An Open Letter to First Time Black Fathers Anywhere

Dear Brothers,

I won’t begin to assume what you’re going through, for there’s a spectrum of Blackness and man-ness and person-hood that exist, but I just had to write this as I sit in the delivery room hours before the arrival of our firstborn child.

I’m mostly writing to connect, reach out, and encourage.

To let you know that you’re not alone, and to remind myself that I’m not alone.

See, there’s this perception that a lot of black men aren’t there for their children. That a lot of us are either dying, killing, being killed, imprisoned. But, we know the truth: we’re not a monolith and a lot of us are here for our children, our families, our communities, our world.

Some of us are graduating from college. Some of us are owning businesses. Some of us are the best gamers, chefs, delivery men this world has ever seen. And some of us are struggling to get out of bed because of ancestral pain and trauma.

We come in so many shapes, sizes, belief systems, and lived experiences, but there are some things that connect us:

  • Many of us will have the talk with our child, especially our sons. We’ll let them know how different they are and what to do when they’re pulled over and how they’ll feel the need to be two steps ahead of their peers.
  • Many of us have experienced some type of othering in our lifetime. Personally, I was called too white and not black enough as a child. That’s part of what led to the self-hate I’ve been working to unlearn in my 30s.
  • Many of us had fathers or father figures who were really really tough on us. Who hit us, or swore at us, or made us feel like we were worthless in order to help us survive a cold world. They inherited much of that from their fathers and so on. If this is your story, you may often find ourselves at the crossroads of restoration and resentment.

And many of us are trying to figure out what type of dads we’ll be, and we’re doing everything we can to break generational patters and curses, and do better.

I know I am.

I feel the pressure to do well with this baby that will come any hour now. With this black baby that will live in a world that often weaponizes, sexualizes, brutalizes their body (see Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates).

A world that doesn’t understand what it means to “always be thinking about race” or to “often be wondering if we’re code switching or actually saying the right thing for the moment”.

I will make an assumption now.

I assume that some of you are reading this and going, “Oh, no. This author clearly isn’t in touch with his true self and his roots. He needs to read up on his history and learn.” And you’d be correct. I have a lot to learn and ways to go, and also, I’m right where I should be — that’s a big takeaway I hope most new dads have from this letter.

To the Odious Imbeciles Who Would Desecrate the Greatest Literary Voice in the History of the English Language

Title page, William Shakespeare’s First Folio, 1623 (source: Wikipedia)

poem by Matthew de Lacey Davidson

And — so!

I do address those people — truly pompous of the heart
 many young — but many others just a thoughtless fart –
 older yes — but wiser — nae — I take them now to task,
 as they cover up the face of genius — with a preposterous carnival mask.
 Way too many people, educated (they purport)
 have a spread a vicious myth, I sadly do report:
 that Shakespeare never wrote a word (his famous plays)
 their arguments not logical, in many wanton ways.
 As Benjamin wrote famously to his beloved Bard,
 to keep a discourse short is hard;
 thus, in my sincere attempt to forthrightly persuade,
 my argument shall fast conclude when finally it’s made.

We’re told no records for the schooling of the Bard exist –
 Well, Ben Jonson’s also don’t survive — should you insist.
 “Okay, how come no manuscripts of Shakespeare’s can be found?”
 
For reasons sim’lar that none of Jonson’s are around;
 and what you say is not exactly true…
 a play not published in his lifetime’s come to view;
 a collaborative effort modern scholars can’t ignore –
 the hand identified is clear — the play, “Sir Thomas More.”
 Elizabethan authors in their grandiose temerity
 never thought along those lines — preserving for posterity.
 And playwrights then were much ill-viewed — like ghostly London fogs –
 a playwright’s place was just below the Man in Charge of Dogs.

“In Phillip Henslowe’s diaries his name cannot be seen!”
 
That’s true — but neither are there Burbage, Marlowe, Kyd, or Greene.
 Though Jonson states how Shakespeare’s Latin’s small — 
 in comparison to now…well…we have almost none at all.
 By age fifteen, a youngster in those days received 
 instruction equal to a modern Master’s (when achieved).
 The Bard was not much popular towards the end and after –
 but tastes of near contemporaries bring us peels of laughter.
 Dryden had a preference for Beaumont and for Fletcher –
 the thought of that would surely knock me out upon a stretcher.

Though other poets of the time one might defend;
 to theatre was Shakespeare more the friend.
 (And while ev’ry word of Marlowe’s like an amethyst –
 Shakespeare was by far the greater dramatist.)

The broader implication of this nasty little hoax:
 to obfuscate a prejudice t’wards ordinary folks.
 “As a commoner, no courtly knowledge could he bring!”
 
You forget that Shakespeare served the King.

(Important for historians to note:
 John Chamberlain, a commoner, of the court, so well, he wrote).
 This anger t’wards the poor has tried to blind us from the facts.
 This “pseudo-theory” — classist people it attracts.
 Jonson laying bricks and writing poems? Not contrary –
 though Jonson was degreed from Oxford — it was honorary.
 Believers in a diff’rent writer — much prejudice is spewed
 they claim that Will can’t be the One — because of attitude.

At risk of being crass –
 Attitude — my ass!

True — his plays display much jest at commoners’ expense
 to modern sensibilities, this causes great offence…
 but consider Shakespeare’s audience — the very first enjoyer –
 Shakespeare merely sought to please the taste of his employer.
 Those who wish on him to drop the curtain
 forget the paucity of facts regarding Jesus which are certain.
 And much to the Detractors’ sad chagrin and pointed grief,
 the facts of Shakespeare’s life are that — one can’t speak of “belief.”
 If circumstantial evidence is all a person knows –
 should I then, believe in Little Green Men, and scary UFOs?
 Detractors of the Bard know not what scholarship demands –
 this standpoint’s the work of some people with way too much time on their hands.

Tragically, these lies persist, and always will they live,
 as long as we have fools to read, and misinformation to give.

To knock the Bard off of his stool, should you then have the mind –
 your search for faults is genuine? They’re not so hard to find:
 Misogynistic? Yes — Anti-Semite? Yes…
 What other “ite” or “ist” he was, is anybody’s guess.
 Though the cult of personality has brought this sadly state –
 if critically you think, you help avert a dreadful fate:
 for when the truth has vanished, should that day perchance arrive,
 well, when you’ve killed off Shakespeare, then we cease to be alive:
 as you are Shakespeare, I am Shakespeare, he is ev’rywhere;
 he shows us what is human — what’s as important as the air.

As long as we have foibles, then these lines are not absurd:
 I am Hamlet; you are Juliet; we are Richard the Third.

My little rhyming thesis now is nailed to the door — 
 I hope that all regard the Bard as Dramatist and more.
 And finally, I beg of you — avoid a human quirk:
 please focus not upon the man, but rather, on his work.

Why More Schools in Africa Should Implement Universal Design for Learning

As Kenyan, who has lived in Tanzania, schooled in Ghana, worked in Mauritius, and traveled six other African Countries, I one day hope to play a role in changing the rigid Education system on the continent (Big Dream I know, but I am only reaching for the stars).

I recently started working at this super cool international school in Ghana, and two days ago, I was exposed to this new way of learning- ‘Universal Design for Learning’ Ever heard of it? Please read on it — Its brilliant! The presentation was only an hour long but I was so so intrigued by the concept that I read about it all through the day.

In summary, Universal Design for Learning is a way of learning that addresses a highly diverse learning environment, it is a teaching approach that offers more than one way for different students to assess the same material, thus, the goal of this type of learning is to use a variety of teaching methods to remove any barriers to learning and give all students equal opportunities to succeed. Universal Design for Learning doesn’t specifically target kids with learning and attention issues. It is about building in flexibility that can be adjusted for every student’s strengths and needs (for example those who have difficulty with math, those who cannot study with noise, those with hearing barriers, those who are disabled in some way, or even those who are uniquely high achieving) . And this is done for example, by using different representation methods like textbooks, videos and hands on learning, using different expression methods like paper tests, oral presentation, drama, music and using different means to motivate children, because they are all different.

As a person who had difficulty with math, and who could not study in noisy environments, I absolutely loved this idea! I always learnt better with videos (up until university actually) and I loved writing fictional stories (but I never thought I could make a career of it). I was always intrigued by the keyboard and I loved playing soccer (I was never encouraged on the first one, and was discouraged from the latter). I went to schools where every student learnt at the same pace, and was expected to do as well as every other student.

But, the idea that everybody learns at the same pace, or that everyone must understand concepts the same way is bollox! Every child is literally as different as their fingerprints are, they have different interests, enjoy different things, study in different ways, socialize in different ways, and excel in different ways, and the ‘Universal Design for Learning’ concept addresses this. It takes into account different needs and abilities and tries to cater to all, in an effort to give every child an equal opportunity to excel. It is not constraining, and instead allows students to appreciate their differences and unique abilities from a very young age. It fosters inclusiveness, tolerance and open-mindedness. The whole concept is brilliant, and I wish that someday every school, or, at least more schools on the continent could implement this way of learning.

You should also check out this short film on YouTube — “Alike”.

Picture Retrieved from www.udlcenter.org

REITIUM Bi-Weekly Update: March 6th, 2019

Recap

The REITIUM team has had a whirlwind few weeks. We’ve spoken on stage in Calgary and Hong Kong, we flew to Hawaii for an exclusive potential partnership meeting, we boothed in Las Vegas, Calgary and Asia, attended around a dozen events and we’ve racked up 10,000+ air miles as a result. And to think 2019 is just getting underway!

Read on for the full update

Announcements

  • March 4th — 8th: Happy International Women’s Week!
  • March 4th — 8th: Hong Kong Blockchain Week
  • March 11th — 13th: BC Tech Summit has announced REITIUM as “One of BC’s Most Promising Tech Startups”
  • We are closing our SEED round. There is minimal room left for those interested, please email team@reitium.com.

Press

  • On Site Interview
    AL13 architectural systems’ Keith and Adele interviewed REITIUM’s Marketing coordinator, Wanjiru at BuildEX Vancouver.
  • Podcast 
    AL13 architectural systems Livestream Podcast with Keith and Adele ft. Co-Founder Laura Fortey and Wanjiru (Marketing)

  • Featured: BEYOUROWN
    Co-Founder and CMO Laura Fortey was interviewed and titled a “worldwide leading lady” in this month’s edition of the BEYOUROWN publication. Click HERE to read the full article.

Past Events

  • Scaling up Financing growth from $1M — $50M (February 20th)
  • SPARK Play — Becoming More Conscious of our Unconscious Bias Breakfast (February 21st)
  • BDO VC pitch day (February 21st)
  • BC Tech Summit Practice Pitch Presentation (February 21st)
  • Young Women in Business: Introduction to investing workshop: How to plan for your future right now (February 21st)
  • REMAX R4 Convention Las Vegas (February 24th — 27th)
  • Women Executive Network Breakfast (February 26th)
  • Transformative Technology with Nichol Bradford (February 27th)
  • Limitless: Learning Never Ends hosted by Truth Media (February 28th)
  • REIN Conference Calgary (March 1st — March 3rd)
  • Hybrid Block/ Hong Kong Blockchain Week (March 4th — 8th)
  • Vancouver Startup Stories: Celebrating Women Entrepreneurs (March 5th)

February 22nd
Oahu, Hawaii
Potential Partner Meeting

Co-Founders Michael, Thomas and Laura were invited to Oahu to discuss a potential partner meeting. They had a the chance to visit the site for the potential partnership and get to know firsthand the history and vision the other company holds.

Toasting to the Hawaiian sunset

February 24th — 27th
Las Vegas
RE/MAX R4 Convention

Boothing

Thousands of real estate agents and brokers from over 60 different countries attend the annual RE/MAX R4 Conference in Vegas, to learn, network and discover new skills. Co-Founders Michael and Thomas met up with David Kim to cultivate strategies for targeting the US market.

Co-Founders, Michael Moll and Thomas Park with David Kim, head of REITIUM Realty

March 1st — 2nd
Calgary, Alberta
REIN S.O.S Conference
Presentation and Boothing

The REIN Conference in Calgary was a weekend summit focused on strategizing and creating solutions for Real Estate investing. As a featured presenter, Co- Founder Michael educated the audience of real estate investors on how blockchain can aid real estate ownership. He showcased our Fractional Investing model and demonstrated how anyone can invest in global real estate using blockchain technology.

Post conference, one attendee reached out saying, “Pleasure meeting you in Calgary … Your presentation was heartwarming. You moved the crowd. You had 100% attention til the end and people were ready to give you extra time. You should be super proud of yourself. I felt so happy listening to you.”

March 4th — 8th
Hong Kong
Hybrid Summit — Hong Kong Blockchain Week
Keynote Presentation and Featured Sponsor Booth

Currently, Co-Founders Michael and Thomas are on the road — boothing and presenting at Hybrid Summit during Hong Kong Blockchain Week which is set to be the largest blockchain event in Hong Kong. The global blockchain community will converge to discuss the latest developments and insights into the ever-evolving, real-world applications of blockchain technology.

Thomas speaking to a captivated audience of interested potential future investors

Upcoming Conferences

Where you can find us next:

March 11th
BC Tech Summit- Investment showcase
Vancouver, BC
Pitching

As part of BC Tech Summit Investment Showcase, an independent review panel and selection committee decides which companies presents to local and international investors. Co-Founder Michael is presenting the REITIUM platform on Monday at 11:30am at the Vancouver Convention Centre. Last year, startups and investors met one-on-one, secured new deals, established partnerships, networked with industry leaders and connected with media.

March 12th — 13th
BC Tech Summit 
Vancouver, BC
Boothing

BC Tech Summit has announced REITIUM as “One of BC’s Most Promising Tech Startups”. The Summit connects technology leaders, industry executives, investors, senior government officials, researchers and students to connect and share insights, experiences and opportunities. This year we have been accepted as an emerging startup and will be boothing in the Startup Marketplace.

Upcoming Events

March 4th — March 8th
International Women’s Week
Vancouver, BC

In honour of International Women’s week, Laura and Wanjiru are attending a few local meetups and events to celebrate women’s achievements in their respective fields. To close out this week of recognition, on Friday we will be attending a gala at the Vancouver Art Gallery to commemorate the women that have paved the way for increased inclusivity and gender equality. With hundreds of attendees last year, this incredibly successful event’s theme for 2019 is “connecting the community through collaboration over competition — stressing that we are all stronger when we work together.”

March 6th
Wonder Women Networking Evening
Vancouver, BC

This Women’s Networking Event brings together Women in STEM to connect and recognize the milestones made in the movement towards gender equality. The host of this event, the Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology (SCWIST) is a non-profit association aimed at encouraging women into STEM.

March 6th
Tech Vancouver
Vancouver, BC

Every month, Tech Vancouver brings together a set of highly curated leaders & innovators to share their expertise & experiences. This month, the focus is on the “Journey to Unicorn Status.”

March 11th
Trust Machine: Exclusive Canadian Movie Premiere by RightMesh
Vancouver, BC

The premiere of Trust Machine: a Blockchain Documentary by Award Winning filmmaker Alex Winter explores the evolution of cryptocurrency, blockchain and decentralization, including the technology’s role in addressing important real-world problems such as world hunger, security and income inequality.

Upcoming Birthdays

We have two very special birthdays coming up next week — Thomas and Wanjiru are celebrating back to back next Thursday and Friday!

Wanjiru Nganga, Marketing Coordinator (Thursday, March 14th)

Thomas Park, CEO and Co-Founder (Friday, March 15th)

Stay in touch

  • Telegram: https://t.me/reitium
  • Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/reitium/
  • Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/reitium/
  • Twitter: https://twitter.com/reitium
  • Website: https://reitium.com
  • LinkedIn: https://linkedin.com/company/reitium
  • YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/REITIUM

How I built an app to discover nearby street art

Details on my React-Native iOS application backed by a Ruby on Rails backend and some Python Jupyter notebook scripts

Public Art is an iOS application that helps you discover new nearby street art.

I’ve been working on this project on my own, but it has a lot of technical moving parts. I will explain how all of the moving parts work and what I’m planning to do in the near future. By the end of this article, I hope you have the awareness of recreating the same behavior for your own project.

Background

First of all, the reason I am working on a street app discovery tool is not to build the next urban media empire.

Although that sounds nice. I started trying to preserve graffiti and street art with as much associated metadata as possible for future art connoisseurs.

At one time I was trying to make a street art media empire, through questions. I wrote a series of fragmented blog posts in 2013, that later grew into this. Most of the posts can still be found here: http://newpublicartfoundation.com/

Given the rate at which photos are uploaded online, I felt it would be a great opportunity to preserve the otherwise transient form of cultural expression that is found around the world. I don’t have a secret surveillance agenda or political motive. I understand the privacy implications of preserving this information, as well as the complicated legal potholes involved.

That all being the case, I feel it’s important that someone preserves street art for the future, and that’s what I’ll go into below.

Frontend

The front-end portion of Public Art is a mix of an Expo based React Native application with a few interspersed Ruby on Rails and React web pages. The React Native application is a stock Expo application with a modern Redux/React Navigation architecture.

Beyond Redux and React Navigation, I used a number of packages to help with speeding up development. I used a UI library called NativeBase which provides some helper components, but eventually transitioned to using React Native Elements. Both of these libraries were not necessary, but provided enough structure to speed up my process. The main tool needed in any good UI library is a good layout structure. For React Native, the most common layout technique I saw was to use flexbox.

The app is composed of primarily loading images and displaying mapped points. I initially tried to use a few helper libraries for gracefully loading images, but eventually found the best performance around using the React Native Image tag as is.

For the map, I depended on the Expo framework’s React Native Maps integration. I explored ways to use Mapbox, but to stay within the Expo ecosystem, decided not to. That being said, the React Native Maps is a great library with all of the application control needed highly responsive maps.

As mentioned above, I used Redux for the primary datastore of the app. For managing the application’s side effects, I decided to use Redux Saga. In the past few React applications I’ve built, I aired on the side of using Redux Thunks. I noticed in my last project that the ability to test Thunks was overly complicated and wanted to pursue a more testable solution. After some research, I decided the best bet was Redux Saga. While this took getting used to, I do see the value and intuitive nature of the Saga based datastore/side effect architecture.

Backend

The back-end of Public Art is a combination of a few different “micro services”. In other words, it’s composed of a few web applications that talk to each other over http requests. In addition, I have a linux box that runs a series of shell scripts and cron jobs that provide important functionality that will eventually be replaced with another “service”.

The primary backend and authentication works as a Ruby on Rails application running a few gems which I’ll explain below. The Rails app runs on Heroku and uses the Heroku Postgres and Redis hosted services. While this is a costlier way to operate (especially because I have free credits in two different hosting providers), the convenience really makes a difference. It’s easy to deploy, manage credentials, and spin up/down workers.

For authentication management, I use the ruby gem Devise. Devise is a familiar gem for any Rails developer that needs any kind of user profile/authentication system. In my case, the Devise instance is setup with a User model, but all the views and business logic is triggered with a token based REST api. This was tricker to get setup than expected, but eventually became the most flexible way to control user activity.

For image uploads, I use the ruby gem Shrine. Shrine is a modern implementation of some other common image management gems like Carrierwave, Paperclip, and Refile. The Shrine gem plugs into Amazon’s S3 and creates a simple means of caching image display formats for easy use.

For worker management, I use the ruby gem Sidekiq, which is a Redis job manager. Sidekiq handles all of my asynchronous actions, of which there are many.

Finally, for location related actions, I use the ruby gem Geocoder. Geocoder hooks into the Microsoft Bing location API to do reverse geocoding. This means taking a latitude and longitude point, and inferring a address.

Overall, the Ruby application handles all of the business logic for creating users, saving images, managing locations, and aggregating all of the information for the iOS frontend to display. All of this happens using various api endpoints that communicate with JSON.

Data/Content

The Public Art app provides a way for any individual to view street art images nearby. This is accomplished by surfacing images that are geotagged with a longitude and latitude point. The images are gathered by user uploads, which are few, and scraping Instagram, which provides many.

The current method of dealing with this is very fragile and will be updated accordingly.

I have created a series of scripts that use a major image uploading platform as a datasource for discovering new images. I use the user generated categorization system to identify content that may be associated to street art or graffiti, and index the content that is associated with location metadata.

To manage the scraping process, I use a python script that manages rate-limits to the image service. The python script runs as a linux process on my server and stores images in the file system. Once the image and the post metadata is downloaded, the script does a second server request for the location details. The location is stored on the image as an ID and requires a second lookup to get the corresponding coordinates.

The downloaded images are uploaded to the Rails application and indexed accordingly through a second python script that runs in a Python Notebook. This is very unusual for any python developer, but surprisingly works very well.

I have a Jupyter server running on my linux machine that iterates through the scraped images, uploads them to the Public Art backend server, then prepares the location metadata and updates the corresponding images.

Machine Learning

Originally this project was meant to have more of a machine learning component, but getting all the other parts right has been priority. I’ll be doing some stuff related to search and object detection soon. I’ll also be using more model evaluation to handle flagging content that isn’t machine learning.

Conclusion

I’ve been doing some additional experiments with ads and promotion which I’ll write about some other time.

The Arrest of YNW Melly

thefamouspeople

YNW Melly was the new hot artist in the game but now he’s in a cold jail cell. The young Florida rapper first got attention form his 2018 album; “I Am You”. He then dropped his 2019 album “We All Shine” where he had a feature from the rap icon; Kanye West. How could he go from rising to the top to now what seems rock bottom?

Dreshare

At a Young Age

YNW Melly was born Jamell Maurice Demons in 1999. He was interested inmusic at a very young age. He idolized Michael Jackson and Chirs Brown. When he was young he found a Glock under a bed in his house and he fell in love with it and carried it around with him everywhere he went. At 16 he was involved in a shootout near his high school. Which landed him a year in jail on three accounts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Melly’s songwriting took off in jail as he wrote down song after song including his national hit, “Murder On My Mind”.

Youtube

“Murder On My Mind”

On March 4, 2017 the rapper dropped this edgy very descriptive song. The song gives an account of a very sad account of Melly accidnetally killing two of his friends. This song came out a long time before his arrest for killing two of his friends. The song just so happen to foreshadow what happened that night. social media gave us lots of feedback on their reactions to his situation.

“ Yellow tape around his body, it’s a f*****g homicide
His face is on a T-Shirt and his family traumatized
I didn’t even mean to shoot ’em, he just caught me by surprise
I reloaded my pistol, cocked it back, and shot him twice
His body dropped down to the floor and he had teardrops in his eyes
He grabbed me by my hands and said he was afraid to die
I told ’em it’s too late my friend, its time to say “Goodbye”
And he died inside my arms, blood all on my shirt”

This specfic verse from the song stands out to listeners beacuse of it very descriptive language. Not to mention the twisted plot of the rappers narritive.

Twitter
#ynw melly hashtag on Twitter
See Tweets about #ynw melly on Twitter. See what people are saying and join the conversation.twitter.com
Twitter
Instagram

October 26, 2018

On this day Christopher Thomas Jr.(YNW Juvy) and Anythony Williams(YNW Sakchaser) were shot and killed in Miramar, Florida. The two were transported to Memorial Hospital at 4:30 that morning, they both died before arriving to the hospital. The four were in a music group together (not mentioned, YNW Bortlen left).

Twitter
Twitter

The Real Story

There is a lot of controversy surrounding what happened. What we know that are facts, YNW Melly has been in and out of jail since the age of 15. On February 12 YNW Bortlen was arrested in Texas and then transported to his hometown. The following day YNW Melly turned himself in. This came with tons of social media backlash and lots of confusion. Police released a report later that gave us more information. Investigators believe that Melly and Bortlen were at the cite of the crime(according to saved Snapchat videos on his phone). Forensic evidence shows that Williams and Thomas were shot from inside the car they were in which police believe was fired from Melly, but when police arrived Melly and Bortlen set up the crime scene to look like they were victims of a drive-by shooting. Demons(YNW Melly) and Henery(YNW Bortlen) were arrested for two accounts of first-degree murder.

My Life as a Whistleblower

This blog is the beginning of several I shall be posting on the insidious nature of non-disclosure agreements — or NDAs as they are known — which are very commonly used when an employee is terminated for sexual harassment or other sexual misconduct.

An NDA allows both the employer and the terminated employee to escape public scrutiny, because it binds the parties to confidentiality about both the fact of and the reasons for the termination. It facilitates “passing-the-trash” — a prospective new employer will be given no information about the past behavior of the individual they are now considering hiring.

Like growing numbers of people, I believe that offering NDAs to employees terminated for sexual misconduct are completely immoral. And as case law is increasingly suggesting, unenforceable. In particular, NDAs are probably unenforceable in a public education context where student safety is at issue: more on this in next week’s blog.

In some instances, victims are also asked to sign. This is framed as protecting their anonymity — but in actuality it is a gag order. The protection of victim identity via an undertaking of anonymity for them can be achieved in a simple clause in an agreement. It does not require a promise by the victim to never to speak about the matter themselves. This false framing has been exposed by recent cases (examples here and here) in which the victim has spoken up in breach of the NDA because they saw their perpetrator getting away with further abuse.

Both the Anglican and the Catholic churches are ubiquitous for regularly moving priests and ministers known to be abusive to new locations where they continue their predatory behavior. More and more examples of this strategy are being exposed, from the movie “Spotlight” focusing on the Catholic diocese of Boston to the ongoing Independent Inquiry into Institutionalized Child Abuse in the UK.

But it is not just the churches who use this strategy to move abusers and harassers around and hide their behaviour from scrutiny. Universities use NDAs to pass problematic and disgraced faculty on to other institutions. There could be a formal investigation, clear evidence of sexual misconduct, and the consequent termination of a faculty member, but an NDA will rub out all of that — the faculty member could still be hired at another university and once again be in a position of authority to engage in the exact same behaviour. This scenario is more common than you might realize, and I am in the middle of a personal nightmare as a result.

My NDA story

In late 2013, I became aware that a tenured faculty member at my law school was sexually harassing and intimidating law students while building a cult of “favouritism”. It became clear from students and graduates that this behaviour had been going on for many years.

A delegation of students and faculty, myself included, went to the administration and 5 faculty members formally requested the University to act. An internal investigation of this individual followed, and almost a year later he was terminated for misconduct including sexual harassment. The University of Windsor has a collective agreement, and the faculty member brought a grievance against his former employer; in 2015 the university settled with him to avoid costly arbitration. To sweeten the deal, they gave my former colleague a non-disclosure agreement which the faculty association (WUFA) also signed on to.

The NDA made it was possible for this individual to go on to obtain employment in another law school in Trinidad. When I learned of this, I was connected by colleagues to the Dean at this school. I informed him of the circumstances of my former colleague’s departure from Windsor. He told me in that telephone conversation that he had wondered about why the applicant would have left a tenured position, and had reached out to the UW administration for further information. He received no response. He had gone ahead and made the hire.

Ever since, I have been lobbying UWindsor to stop offering such deals to employees terminated for sexual misconduct. For almost a year, the administration refused to engage with me at all on this issue, citing the NDA as a reason to not have any discussions at all about future policy (note: this is NOT what an NDA means). In order to place pressure on them to begin talking about it, in 2017 I spoke to the CBC.

The CBC story “worked” — it forced the administration to engage seriously with me over future NDA policy. Last year we made some good progress, and as of last November, we were closing in on an agreed draft of a future policy. There are still many steps ahead — it will be critical to get the union on board — but there was some momentum, including a legal memo on the dubious legal enforceability of NDAs (to be discussed in next week’s blog).

Then in December, as I was recovering from surgery at home, I received a letter-before action from a lawyer who said he was representing my former colleague. The letter threatened to sue me for defamation in Trinidad — where my former colleague is trying to set up a law practice — unless I made an undertaking not to speak about what I knew to be true about this individual ever again, to anyone, and to retract what I had already said. Obviously I could not agree to this, since everything I have said is true (and the university and the union know it of course).

I was formally served a few weeks later and am now a defendant in a “defamation” suit. Of course I notified my university employer as soon I was first sent the letter-before-action and again when I was served. The response has been effective abandonment by my university employer of 25 years and also my union, both of whom of course signed the NDA. As yet, neither will offer me any legal assistance, or even collegial support. The university has forwarded a query on coverage to their insurer, where it has sat for weeks. I have just over a week left before a default judgment can be issued against me in Trinidad if I do not defend.

I have an amazing team of legal minds and supporters — most of them Windsor alums — working with me to confront the university and raise awareness on this issue. Foremost in our minds is ending the use of NDAs for sexual misconduct terminations.

If you are concerned about this issue, there are a number of things you can do:

· Use social media to draw attention to the NDA scandal, and my case as a whistleblower. Use the existing hashtags #NDAs and #whistleblower.

· We are starting a new hashtag, #DontGambleWithGags, for students and faculty to tweet at their universities (and if you think your university does not use NDAs — go check! This practice is more common than you might think).

· Write to the Acting President at the University of Windsor, Douglas Kneale, telling him what you think of the university’s handling of this case and treatment of me.

· If you are a university professor, please write to your administration and faculty association telling them “not in my name” and urging them to stop giving NDAs to sexual predators.

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Hike a Glacier Lake in the Cascades- Mt. McCausland and Lake Valhalla, September 2018

The view of Lake Valhalla from the slopes of Mt. McCausland

(Note: the first few of these posts were written months ago when I conceived of this conceit, but have been living in my google drive until I worked up the balls to post them. Hence the back-dating.)

Where: Stevens Pass Area off Highway 2 in the Central Cascades

How to get there: a 1 hour 45min trip by car, some gravel road to get to the trailhead but in good condition. In the summer months the Trailhead Direct program takes hikers from the Capitol Hill Transit Station and the Mount Baker Transit Station to some trailheads in the Issaquah Alps and Central Cascades for the price of a standard bus fare ($2.75). This trail in particular is not a part of this program.

Hours: N/A

Season: Hiking without snow gear is usually accessible in this area beginning in April or May and Lasting until September-October. Check forecasts prior to leaving if you intend to visit in a spring or fall month without snow gear.

Price: A Northwest Forest Pass (annual pass for $30 honored at Forest Service sites in Washington and Oregon) or National Forest Service Day Pass available for $5/car.

It seems like I spend most of my summer hunting for friends and coworkers who are available and willing to go out on day hikes with me. Easy and diverse access to the outdoors is one of the best things about living in Seattle, and in the summer the best way to take advantage of this is to get out to one of the hundreds of trails in the Central Cascades. Because my work schedule allows for it, I prefer to do this on a weekday as the crowds are sparser, but the mountains and the lakes are just as majestic no matter how many other people are on the trail. If you are looking for a good introduction to the kinds of hikes you can find within 1–2 hours of Seattle, the WTA (Washington trails association) website has a great trip planner.

On the Sunday of Labor Day weekend my husband and I headed out of the house at 8am, drove up Highway 2 to the trailhead and got started on our hike up to Mt. McCausland a little before 10am. The parking lot at the trailhead was already full (about twenty cars) but there was plenty of room to park along the road and we found a spot easily. By the time we returned in the afternoon, there were probably twice as many cars parked in the area.

The weather was ideal, sitting around 70 degrees F, as we headed up the trailhead. This hike has a moderate amount of elevation gain and we climbed gradually through the first mile. After hiking through wooded switchbacks for about a mile and a half we merged onto the PCT heading south. We started seeing more through hikers at this point, and the terrain levelled out as we hiked along ridges for the next mile and a half. Wild blueberries and huckleberries grow along this trail and I spent some time dawdling and eating them as we went. There was a cairn at the turnoff to head up to Mt. McCausland, and from there the final half mile is a steep climb. The salve of this climb is that the stunning views of Lake Valhalla below begin immediately and only get prettier as you progress. The top offered a stunning 360 view of the cascades, with Mt Baker visible to the north and Rainier peaking out to the south with many smaller peaks in between. We stopped for lunch up here before carefully picking our way back down to the PCT. Lake Valhalla is just another half mile further down the PCT, and offers campsites and a small sandy beach that is a more popular lunch spot for day hikers. We found a spot not on the beach that was a little more quiet and I climbed out to sit on a log with my feet in the water and drink the beer I had stashed away for just this occasion. The water was cold and clear, as it is wont to be in the glacier lakes. Lichtenberg Mountain loomed overhead, and I had the thought I so often do when I’m out in the wilderness of Western Washington, which is that I never want to leave.

Aided in self portraiture by some friendly hikers at the peak of Mt. McCausland.

Watership Down {essay}

~ a short essay on the 1972 novel Watership Down by Richard Adams

Rabbits & Death

What might it mean to be a rabbit?

This is the question implicitly posited by British writer Richard Adams in his debut novel Watership Down. A work of masterful fiction and mythic, inventive storytelling, it’s a ‘classic’ for good reason. In it, a group of adventurous, anthropomorphized rabbits take on their own courageous hero’s journey, unto glory and home. Or unto death.

~

Ah yes, death. The great equalizer. The endgame of entropy. The inevitable fate of all things. Death is omnipresent. But it is perceived much more ominously for some beings versus others {if it is perceived at all}. Take us versus animals, more specifically — humans versus rabbits. Both are mammals… Both evolved to survive. That’s kinda where the similarities end. Rabbits are small, fast, they have big ears, they like raiding gardens full of carrots, and they love digging holes. Humans are bigger, slower, they have weirdly expressive faces, they like to burn white sticks in their mouths, and they love digging metaphorical holes for themselves and their loved ones to try and dig out of. Rabbits live in the fields, where they can burrow out warrens and silfay (graze) and pass hruku (poop). Humans live inside glassy panopticons of reflective metals, where they can sit and stand around in a variety of different places for days and days on end, until they go crazy or leave or … die.

Humans and rabbits of course both die eventually. For humans on average it takes about 75 years. For {wild} rabbits: 1–3 years. There are a multitude of ways each type of creature can die. Car accident, disease, overexposure to the elements, hunted and consumed by a thousand different types of predator… Humans are much more difficult to bring down, of course. And humans not only have less externalities bringing on death to worry about, but we typically don’t think about our own death everyday, let alone our every waking moment. We can, theoretically. But we don’t, for cognitive dissonance reasons and for survival reasons {they might be one and the same}. i.e. we have bigger fish to fry. The threats just aren’t as present for us, or as we think they are. And thus, our existence is not so much defined by the things that can kill us, and our survival, as much as it is about how we might go about living well, {typically} as luxuriously as we can manage.

Rabbits, given culture, would likely develop very differently than humans due to these differences in environment and evolution. And this is the world that Adams creates upon the wild countrysides of Watership Down.

In the realm of rabbits, in the fiction of this novel’s robust universe of animalia, they’ve got their own unique world of history and forms and language. Rabbits have built up a personalized mythology between their various warrens within the English countryside, and death is the central locus of this rabbit mythos. They deal with the real threat of death ubiquitously, on a daily basis, in their every waking moment. It is a foe capable of being tricked, if only temporarily. But ultimately, all rabbits die, or as they put it: stop running.

Inlé, the afterlife for the rabbit, is where one goes when they ‘stop running.’ Of course, every rabbit must one day stop running; this is well-known to all rabbits. But prolonging the arrival of that day via cleverness is a matter of adventurous rite of passage for every rabbit of the wild.

~

Rabbits are prey. The rabbit is a small mammal, and in case it isn’t obvious — they are especially evolved to be able to see, hear, and run.

Heavy breeders, capable of digging homes everywhere and eating anywhere they may roam, rabbits are populous and capable of surviving and spreading at the most rapid rates of nearly any mammal. Their teeming presence within the ecosystem makes them an integral part of the food chain.

And thusly, rabbits don’t just know about death — it’s a naturalized component of their deepest ethos. Rabbits are going to be hunted and consumed ad infinitum. In Watership Down, it is cogently baked into all their importantly myths. In their special sentience within Adams’ world, it is only natural that the primacy of cultural manifestations of rabbit-kind deal with death and all the different ways a rabbit might go.

Rabbits can count up to four. Any number above four is U Hrair “a lot,” or “a thousand.” Thus they say U Hrair — “The Thousand” — to mean, collectively, all the enemies (or elil, as they call them) of rabbits — fox, stoat, weasel, cat, owl, man, etc.

Elil, “The Thousand,” are their many predators. Always out there, an unseen foe, they are always hunting. At least, they are in the minds of their prey. A rabbit must continuously be aware of the threat of being devoured by the world around it, and The Thousand, waiting within the darkness of the unknown. In the world of the rabbit, night is called ‘Owl Time.’

Rabbits are also escape artists. Such creatures, both physically and culturally, come to define themselves by the omnipresence of their killers and their capability of getting away from them. Priding themselves on their grand attributes of trickery, speed, and collective escapability, the rabbit’s innate talents are as creatures tasked with escaping The Thousand. Of course, they don’t always escape; rabbits die all the time. But the little fur balls are always avoiding death one way or another, trying to find their way to warmth, to each other, to home. And they build their culture around it. It’s a through line in which they can come to understand themselves and their position in the world.

The rabbits’ collectively unconscious spiritual beliefs, in these ways, encompass a balanced perspective upon death and its embrace {their own little brand of memento mori: ‘We are all to stop running some day, let us hope it is not this day. But if it is: die as a rabbit, running and digging and tricking your way through all the way until the end.’} As much from their actions and simple conversations, the rabbits of Watership Down achieve this via these kinds of stories.

In their myths, Frith is the rabbit creator God, aka the sun. In the ancient times of rabbits, as they tell amongst themselves, he communicated with them through messengers. The most prominent of which was The Black Rabbit of Inlé, aka the rabbit representation of ‘The Grim Reaper.’ A deathlike specter of mythic fearfulness, part-God, part-harbinger of mortal doom, his presence is both inevitable and to be feared and fled from.

“Now, as you all know, the Black Rabbit of Inlé is fear and everlasting darkness. He is a rabbit, but he is that cold, bad dream from which we can only entreat Lord Frith to save us today and tomorrow.”

On the flip side, El-ahrairah is the ultimate hero to the rabbits. Like Theseus or Hercules in human myth, he is the exemplar for rabbit-kind. El is so cherished for his super{rabbit} sense for plucky survival, even in the face of the Gods’ trying machinations, even compelling he and his kind’s extinction. In the events of the novel, through a series of stories told to one another by the group of rabbits during downtime, the reader learns all about the myths and acts surrounding El. It isn’t difficult to see why such a figure is beloved and emulated by the rabbits. The consummate trickster, El-ahrairah is the undisputed champion of getting out of impossible jam after impossible jam, laughing in the face of elil and Gods alike; El is always entertaining and he never stops running — his story lives on.

Pipkin forgot his weariness and danger and remembered instead the great indestructibility of the rabbits.

Like humans, they tell stories about El in order to better understand themselves. The rabbits of Watership Down are embarking on adventures of their own and the reader soon understands they will be forced to be like El in order to continue down their path and survive to tell about it. This culture is fully realized as the reader follows this group of rabbits, led by Hazel, Fiver and Bigwig, into the vast unknown outside of their longtime home and into a world of dangerous misadventure, chock-full of much more than a mere thousand ways to die.

Roles & Responsibilities

The journey of Watership Down is initiated when Fiver, a pensive runt with a penchant for prescience, tells his buddy they must leave the warren. Wielding a stark vision of coming doom to everything that they know, in their current homestead of holes dug long ago and relatively safe, Fiver wills his friend, Hazel, to set himself to running away with him. Hazel, a sensible and charismatic rabbit of even temperament, trusts Fiver for some unspoken reason and soon sets himself to gathering as many allies as they can before they set off from the only home they’ve ever known.

“We’re in for some mysterious trouble.”

Fiver’s story, when presented to the Chief Rabbit and quickly rebuffed, is able to persuade a member of the Owsla {the big, bodyguard rabbits, tasked with protecting the Chief Rabbit} of coming with them. With Bigwig comes a host of other rabbits, all of unique personality and skillset. In a combination of Fiver’s vivid description of the place’s destruction, Hazel’s credible reasoning in leaving, and Bigwig’s instinctive fear, the others are all compelled to follow the trio out into the wilds. And thus the adventure begins. A small group of rabbits, moving out into the world and away from safety, into the unknown wilds — all of it so counter to their nature as prey.

“If we ever meet again, Hazel-rah … we ought to have the makings of the best story ever.”

Like a proper adventuring party, the protagonist rabbits of Watership Down all have their roles to play, and their time in the spotlight of the story. They each bring something different to table. In order to survive, all of them must work together, and learn to trust one another. As we see, rabbits — much like humans — are strongest when they work together, and use their own distinct advantages to the strength of the group as a whole.

~ Hazel, the natural leader, wields charisma and forges confidence into the band via strategic, convicted courses of action. Hazel has a discerning eye for he and his friends’ survival, and their individual strengths and current states of mind.

~ Bigwig, the warrior, protects the group from the local dangers of fellow ground-dwelling mammals. Bigwig trusts his instincts. And he has good ones. Bigwig seems as a simple and strong rabbit, even to the others — but as his role increases, and the group covers more ground, he grows from the experiences and the complexities of his character are revealed.

~ Fiver, the shaman, spies the future and bleeds his chaotic wisdom into the emotions of the others, for better or worse. By tapping into his own unconscious, and seeing the streams of the near future, Fiver brings impossible knowledge to bear within the group’s decisions. He is calmly confident, and shares an indestructible mutual trust with Hazel that serves them in their journey again and again.

~ Blackberry, the scientist, holds knowledge of the world that others rabbit cannot even perceive, and uses it to give the band a leg up on their increasingly dangerous environments.

~ Dandelion, the bard, is a renowned storykeeper and storyteller, relied upon by the group to perform when called upon. The most romantic and hopeful of the crew, he wafts in morale through the weaving of his mythic rabbit tales, always by request and always with enthusiasm.

~ Silver, a fighter, loyalist, and reliable friend to the pack. He is Bigwig’s second in command.

~ Pipkin, the baby. Weakest member of the crew but strong in spirit, and strongest in pathos.

~ Strawberry, the exile. The squad picks him up from within another warren and he must earn his place. Serves as an example for the type of group that Hazel wants to lead, taking in all capable rabbits worthy of contributing, desiring to build a better life than before, leaving the past behind.

~ Holly, the sage, is a survivor of the home warren the group leaves at the beginning. A purveyor of wisdom, he shores up Hazel’s position of leadership as a source of counsel.

~ Bluebell, the jester, provides much needed comic relief to the the rabbits of the down in times of darkness. He and Holly, tragically, are the only survivors of the original warren’s human-caused destruction.

~ Blackavar, the scout, comes from Efrafa gravely damaged but with every reason to help Hazel and his band: he desires more than an escape, he seeks vengeance.

Every rabbit provides distinct value to the cause of survival. When faced with the many obstacles and enemies the group faces, it is these separate roles and responsibilities which serve them. Fiver’s instincts set the tone, Hazel devises the plans, Bigwig fights to enact them. The others support the decisions, providing insights of their own along the way. And by the climactic ending, each of them grows the necessary versatility to persist in the face of adversity. At different points of the story, each of Hazel, Fiver, and Bigwig share a vivid brush with the spectre of death itself, and they all come out stronger for it, more prepared to take on the world.

In their highest stakes mission, Bigwig goes undercover in Efrafa and learns all about the resourcefulness necessary to survive amidst difficult odds; something he previously relied on others to enact for him. A calm and effective trickster in his own right, Bigwig is more than a hero. He’s a good rabbit. The audience observes his internal struggling with the fraught moral considerations of his deceptions and the consequences for the others back home given his discovery. Ultimately, he stands upon righteous ground in his actions, and is willing to fight with all his heart, to the death, to defend his group.

Calmly wise, and filled to the brim with genuine affectation, Fiver is the soul of the squad. At the group’s darkest hour, Fiver — the most diminutive of them all — courageously stands up to the Efrafan invaders. Using his esoteric knowledge to frighten the stronger rabbits into flight, he appears almost as if he capable of casting spells. After leading Hazel toward his final gambit, Fiver feigns his own death to let the others fortify themselves. His sacrifice gives the larger group a puncher’s chance against a superior foe.

“I am sorry for you with all my heart. But you cannot blame us, for you came to kill us if you could.”

“Blame you?” answered Vervain. “Blame you for what?”

“For your death,” said Fiver. “Believe me, I am sorry for your death.”

Hazel learns to rely on all the others as much as they have come to rely on him. After he nearly dies and carries the weight of an injury to his leg {as serious a setback for a wild rabbit as anything else}, Hazel understands that they won’t last long without all of them working together. Despite his injury and the failed initial attempt to bring back the does {female rabbits} from Efrafa, Hazel and the others are down but not out. He sees the challenge before the group not as a reason to safely settle for their solitary survival as long as they can manage it, an all-male warren destined for extinction, and instead as impetus to develop more plans, to forge closer bonds with one another, to be better rabbits.

Hazel sees, as the reader does, this interdependence is no weakness. It allows them to survive all of their ordeals, not without hardship but also with pluck, and purpose. Maybe more than anything else, the group of rabbits within Watership Down, in their adventuring through the countryside and the cooperation to overcome fearsome opposition, shows the tremendous meaning there is in playing a role within something greater than yourself. The separations of their various skillsets build especially indestructible bonds. Not unlike the classes within a role-playing game, the state of play within their collective is one of this collaboration. They are aligned in their adventurous mission, their communal survival; and most importantly, they all cooperate in the charge of finding their true endgame: home.

Home & Hearth

At the beginning of the novel, Hazel leads the group out of their old home, and from then on, they are naturally seeking out a new one. He intends for them to eventually settle down somewhere. Somewhere secure, safe from The Thousand. A new home. This is what Watership Down is all about: going out from the safety of your old world with a group of trusted allies, encountering the depths of darkness in the world outside of what you know, and securing a new community full of the spoils and boons, material and personal, the group earned along the way. The whole story is a hero’s journey for rabbits.

These young rabbits … must move out if they are to survive. In a wild and free state they … stray sometimes for miles … wandering until they find a suitable environment.

~ R.M. Lockley, The Private Life of the Rabbit

The place they come to find — Watership Down — is a salient discovery. It is, and directly due to the nature of what a rabbit finds secure. It is a raised hill-like edifice for them to create their burrows within and be able to see, from this heightened vantage point, all of the surrounding area. This is the ultimate position: A rabbit able to observe its homeland, far and wide, for elil.

But getting to the Down takes cleverness, bold action and vigilance in the face of the unknown. As Adams explains in various omniscient asides through the novel, there are a certain many things that rabbits are not designed for. Swimming, traveling overland for intermediate-to-long distances, interacting with any other animals outside of their group {or allying with them}. These are things wild rabbits simply don’t do. And yet, this is just what Hazel’s group does. Out of necessity, along their journey traversing the lands near and far from their original home, they travel through terrain unfamiliar to them, walk and sleep out in the open, and interact with mice, birds, and other rabbits. Through all this, an enterprising group of rabbits learns about the nature of buoyancy upon water, the uses of knowledge-sharing with other prey animals, and the dangerous roles humans play within their countrysides.

We’ve been through a lot of danger. Everything new seems like danger to us.

To watch another in danger can be almost as bad as sharing in it.

It was not the death they deserved; it was not the right end of the clever track they had run … What could save them now?

In their journey, the rabbits must change as their adventure requires it. They do not fold in the face of the unknown, instead they grow. And all along the way they retain the chaotic and free-wheeling nature of being a rabbit, unbroken — even empowered — by their experiences. One could say this is the essence of the hero’s journey.

At the same time, the Efrafan rabbits making up the mega-warren to the east of the Down — the final opponents at the end of this journey — are cultured into their own collective state of being, sophisticated and, most of all, safe. Introduced late in the novel, the Efrafan warren of rabbits is rumored to have does available for possible immigration. At the group’s first attempt, Hazel sends Holly, Silver and Strawberry to the warren to see if they can bring some rabbits back, of their own volition and as many as they can possibly convince. This results in failure, but they gather enough intel upon the warren and its current situation, and defenses, to warrant a second mission. This mission is what makes up the climax of the novel.

Anything out of the ordinary is a possible source of danger.

~ Efrafan rabbit

Efrafa is led by a rabbit as big and strong as a hare, known as General Woundwort. He rules his rabbits with an iron paw; Efrafa is an authoritarian state… of rabbits. The Efrafan rabbits are perhaps safer than any other rabbits in the world. From within the leadership and stern structuring of their warren, unlike any other rabbits of the world, they have developed a system to ensure long-livedness. Strong-minded officers, well-trained and driven by chains of command, assume control of specific locales within the warren. This is where they oversee sects of rabbits living, breeding and eventually dying their natural deaths. Each of these sections are restricted and isolated with a rules-based structuring around how the rabbits may do anything at all, with schedules and consequences to misbehavior. As a direct result of all this, and the resulting long-livedness of its population, Efrafa is suffering from overpopulation. Even more so under this regime, the rabbits are suffering. Especially among the does, the discontent spawns from the misery of their decidedly unnatural living conditions.

It isn’t too hard for the reader to see why. They might live much longer {as a domesticated rabbits might vs. wild rabbits}. But life itself is not the same for them. You see, in Efrafa, under the one called General Woundwort, they are not really rabbits anymore.

Bigwig began to understand why Woundwort’s officers followed him and fought for him as they did.

“He’s not like a rabbit at all,” he thought. “Flight’s the last thing he ever thinks of.

I’d imagine that Adams, in his readings and observations of rabbits running about their habitat, embraced the all-too-human quality of imbuing the things one sees with bits of oneself. As a human, we tend to view the rest of the world, especially denizens of the animal kingdom, with the kind of consciousness we find so fascinating within ourselves. Within this novel, he deftly weaves perspectives between the inner experience of Hazel, Bigwig, Fiver and the other rabbits, with a higher-level, narrator-esque discernment of the world and its happenings, from the limited perspective of one of rabbit-kind. Except these words of what rabbits understand and misunderstand about reality come from a human perspective. This allows the reader to repeatedly test their own immersion within the localized story being told. In gifting his rabbits with consciousness, Adams has given them problems. These problems, in a successive flow, make up the tension and conflict within Watership Down. Problems that are simple to us, the human, but inherently complex to the rabbit’s perspective from which we experience the story.

“There’s a lot we don’t know,” said Blackberry. “About this place, I mean. The plants are new, the smells are new. We’re going to need some new ideas for ourselves.”

For both groups of opposing rabbits, Hazel’s and Woundwort’s, consciousness is both a gift and a curse. As they become enmeshed within the wider world of possibilities, and of dangers, each rabbit is forced to change. To the reader, on the surface, these advancements are the simple boons that come with being able to use technology, complex planning and orchestration towards collective goals, the creation of effective systems of law and order. These changes grant the rabbits more effective ways of surviving and contending with the world around them. Given it is a world so filled with the thousands of creatures hunting them without end, these changes seem good. Of course, any rabbit must be clever to escape death. And these changes are simply additional methodologies to such ends.

However, through the observation of both groups of rabbits, and their ultimate clash at the end of the novel, it’s clear to see that there is a difference between living and living well. Watership Down presents the question: what is the telos of a thing? In this case, what is the telos of a rabbit? Whether a rabbit lives for one season, or a decade of them, there can be a huge difference in what makes up a more meaningful life, for a rabbit {or for anything}.

More than anything else, rabbits like to run and dig and be out in the sun at their own behest, at the beck and call of no other. Rabbits have no plans, no schedules, and no obligations or responsibilities beyond their instincts and their continued will to live. A rabbit is the best thing there is at being a rabbit. In this mode, no amount of setbacks can prevent a rabbit from living a fulfilled existence, even if it is short-lived and violently ended somewhere along the way. The reader gets the sense that rabbits like Hazel, Bigwig, and Fiver get this.

In the gifting of the rabbits within the novel with consciousness by Adams, their rabbitness is both raised and lowered. We see just how much a rabbit can understand about the world outside of themselves {minimal, but able to learn}, and the kinds of things they pay attention to, as a rabbit, in order to make their way in the world. In many ways their instincts are simply translated into language, but no less are they instincts. Namely, they wish to eat, sleep, breed and be out in the English countryside with their brethren.

Simply put: Rabbits are meant to be what they are. Just like all animals, who live in the world of instinct, they just go. There are no thoughts {as we understand them}, no perception of time, no “problems,” no ambitions beyond the necessary acts of mortal endurance, for as long as they can go.

Come where the grass is greener, said Bluebell,

And the lettuce grows in rows,

And a rabbit of free demeanor

Is known by his well-scratched nose.

In Watership Down, Woundwort and the Efrafans live much more like humans, generating systems and a rule of law to best proof themselves against the many fearsome spectres of death. Such systems come at a cost, however, to the well-being of the rabbits and their inner, unspoken telos to be rabbits. In the forging of hierarchical bonds of authoritarianism, the rabbits of Efrafa replace their wild instincts with an artificially elongated lifespan. With their initiative lost, they become more docile, and less able to make decisions for themselves. Ironically, in their more secure style of life, the rabbit loses the primary characteristic which makes it special: cleverness.

Rabbits are like human beings in many ways. One of these is certainly their staunch ability to withstand disaster and to let the stream of their life carry them along, past reaches of terror and loss. They have a certain quality which it would not be accurate to describe as callousness or indifference. It is, rather, a blessedly circumscribed imagination and an intuitive feeling that Life is Now.

~ Richard Adams

Hazel, Fiver, and Bigwig, even in their consciousness, seem to have a much greater understanding of the way of the rabbit, and bend their course towards its ends. Their plans and sense of the world, and its many useful and beautiful objects and creatures, all lead toward their destined homestead and the cultivation of their community. Boldly led by Hazel’s continued direction, they deign to build something greater than themselves, together upon Watership Down.

In a sincere attempt to avoid their final fight, Hazel offers Woundwort his vision of things: to work together, to come an agreement to create a joint-warren, both sides better for the effort.

“A rabbit has two ears; a rabbit has two eyes, two nostrils. Our two warrens ought to be like that. They ought to be together — not fighting … Rabbits have enough enemies as it is. They ought not to make more among themselves.”

~ Hazel

At the end, each side within the rabbit conflict {like all human conflicts} is presented with the choice, as Martin Luther King Jr. said — to walk in the light of creative altruism or to walk in the darkness of destructive selfishness. And at dawn upon the Down, the rabbits choose their own fate. ~