Friday Fable: Aesop’s “The Camel and Jupiter” (or how the camel lost his lush, furry ears).

Posted by jlubans on January 31, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Jupiter giving the Camel an earful.

“THE CAMEL, when he saw the Bull adorned with horns, envied him and wished that he himself could obtain the same honors. He went to Jupiter, and besought him to give him horns. Jupiter, vexed at his request because he was not satisfied with his size and strength of body, and desired yet more, not only refused to give him horns, but even deprived him of a portion of his ears.”

Which reminds me of a “whining” department head in my career. It seemed that regardless of my listening and responding as best I could within a limited budget, this department head was never satisfied. She used her negativity like a bludgeon; an inevitable first salvo in a well rehearsed tale of unfair treatment, past and present. I envied a colleague of mine for his Zeus-like memory. When a “constant complainer” started his litany of wrongs, my colleague responded that only a few months ago a requested piece of equipment had been approved and delivered and that a year ago, an extra position had been added and that two years ago the office area had been remodeled, etc. I’d done similar things – even more - but they just were not that important in my relationships; I did not carry around a mental list, like Santa, of who had gotten what and when. After several years our relationship soured and she left. Interestingly enough, when I made this into a case study in my problem employee workshop, the participants tended to blame me, the supervisor, as much as they did the whiner. Would I handle it differently? Probably. Still, Jupiter’s solution has considerable appeal!

*Source: AESOP'S FABLES By Aesop Translated by George Fyler Townsend (probably from this edition): “Three hundred and fifty Aesop's fables”. Chicago, Belford, Clarke & Co., 1886.
Available at Gutenberg.

Friday’s Leading from the Middle Library: Singapore Management University

Copyright John Lubans 2014)

Dominate or Positivate?

Posted by jlubans on January 28, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Bridger, age 7 mos. Photo by Mara Lubans-Othic.

Recently, a reader e-admonished me for quoting Cesar Millan in my book: “Millan is so wrong about behavior, you just can't have him in future articles and books or speeches.”
Of course, we are talking about the dog trainer, aka The Dog Whisperer (DW).
My correspondent included a fatwa (2006) from the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. In it, without naming Mr. Millan, AVSAB advises against using those trainers who practice dominance theory (a form of Theory X) vs. some other approach like “lure and reward” (aka positive reinforcement, me thinks), perhaps a form of Theory Y. However, let’s not forget that positive reinforcement can be a form of manipulation, akin to Herzberg’s KITA, with minimal respect for the innate abilities of the dog or the worker.
In the critiques, Mr. Millan is cast as a practitioner of dominance theory and a brutish, rolled-up newspaper type of dog disciplinarian. Since I am an infrequent viewer, I cannot say if this is accurate – the little I have seen, suggests a different type of trainer.
While I do quote the DW, in “Bridger and Me”, I do so with tongue in cheek and as points of departure for my own views on leading and following, in my case who was leading whom, Bridger or me?
Perhaps the Dog Whisperer – still going strong in 2014 - has heard the criticism; most of the citations come from 2006/07. Perhaps he has modified his techniques. Quien sabe?
But the critics are not shy about extrapolating their dog advice to leadership of people, albeit making the same mistake many theorists do that a person can be motivated externally, either thru fear or bribery. They claim that dominating and punishing workers is not a good idea. Who would disagree? But is that what Mr. Millan is advocating? I don’t think so.
One opponent of Mr. Millan, in fairness, concedes that there are a few “Good Points (to be) Gained from Viewing” the DW series. Mr. Millan repeatedly – in my viewing experience - models these behaviors essential to dog ownership:
1. Exercise. (Mr. Millan advises daily exercise (in most cases equally important for the hefty owner as for the overweight pup. When the DW runs with the dogs, he is not running a few blocks, he’s in it for miles and the dogs, as one would expect, love it. If your dog wimps out, maybe YOU need to get on a treadmill!)
2. Rules and Limits. (Most of us like to know what the rules are and what the limits are. We may choose to break the rules, but at least we are not fuzzy as to the boundaries. If we bust through the invisible fence, we do so knowing we are breaking the rules, but so be it. If your less-than-lovable boss’ behavior is erratic and unpredictable then welcome to a miserable office.)
3. Be calm and assertive. (If you want your dog to be calm, be calm yourself. A hysterical boss achieves little in communicating with workers.)
4. Training is About the Owners (I have been impressed with Mr. Millan’s insistence on role clarity: “You,” he insists to the owner, “are the grownup, the leader of the ‘pack’. Your dog is not your child!” Good advice there, no? Likewise, as a leader you need to lead in constructive and trusting ways and not treat your followers as if they were children in need of minding.
5. But, for some reason – perhaps because it goes against the stereotype of the dog-kicking trainer – the critics fail to mention Mr. Millan’s insistence on affection as a condition of owning and working with a dog. In the office, a supervisor can be friends with the staff, but must still, when necessary, apply guidance and discipline.)

Weakness in any of these five elements probably will lead to a less than happy dog and owner. Indeed my critical correspondent added: “Extensive, high-quality surveys done by a British charity called PDSA (People's Dispensary for Sick Animals) found kept animals are fat, bored, and poorly socialized. And this is in England!” Imagine the state of the dog in a New York City populated by Woody Allen owners? Would not applying the five elements above make a difference for these canines and their owners?
Now, I do not like the DW’s relentless marketing or the Hollywood-inspired psychobabble that Mr. Millan occasionally lapses into, nor do I like the implication that Mr. Millan works miracles in 10-minute segments, like a “Father Knows Best” sitcom. (I note that now the show adds time frames to each case, often days and weeks before the dog and owners get back on solid footing.)
But, I am impressed that Mr. Millan, with zero academic credentials, has followed his heart and achieved his dream. He appears to have some innate quality, something shamanesque, that resonates with man’s best friend. However anti-establishment his methods appear, he does seek to improve the lives of dogs and their owners.
UPDATE: The same day of this blog, the Boston Review published, "Dogs Are Not People."

Leading from the Middle Library of the Week: University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

Copyright John Lubans 2014

Friday Fable: Aesop’s “THE ASS CARRYING THE IMAGE”*

Posted by jlubans on January 24, 2014  •  Leave comment (1)

Caption: Visiting my “BFF”.
A certain man put an Image on the back of his Ass to take it to one of the temples of the town. As they went along the road all the people they met uncovered and bowed their heads out of reverence for the Image; but the Ass thought they were doing it out of respect for himself, and began to give himself airs accordingly. At last he became so conceited that he imagined he could do as he liked, and, by way of protest against the load he was carrying, he came to a full stop and flatly declined to proceed any further. His driver, finding him so obstinate, hit him hard and long with his stick, saying the while, ‘Oh, you dunder-headed idiot, do you suppose it's come to this, that men pay worship to an Ass?’"

“Rude shocks await those who take to themselves the credit that is due to others.”

And so it can be when we, as institutional representatives, go and ask for donations from rich alumni (“alums” for those of us in the foundation biz). If you’ve gotten your foot in the mansion’s door, it’s not due to your ebullient personality, however charming. You’re on the doorstep only because the institution – which you represent - may be the alum’s sweetest memory of four sunshine-filled undergraduate years. Their embracing welcome does not mean you are their friend. You are a messenger that reminds them of those halcyon days. Stray over into friendship and court disappointment. And, unless you maintain the distinction, your “ASK” – when you hit them up for the big bucks – may result in a much smaller donation because of familiarity’s effect.

Available at Gutenberg Project.

Leading from the Middle Library of the Week: University of Manitoba

Copyright John Lubans 2014

The Spontaneity of Well-Meaning Crowds

Posted by jlubans on January 21, 2014  •  Leave comment (1)

In early February I will be teaching at the University of Latvia my 8-week class on the Democratic Workplace. The main reason I am in Riga two weeks early was to participate in the “Grāmatu draugu ķēde” (Friends of Books Chain) on January 18.
The book chain was reminiscent of the 1989 Baltic Way, a cry for freedom (with people linking hands from Tallinn, Estonia to Riga, Latvia to Vilnius, Lithuania).
The January 18 chain moved books, plastic encased, from the Old National Library to the new National Library (The Castle of Light) from the City Center, along the streets of Old Town
Caption: The first book in the chain - The (Latvian language) Bible of the Lambsdorff family (1825) reaches Līvu square. Photo by Ināra Kindzule.
and across the Old Stone Bridge to the nearly complete iconic new building slumbering on the left bank of the River Daugava . Slumbering no more!
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Caption: A bridge not too far. The Castle of Light in the distance across the Old Stone Bridge early January 18. Photo by John Lubans*
Forget the -17 Centigrade (1 or so in Fahrenheit), Latvians of all ages and Estonians and Lithuanians and even a few Americans came out and waited and waited and handled books, and sang folk songs and wept happy tears as the first book entered the new building and made its way through a multitude of hands up to the display shelves far above the main floor.
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Caption: Inside the new library, looking up at the marvelous soaring display for the books in the “Grāmatu draugu ķēde”.
What struck me most of all was how the Latvian organizers and planners responded to the enthusiasm of people wanting to take part. If you were not registered, that was OK. Join us!
Want to sing? By all means! Want to dance? Dance!
Caption: One of several sound systems pounding out rhythms.
Indeed the towering speaker systems at the start and end and along the way boomed out rock and roll in American and Latvian, engaging and warming.
While planned for months, those plans changed at the last minute. (There is something we could call, the unplanned!) The extreme cold tossed in a wrench, as did the question of occupancy, of allowing anyone into the yet unfinished building. This was exacerbated by the painfully fresh memory of the Zolitudes tragedy of a shopping center’s collapse in Riga. Public tours were planned and hundreds of librarians, taking turns, were to complete the chain inside the library. The fire marshal said this was not possible. Up to the last minute, several government agencies haggled over the terms of admission. One temporary resolution was to let the books into the building but no public tours, a guaranteed public relations failure. Fortunately, the public was allowed into the first floor.
As for the kede, the chain, the books traveled in fits and starts – there were bottlenecks. After I snapped this picture of the first book,
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Caption: The first book (dead center) makes its way across the bridge, only 100 meters more to go!
a few more came by, but then no more books. We waited,
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Caption: Waiting for the next batch.
patiently, spirits still high, unaffected by the cold. And when the books re-appeared on the horizon, we were back on task.
Books were treated with respect. Perhaps too much respect, as some of the bottlenecks were certainly caused by participants, one pictured below, examining each and every title.
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Caption: On the access road to the Old Stone Bridge, a colonel browsed every book; an advertisement for the love of reading!.

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Caption: Nearby the colonel, a young person in pink joins soldiers in camo.

There was a self-organizing element among the 14,000 participants. With minimal instruction, they created two rows and passed the books back and forth. If there were not enough people for two rows, one sufficed.

20140121-wheelchair lge.jpeg
Caption: Inside the library, the lines sang and sang.

Caption: Book friends clasped hands and went up on the bridge to take the next shift in the chain, dozens pouring past me.
There appeared to be the right mix of guidance by the organizers, certainly nothing heavy-handed or verboten!. The mantra appeared to be “accommodate, accommodate, don’t deny, don’t deny”.
What does it take to involve so many different perspectives on libraries, books and reading? Trust was apparent that the many would do what was right, not harm any book, but to honor each book, as it was meant to be.
The last book, randomly (and highly apropos) selected, of the 2000 volumes that were sent from the Old to the New was, : “Balandnieki” by Pēteris Upenieks – a book about the Catholic Suiti community in Western Latvia, one part of Latvia's folk or ethnographic movement.
Caption: Ināra Kindzule (librarian and former student) holds a book with the title in English: "I was there." Photo from Ināra Kindzule.

*Unless stated otherwise, all photos are by the author.

UPDATE:AL Direct (American Libraries) linked to this blog in its January 22 edition.

Leading from the Middle Library of the Week: Cecil Renaud (Main) Library, University of KwaZulu-Natal -Pietermaritzburg Campus, Scottsville, South Africa. If the link does take you directly, simply enter “Lubans” in the search box and voila!

Copyright John Lubans 2014

Friday Fable: Lubans’ The Dog and The Stick.

Posted by jlubans on January 17, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

Once upon a time there was a dog who loved to chase and fetch sticks in the forest. But, the dog did not like surrendering the stick so it could be thrown again. It would run off with the stick, jutting out of its mouth, settle down some distance from the master, its tail motoring, and chew and chew on the stick until it was in bits, This happened each day, for weeks, and months. Eventually there were no more sticks – it was a small forest - and the master shrugged helplessly when the dog bounced up and down to persuade him to throw a stick, any stick – there were no more to be found. The forest was bare. They went home, unhappily.

And so it is with any resource. Mind that you do not use it all up; no matter how much fun you have in doing so, in chewing on that bone. Always leave some for the next day, for the next week, the next month and the next generation of dogs and masters.

Copyright John Lubans 2014

Canyon Snapshots: Groups and the Resurrection Fern.

Posted by jlubans on January 14, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

(This is vignette #5 from eight days on the Lower Canyons of the Rio Grande in Texas in early November 2013. I was one of 11 expertly guided by Burt Kornegay. We paddled 6 fully laden canoes 90 miles, hiked into arroyos and side canyons, marveled at the blooming cacti of all persuasions, and prayed to the sun, after three days of cold drizzle, to dry out our muddy, soggy gear!)
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Caption: New Portage Record – 38 minutes! (Photo by Burt Kornegay.)

Humans voluntarily form groups. The group is always action oriented; it wants to do something, at least initially, and works to achieve that something. Disagreements can occur about leadership, around the goal and who is going to do what, around individual duties and group decisions. So how did our dozen do?
Our flotilla was hardly self-managing. We had a strong leader, Burt. Indeed, he was designated, “Master of the Vessel” under Homeland Security law for the border between Mexico and the USA. And, we subordinated ourselves to his expertise on just about everything. If Burt said we were stopping for the night on a tilted rocky shore with mucky access, we stopped, dragged the canoes up the slithery slope and camped for the night. No one suggested going on and looking for Elysian Fields – I was tired and glad to stop! When Burt – who did more than anyone - asked for help with setting up, cleaning up or loading the boats, he got it. Sometimes he didn’t say please, and he still got the help. There was little about the trip up for discussion. We were told, nicely, who was boating with whom, and who would be in the bow and who in the stern. Burt assigned the sweep duty (the last boat) to the most experienced paddlers. I paddled with four different people in the stern – it was fine with me since steering from the stern was not my forte. I was determined to do a good job in the bow and did improve over the 8 days.
I can say everyone, including me, did more than their fair share. I do wonder how this dynamic came to be. Toward the end of the trip, Burt remarked, unlike most groups, ours got off to an early start each day, by as much as an hour or more, and then, as depicted, we claimed the portage record!
Now, were we a really together group, a highly effective team? Not really. Did we have great camaraderie? Not really. At parting, few fell around each other’s necks. We liked each other – we were pleasant to each other – and our politeness seemed to smooth over any tension.
One source of tension, for me, was people scouting out tent sites during the nightly camp set up time. Since I was solo, I noticed – aye, pettily enough - that couples would invariably split with one helping set up the kitchen and gather firewood and the other finding a good tent spot. By the time I got to set up my tent, I’d be too close to another tent, or in a too rocky, too uneven, too far-away site. Being at a distance was OK on starry nights, but less so on dark nights when the slog for the “shovel” – we ate bodacious quantities of fibrous food – was an extra 75 yards through mud flats. Once, I got a cushy, sandy site – about 100 yards away from the campfire. But, I slept fitfully, lurching awake at every rustle. The Lower Canyons segment of the Rio Grande has its share of mountain lions and wild bulls.
We never did debrief as a group about how things were going, but that did not impede how we worked with each other – no factions or fissures developed. Perhaps that was due to the strong leader – there was no need for decision-making or discussion by the group. I do wonder what would have happened had our leader become incapacitated – there was no shortage of executive power in the group. How would we transition to a new leader?
What type of group were we? We were a good “working group” – our sole purpose was to derive personal benefit from our activity and we worked toward that purpose. Organizationally, we were, in military terms, a “squad”, 8-13 in number, under one commander.
There is a downside to the dominant leader model. Since we were guided, there were times when I saw something unfolding and not really knowing – lacking expertise - what to do and I’d defer to the leader. It’s what happens when followers become subordinate; they surrender their part in leadership. I found myself asking, “Should I jump in and try to help or should I stand by?” Frankly, I felt doltish at times standing there. If I had been with a group of equals, I think when a mate went drifting past tangled up in a rope; I would jump in to help – maybe not the smartest thing to do, but that would be my proactive inclination.
Caption: The resurrection fern. With rain, the brown, desiccated fern unfurls into a green glory. So it can be when we encourage growth in others.

Leading from the Middle Library of the Week: The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Copyright John Lubans 2014

Friday Fable: Aesop’s “The Old Man and Death”*

Posted by jlubans on January 10, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: “Ooh, ahh, er, I meant that figuratively, no, no, liter…aw hell you know what I meant….”

“AN OLD MAN was employed in cutting wood in the forest, and, in carrying the faggots to the city for sale one day, became very wearied with his long journey. He sat down by the wayside, and throwing down his load, besought ‘Death’ to come. ‘Death’ immediately appeared in answer to his summons and asked for what reason he had called him. The Old Man hurriedly replied, ‘That, lifting up the load, you may place it again upon my shoulders.’”

WHEN ALL seems lost and you are feeling particularly sorry for yourself, don’t send out those invitations for a pity party just yet. Instead lift that load – whatever it may be - and go on for a few more miles. Once arrived, you might be in luck: the price of wood is high and going higher. “Sweet are the uses of adversity,” sayeth Mr. Shakespeare.

*Source: AESOP'S FABLES By Aesop Translated by George Fyler Townsend (probably from this edition): “Three hundred and fifty Aesop's fables”. Chicago, Belford, Clarke & Co., 1886.
Available at Gutenberg:

Leading from the Middle Library of the Week: STRATHCONA COUNTY LIBRARY, Alberta, Canada

Aiding the Enemy?

Posted by jlubans on January 07, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Rugby player reaching out.
Every Christmas holiday break in the USA there’s lots of sports TV. Some of my favorite teams are playing, losing, winning. One of the things I’ve been looking for this season is occurrences of a seemingly recent phenomenon: an opponent helping another’s team’s players get back on his or her feet. For some fans that’s downright treasonly, aiding and abetting! For others, it is sportsmanship, a hand up freely given, the golden rule applied, and acted upon for all to see.
One star pro football player says he was yelled at by coaches for offering a helping hand. His retort had some smoke on it:
“I don't care. Kiss my butt. Listen, if I want to help somebody, I'm going help somebody up. Because right on the next play I'm going to knock him down again!”
Another report (be sure to scroll to the bottom) supports the rumored existence of monetary fines for helping opponents. While down, a quarterback reaches for the proffered hand of the opponent, #91, who appears to respond by doing what his mother taught him to do – help others. But then #91realizes his faux pas!
Caption: The Bear Bryant Legend in bronze.
Some coaches/players are less paranoid. For example, one of America’s most revered football coaches, “Bear” Bryant, did not mind his players helping an opponent. There was a condition, however. The player had to tell the opponent to get used to being flattened!
When I search for images on this topic only a few come up. Understandably, the helping hand is post-action, the play is over – why photograph it? For me, this sign of magnanimity is a touch of sanity, a spark of selflessness in a winning-is-everything culture. I think images of opponents acting in a decent way toward a knocked down player, however little it has to do with the game’s outcome, sends a reminder to viewers of all ages. It is only a game - but we know it is more than a game, and so we respect other players and, when they are down, we stop and offer our help. That’s no different than a woman with a baby stroller following me into a building. Do I hold the door or do I let it slam in her face?
In the world of work, I am unimpressed with the organization that demeans its competition. It may be true - the competition may be incompetent - but I want to hear what the organization’s product has to offer, not what the competitor’s lacks! If the competition is as gawdawful as it’s made out to be, I’ll find out for myself.
I am more impressed with the organization that points me to a competitor because that competitor offers a unique service or item I need. Does that mean I abandon the referring organization? Hardly; I become a more loyal customer.

Copyright John Lubans 2014

Friday Fable: Aesop’s “The Cock and the Fox*”

Posted by jlubans on January 03, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: “Sorry, I must run!” by J.J. Grandville (1803-1847)
“One bright evening as the sun was sinking on a glorious world a wise old Cock flew into a tree to roost. Before he composed himself to rest, he flapped his wings three times and crowed loudly. But just as he was about to put his head under his wing, his beady eyes caught a flash of red and a glimpse of a long pointed nose, and there just below him stood Master Fox.
‘Have you heard the wonderful news?’ cried the Fox in a very joyful and excited manner.
‘What news?’ asked the Cock very calmly. But he had a queer, fluttery feeling inside him, for, you know, he was very much afraid of the Fox.
‘Your family and mine and all other animals have agreed to forget their differences and live in peace and friendship from now on forever. Just think of it! I simply cannot wait to embrace you! Do come down, dear friend, and let us celebrate the joyful event.’
‘How grand!’ said the Cock. ‘I certainly am delighted at the news.’ But he spoke in an absent way, and stretching up on tiptoes, seemed to be looking at something afar off.
‘What is it you see?’ asked the Fox a little anxiously.
‘Why, it looks to me like a couple of Dogs coming this way. They must have heard the good news and—‘
But the Fox did not wait to hear more. Off he started on a run.
‘Wait,’ cried the Cock. ‘Why do you run? The Dogs are friends of yours now!’
‘Yes,’ answered the Fox. ‘But they might not have heard the news. Besides, I have a very important errand that I had almost forgotten about.’
The Cock smiled as he buried his head in his feathers and went to sleep, for he had succeeded in outwitting a very crafty enemy.”
“The trickster is easily tricked.”

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Caption: Ellsworth G. Mason (Aug 25, 1917- October 14, 2013)
While the trickster in the work world is not quite so blatantly a lying schemer as Mr. Fox, and his desire to give us a “free lunch” is not quite the same as having us for lunch, the cubicle fraudster is ever ready to fleece our budgets even in my field of work, libraries.
Early in my career in New York, in 1971, an article written by Ellsworth G. Mason impressed me. At the time he was director of the library at Hofstra University (NY) and I was in my first professional job at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. RPI, at the time, was a hot bed for library automation. Imaginatively titled - Jonathan Swift would have tipped his wig - “The Great Gas Bubble Prick't; or, Computers Revealed by a Gentleman of Quality” warned against the unquestioned promises made by those eager to make a not-for-profit buck, willing to promise the moon to university presidents for a higher paycheck and those of us susceptible to the hype around library automation (myself included). Ellsworth anticipated “vaporware” well before the term was invented. His erudite wit and skepticism took some of the hot wind out of the sails of the library automation industry , including some homegrown (& budget draining) schemes in research libraries. I included “The Great Gas Bubble…” in my Reader, the companion volume to “Library Systems Analysis Guidelines” which I co-authored with Edward A. Chapman and Paul L. St. Pierre while at RPI.
Ellsworth Mason died on October 14, 2013 at age 96. I got to work with Ellsworth at the University of Colorado in the mid 70s and afterwards, when I was elsewhere, we kept in touch. Every now and then, I’d get a mordant, typewritten (on his manual typewriter) postcard about one of my articles. He’d question and chide, but always encouraged. He admonished me after I’d put out a particularly humorless piece: “Read more Wodehouse!” I took his advice and entered Wodehouse’s beautifully rendered comic world.

*Source: Aesop for Children (translator not identified). Illustrations by Milo Winter (1886-1956). Chicago: 
Rand McNally & Company, 1919. Available online at Project Gutenberg.

Leading from the Middle Library of the Week: University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada,

Copyright John Lubans 2014