped in layers of paleoconservatism, long lectures about Christianity and marriage to his sons, complaints about deadlines and schedules and available time, health issues, ferocious pedantry and general fussbudgetry. One should not know too much about one’s literary heroes.
  8. The Quest of the Missing Map by Carolyn Keene (Mildred Wirt). Nancy Drew novel, read for a forthcoming essay on maps in mystery novels.
  9. You Belong to Me by Colin Harrison. Crime thriller (more about it here), read for a forthcoming essay on maps in mystery novels.

There have been a few behind-the-scenes changes to this website recently:

  1. As of this morning, this website is running on a secure server. To my everlasting shock, the process was easy and broke nothing. This was a test run; next up for me is to do the same thing for The Map Room, future plans for which require a secure server. I expect things to break in a spectacular fashion at that point, because it will be mission critical and in front of a much larger audience.
  2. When I switched this site to WordPress in October 2016, I mentioned that older posts would be going away. Not quite all of them, though. Last fall, I imported the two hundred or so map-related posts I made on this site between 2011 and 2015 into The Map Room. And last month, I imported a handful of posts from 2015 and 2016—book reviews, plus posts I felt had some value to posterity, 31 in total—into this site’s WordPress database. I don’t expect to be going much further back than that, though I’ve changed my mind on that before.
  3. I’ve simplified the Reviews section: the year-by-year list of reviews is now on a single page, with links to blog posts, published reviews, or archived pages as appropriate. Still some tidying up to do there, but for the two or three people actively looking for my reviews, it should already be less unwieldy.
  4. My privacy policy is now vaguely GDPR-aware and attempts to cover all the websites for which I am responsible.

Thirsty Snakes

Snakes need to drink—though that fact does come as a surprise to some people. (And it can be neat to watch, in the sense that a snake doing an ordinary thing that every other terrestrial vertebrate does is somehow a revelation.) But it does mean that they can get dangerously dehydrated when they can’t. They’ll even accept water from people if it’s hot and dry enough, as a couple of incidents recently reported on social media will demonstrate.

During Mark Lotterhand’s visits to the Narcisse Snake Dens last month, Manitoba was in the middle of a spring drought. When they set out water from their bottles, the Red-sided Garter Snakes came running, drinking from makeshift water holes, lids filled with water, or even directly from the bottle.

See Mark’s photo album on Flickr.

Getting garter snakes’ minds off mating in the middle of mating season takes some doing, let me tell you, but snakes coming out of hibernation are pretty thirsty to start with: they might not have had anything to drink in months. Add to that dry conditions and they must have been desperate for the water.

Meanwhile, on a hot June day in Illinois, two field research assistants, in the course of their fieldwork, found a Western Hognose Snake; once the snake was measured, they thought that the snake might be dehydrated, so they offered her water. The snake, who had previously exhibited the usual hognose snake defensive repertoire, thought this was a grand idea.

That tweet went viral, so one of the assistants, Taylor West, gives the background to the story in this guest post on the Living Alongside Wildlife blog.

Eastern Hognose Snake (Photo by Douglas Mills)

A Herpetological Roundup

  1. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the Louisiana Pine Snake (Pituophis ruthveni), found only in Louisiana and Texas, as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The snake, one of the rarest snakes in the U.S., had been classified as endangered on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species in 2007.
  2. CBC News looks at how researchers are tracking the Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platirhinos) in Ontario, where it’s a threatened species. (It’s not, however, rare elsewhere: it’s classed as “least concern” on the IUCN Red List.)
  3. On that note, how many times are conservation efforts focused on a nationally rare population of something widespread and abundant elsewhere (such as, for example, Eastern Hognose Snakes in Ontario) or a rare subspecies or population of a very common species (San Francisco Garter Snakes)? The Zoological Society of London’s EDGE of Existence program focuses “specifically on threatened species that represent a significant amount of unique evolutionary history.” The New York Times looks at the reptiles on the program’s list. [PLOS One]
  4. Still with the New York Timesa long article by Rachel Newer looks at a loophole in the exotic animal (especially reptile) trade: traffickers are laundering wild-caught animals through local farms so as to export them with paperwork certifying them as captive-bred—at which point authorities can’t do anything about it. Worth the read: a balanced look that explores some uncomfortable issues.
  5. Cottonmouths (Agkistrodon piscivorus) have a reputation for being belligerent snakes. Field trials suggest that baseline stress levels are a better predictor of whether a cottonmouth will strike than the stress of encountering an individual human being. Which is not to say that humans aren’t stressing cottonmouths out; it’s just happening at the habitat level, not on an individual basis. [General and Comparitive Endocrinology]
  6. Researchers at Carleton University studying the mating habits of Northern Map Turtles (Graptemys geographica) wondered whether males preferred larger females (female map turtles get much larger than males). So they 3D-printed up some female turtle sex dolls, set up a video camera, and watched what happened. [Animal Behaviour]

  1. Ranavirus has spread to Ontario turtles, which is not good. (See also CBC News.) To minimize the spread of Ranavirus and other herpetofaunal pathogens, here is the decontamination protocol for those working with reptiles and amphibians in the field.
  2. All turtle species in Ontario are now at risk, says Ontario Nature, though that statement takes some unpacking: COSEWIC listed the Ontario and Quebec populations of the Midland Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta marginata), as well as the Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia populations of the Eastern Painted Turtle (C. p. picta) as Special Concern; but the Prairie and Ontario populations of the Western Painted Turtle (C. p. bellii) are still listed as Not at Risk. (The Western Paint is still in trouble in British Columbia, though.)
  3. Whatever the conservation status, turtles face long odds and need all the help we can give them. This video from the Nature Conservancy of Canada, on what to do when you see a turtle on the road.

  1. The chytrid fungus implicated in the decline of amphibian populations worldwide has had its origins identified: the Korean peninsula some time in the early 20th century. The Korean War may have been a vector. [Science]
  2. Finally, and because this roundup needs some levity, the Axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum). It’s an ambystomatid salamander like the spotted and tiger salamanders, but this deeply weird (and critically endangered) denizen of Mexican lakes remains in its neotenic state throughout its life, only changing into its adult form if it’s induced by administering iodine or the thryoxine hormone. In 2015, the Rathergood comedy team came up with a song about the Axolotl, which they cleverly called “The Axolotl.”

Questions I’ve answered on Reddit recently:

Featured image: Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platirhinos), Missouri, May 11, 2017. Photo by Douglas Mills. Creative Commons licence.

Passages

Delbert F. Seely, Jennifer’s grandfather, died on May 30 at the age of 97. He’d had severe Alzheimer’s disease for years. His wife, and Jennifer’s grandmother, Phyllis, died in 2013, but apparently wrote much of this obituary. Before Alzheimer’s got them both they were major figures in Jennifer’s life; she was the only granddaughter, and as such, I’m told, he had a soft spot for her.

My uncle, Paul W. Prosser, died on June 3 at the age of 69. Here’s his distressingly brief obituary; I have no other details. To be honest I hadn’t seen or spoken with him in nearly 20 years—not since I moved away from Alberta—but while I was living in Edmonton he and his family, who lived in nearby Spruce Grove, were a great support, and I owe them a lot.

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