2 Dec 2016

Repeal Fair Dealing for Education

by Helen Mason

Image courtesy of creativecommons.org
As the Canadian government considers cultural policies, I encourage it to reconsider the fair dealing clause in the revised copyright act. The copyright act is intended to protect what creators create. The fair dealing clause removes that protection, thus impinging on creators' ability to earn money from what they produce.

I currently work as a freelance writer who specializes in the children's market. For 30 years, I spent the bulk of my time editing and project managing the development of textbooks for Canadian educational publishers.

I was on the first board of CANCOPY (now Access Copyright). As one of the co-chairs, I assisted in negotiating the first Ontario educational licence. At that time, I had a copy of one of Dr. Zed's titles. The entire book had been made into spirit masters; copies had been handed out to students in my son's kindergarten class. My publisher co-chair at the time headed the company that published the most copied educational resource, a workbook for teaching French as a Second Language.
Image courtesy of creativecommons.org

Twenty years later, copying is even easier, thanks to bulk photocopiers and the prevalence of personal scanners. Copies can be shared online and using various phone apps via digital downloads. And yet the government has removed important protections from created works. If the government will not protect the works that authors and publishers have spent so long producing, then what is the point in Canadian authors and publishers trying to produce quality materials?

Colourful visuals attract these developing readers.
Since the change in the fair dealing clause, I have heard horror stories from authors telling me of schools who bought their books, photocopied sections, and then returned the books for a refund. Students again receive booklets of photocopied materials to help them learn to read. But without the colourful images in the originals, the books have lost much of their attraction. No wonder literacy levels are low.

Students consider how to choose visuals for a primary science book.
In my own freelance business, I noticed a drastic drop in the number of project start-ups after the fair dealing clause was changed to the current wording. Instead of hiring twelve or more editors to help me develop materials, and contracting authors and illustrators to produce materials specifically for this market, I found myself looking for work.

I found such work writing and editing materials developed for the American market. These materials were quickly produced without the care lavished on those developed in Canada. They also emphasized different skill sets. In my work on mathematics materials developed for both the Canadian and American markets, for example, I noticed that the many Canadian series I helped to develop emphasized understanding whereas the American ones focused on memorization of algorithms without much understanding of why they're being used.

Image courtesy of creativecommons.org
If the government does not move to better protect our educational publishers, our schools will be more likely to purchase these less-than-ideal materials. It's a matter of economics. For American publishers, making slight conversions for the Canadian market is a minor expense when they've already developed and sold a series to a large American market.

Canadian publishers who develop excellent materials for a smaller market need protection. In order to respond to Canadian educational outcomes, they include references to local historic, Aboriginal, and cultural activities that attract Canadian students to the topics. This type of information is missing in materials developed for the United States market. Similar American-centric information occurs in non-fiction trade books intended for a North American audience. Canadian content receives only a cursory attention compared to the mass of American data.

Helen shares reading activities with primary students.
Although educational publishers are not always considered to be part of the Canadian cultural landscape, they are an important tool for teaching Canadian culture. Many creators receive income from these publishers, both as royalties and as contract work for materials written specifically for the market. In addition, many editors work part-time in this field while they develop their writing skills and/or to supplement the low income typical of creators.

To encourage Canadian publishers to develop quality materials that can compete in international markets, I suggest that you

  1. Repeal the current fair dealing wording in consultation with Access Copyright and educational publishers and their knowledge of how that wording has led to flagrant misuse of copyright works.
  2. Confer with children's authors about how this clause has impinged on their ability to make a living from their work and do what is necessary to ameliorate this situation.
  3. Provide additional arts funding for author visits to schools. This is an important part of many creators' incomes, one that has eroded with the increase in interest in technology and the purchase of fewer books.
  4. Ear-mark some of the funding from #3 for sessions in which authors talk to educators about the importance of copyright to the protection of creator income.

Helen Mason's most recent books include What is Digital Entrepreneurship?, Be an Active Citizen in Your Community, and Be an Active Citizen at Your School, all Crabtree Publishing, 2017.

25 Nov 2016

Canada's Only Great Auk

by Jan Thornhill
museum illustration Jan Thornhill Tragic Tale of Great Auk
"Museum" page from The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk (Jan Thornhill)

While working on my new book about the extinction of the "northern penguin," The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk, I became aware that the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto was in possession of Canada's only stuffed one. Hoping to see it, I visited the ROM's brilliant Schad Gallery of Biodiversity, but was disappointed to find no Great Auk, though there was an equally extinct Labrador Duck on display. How sad, I thought, that the regal bird I sought was not on view, was instead tucked away in some dark cupboard, sealed, perhaps, inside a titanium box, safe, but invisible.

John James Audubon illustration Labrador Duck
The extinct Labrador Duck (John James Audubon)
But a couple of months later, when I arrived at the ROM to talk auks with Oliver Haddrath, the ornithology reasearch technician whose specialty is extinct flightless birds (like the poor Great Auk), I was thrilled to be led out into the same animal diversity gallery where this time—ta da!—behind two layers of glass, there it was, one of the last of the millions of Great Auks that once thrived in the North Atlantic. 

Jan Thornhill with stuffed Great Auk ROM
Me and Canada's only Great Auk (Frankie Thornhill)
There are only 78 stuffed Great Auks in the world, almost all held by museums. American museums own a decent chunk of them—eleven—though that number used to be twelve. The twelfth one was once owned by John James Audubon, the American bird painter famous for his Birds of North America book published as a double-elephant portfolio, "elephant" because it had to be big: Audubon presented all of his subjects life size. Though each page is a huge 39.5 inches tall and 28.5 inches wide, the largest birds—cranes, herons, flamingos—had to be doubled over in his compositions to fit. 

John James Audubon flamingo
Because Audubon painted birds life-size, he had to double
over the biggest ones to make them fit on the pages. 

Audubon included the Great Auk in the book, but he never saw one alive. He had to base his painting on a taxidermy model, a specimen killed in Iceland in 1830 that he bought in London in 1836. 

Great Auk John James Audubon
Audubon's Great Auks

Eventually, Audubon gave has stuffed auk to a birder friend, Jacob Post Giraud Jr., who, in turn, gifted it (along with the rest of his large collection of stuffed birds) to Vassar College in 1867. There, "Audubon's Auk" gathered dust—quite literally—for more than 50 years, until it was found under a lab sink by Dr. L.C. Sanford who had connections to the American Museum of Natural History. Though the college continued to own the bird, Sanford convinced them in 1921 to allow him to send the auk off for renovation and remounting. When it was all spiffy again, it wasn't sent back to Vassar, but was housed instead at the Museum of Natural History in New York, hidden away in a double crate for the next 43 years. 

great auk profile ROM
The friendly face of the Royal Ontario Museum's Great Auk
Though Canada had once been home to the largest Great Auk colony in the world—on Funk Island off the northeast coast of Newfoundland, (there had been no colonies on American soil at all)—by the early Sixties we still had no stuffed Great Auk of our own. The ROM was desperate to find one. Finally, they convinced Vassar to sell them Audubon's auk. In 1965 they paid $12,500 for it (the equivalent of about $100,000 today), and got a stuffed Labrador Duck thrown in for good measure—the same Labrador Duck I had seen on my earlier visit to the museum.

signs royal ontario museum ornithology
Signs on a door in the ROM's ornithology department (Frankie Thornhill)
Oliver explained that, because bird feathers deteriorate more quickly when subjected to light, the museum only shows off its Great Auk for six months of the year. For the other six months, the Labrador Duck is the star. 

illustration Geirguglasker tragic tale great auk jan thornhill
The ROM's Great Auk came from Eldey Island in Iceland,
 the last place these birds nested after 
a volcanic eruption caused safer Geirfuglasker to sink beneath the waves. (Jan Thornhill)
As thrilling as it was to finally see an actual Great Auk, I couldn't exactly get close to it, displayed, as it was, at a height and behind double panes of glass. But then Oliver led me and my sister, (who had the camera—yay!), into the secret storerooms of the bird department. First he showed us the egg room. The ROM has a lot of bird eggs. In fact, it has roughly 12,000 sets, a "set" being the number of eggs normally laid in a nest. There is a bird skin room, too, where thousands of boneless birds from around the world are laid out in drawers. 

egg collection royal ontario museum
A tiny sample of the ROM's 11,715 bird egg collection (Frankie Thornhill)
These collections are kind of shocking to see, since each skin and each egg represents a life cut short, but almost all were collected long before any of us was born, in an era when there were a) way more birds of all kinds, and b) different attitudes towards killing wildlife. 

For a while there was a question about whether or not museums should waste precious space storing so many skins and eggs, especially when some species are represented by multiple specimens. The ROM's collection wasn't culled, which is fortunate because it has become clear that these lovingly stored remains hold a treasure trove of information that no one a hundred years ago could have imagined: DNA. When the DNA from skins of birds of the same species that were collected in different places, or ones collected from similar locations but years apart, is compared, we can learn a lot about how our world has changed, and how it continues to change. 

bird study skins royal ontario museum
Nine of the ROM's 136,350 study skins (Frankie Thornhill)
Similarly, each egg in the collection has documentation of exactly when and where it was collected. These dates, sometimes from more than a hundred years ago, can be compared to the nesting dates of contemporary birds to help us learn how various species are adapting—or not adapting—to climate change. 

extinct bird great auk bones
Great Auk bones collected on Funk Island (Frankie Thornhill)
Though the eggs and study skins were fascinating and often gorgeous, the pièce de résistance of the tour was yet to come. Without saying anything, Oliver opened a drawer and pulled out a small, nondescript cardboard box. He opened it. It was filled with bones. Great Auk bones. Auk bones that included a skull and upper beak. Which Oliver handed to me. 

jan thornhill holding great auk skull and beak
Me giddily holding an extinct Great Auk's skull and beak (Frankie Thornhill)
Maybe that doesn't sound like a big deal. But it was. I'd just spent the better part of a year living with the Great Auk, reading about its amazing and tragic history, its connections to prehistoric and First Nations peoples on both sides of the Atlantic, learning about its anatomy, writing about it, drawing it, painting it, dreaming it. I was so familiar with it it had become my totem animal. And I was holding in my hands the head of one that more than two hundred years ago had swum the North Atlantic. Though you can't tell from the photograph, I was so excited my hands were shaking. 

There's only one thing that could have been better. To see an actual, living Great Auk. But, of course, that would be impossible, since the Great Auk has been extinct since 1844. But,wait! Maybe in the future it won't be impossible. Stay tuned for my next post about efforts to resurrect the Great Auk!

I made Great Auk cookies for my book launch!
great auk egg cookies
great auk cookies

Tragic Tale of Great Auk cover

published by Groundwood Books 

18 Nov 2016

Graston® Technique: Modern Therapy with a Chinese Antecedent

by Helen Mason

Graston® Therapy works on the body's connective tissue.
No pain, no gain is an exercise maxim popular among many athletes. Although many medical practitioners question the validity of that motto related to exercise, they support it when referring to the Graston® Technique, a therapy originally developed by David Graston and today credited with helping athletes like Michael Phelps maintain their competitive edge.
The Graston® Technique uses stainless steel instruments to assist clinicians in helping people maintain the mobility of their body's soft connective tissue, the white membrane that wraps and connects the muscles, bones, nerves, and blood vessels. It was originally developed by David Graston, an American water skier who suffered a debilitating injury to his right knee.

Disappointed by his slow recovery following surgery, Graston used his machining background to create stainless steel instruments he used to treat his soft tissue injury. After achieving success with the technique, he shared it with Ball Memorial Hospital and Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, where the Graston® Technique was further developed. An outpatient clinic was opened in Indianapolis in 1994.
Graston® tools fit the various contours of the body.
The Graston® tools serve multiple purposes. Practitioners run one of six instruments along the affected part of the body. If fascial restrictions, scar tissue adhesions, chronic inflammation, and/or fibrosis are present, the practitioner detects a distinct feeling of grittiness or bumpiness. The instruments are then used to break up the adhesions, promoting healing.

The instruments prevent practitioners from getting the hand, wrist, and muscle injuries so common to those who try to break up fascial restrictions manually.

Be warned. For patients, the technique is painful. I came across it following a car accident in 1998 during which I suffered a fractured skull and level 3 whiplash. Although I thought these injuries had been treated, over the following seven years, I experienced more and more intense pain in my back and neck, finally accompanied by the inability to concentrate. After trying without success to find a non-drug method of alleviating these symptoms, I visited a chiropractor who used Graston®.
Gua Sha and Graston® break up scar tissue.

She quickly diagnosed the cause of my problem. The injuries from my accident had resulted in fibrosis of my back and neck muscles. They were in constant spasm, which was shutting down blood circulation and nerve impulses to the brain.

My first Graston® treatment resulted in an amazing reduction in symptoms. Over a period of time, regular treatments have promoted full recovery of my back and neck muscles.

At first, the days after each treatment were very painful as the affected areas turned red and then purplish or yellow with bruising, depending on how much work had been done. At one point, a dermatologist saw these injuries during a check-up and clearly thought I had been beaten. For me, the pain was nothing compared to the benefits of the treatments which helped me regain most of my physical abilities.
Michael Phelps credits the Graston® Technique for helping him win
Today, the Graston® Technique is used both by people like me and professional athletes such as basketball, hockey, football, soccer, and rugby players, as well as golfers. It's been successfully used to treat fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel, plantar fasciitis, tennis and golfer's elbow, rotator cuff tendinitis, shin splints, and post fracture pain.

The technique is similar to Gua Sha, a traditional Chinese method that has been practised for over 2000 years. Instead of stainless steel instruments, Gua Sha practitioners use a shell, piece of jade, buffalo horn, or other material to do their scraping. Like the Graston® Technique, Gua Sha causes redness, bruising, and micro traumas to the fascial tissue. The micro traumas trigger the brain to heal the area.
Credit Notice: Practitioner treating female from http://www.mynoblechoice.com/solutions/techniques/. Other photos courtesy of creativecommons.org.

Helen Mason's most recent books include What is Digital Entrepreneurship?, Be an Active Citizen in Your Community, and Be an Active Citizen at Your School, all Crabtree Publishing, 2016.