New Barking Orders For Documenting Support Animals Before Boarding Planes

A service dog named Orlando rests on the foot of its trainer, John Reddan, while sitting inside a United Airlines plane at Newark Liberty International Airport during a training exercise, in Newark, N.J., on April 1, 2017. United Airlines wants to see more paperwork before passengers fly with an emotional support animal.

Julio Cortez/AP

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Julio Cortez/AP

We all need a little emotional support or comforting every now and then. And for many of us, our animals can provide it. Some of us with severe anxiety, phobias, PTSD or other disabilities cannot travel without them.

But one woman took the notion of needing a comfort animal a little too far when trying to bring her rather large peacock, Dexter, on board a United Airlines flight at Newark’s Liberty Airport Sunday. United said no.

“When a customer thinks that it’s OK to show up at the airport after we’ve told them multiple times that we wouldn’t accept the peacock, I think it becomes a point where action needs to be taken,” says Charlie Hobart, a spokesperson for United. “It illustrates… to everyone why we need to revise this policy and why it’s been getting out of hand.”

That policy, which allows service and support animals to accompany passengers on flights, is now being changed by United to require greater documentation about the need for the animal and to show that the animal has had adequate training, has all immunizations up to date and is in good health.

Hobart says the changes were in the works long before Sunday’s peacock incident, as United has seen a 75 percent year-over-year increase in the number of customers bringing emotional support animals onboard. The airline also has experienced a significant increase in onboard incidents involving these animals, including biting, aggression, urination, defecation, allergic reactions, conflict and other disruptions.

“We can’t continue going down this path where we continue to see customers who may be either loosely interpreting the policy or maybe even taking advantage of it to the detriment of folks who legitamately need to bring emotional support animals on board,” says Hobart. He adds the airline also need to look out for the interests of other customers “who just want to enjoy a safe and comfortable travel experience and may not be able to do that when their seatmate has an untrained animal next to them.”

Under the changes, passengers traveling with emotional support animals will be required notify the airline’s Accessibility Desk at least 48 hours in advance, and they’ll also provide a letter signed by a mental health professional indicating the passenger’s need to travel with an emotional support animal.

In addition, “the customer must provide confirmation that the animal has been trained to behave properly in a public setting and acknowledge responsibility for the animal’s behavior,” according to a statement from the airline.

And “the customer must provide a health and vaccination form signed by the animal’s veterinarian. The veterinarian must also affirm that there is no reason to believe that the animal will pose a direct threat to the health and safety of others on the aircraft or cause a significant disruption in service.”

The union representing United’s flight attendants, who often are faced with refereeing conflicts over animals in flights or cleaning up after them, is applauding the policy changes.

“AFA (the union) recognizes that service animals play a vital role in the lives of people with disabilities (but) passengers who attempt to evade air transport pet policies by falsely claiming their pet is an emotional support animal cause safety, health and security issues in the cabin,” the flight attendants said in a statement.

United’s action follows similar policy changes announced Jan. 19 at Delta Airlines, which says it carries about 700 service or support animals daily — nearly 250,000 annually. In a statement, Delta said “Customers have attempted to fly with comfort turkeys, gliding possums known as sugar gliders, snakes, spiders and more.”

Both airlines point to the Transportation Department inaction on calls to implement clearer and more stringent guidelines on service and comfort animals as the reason for their own policy changes, which will go into effect March 1.

A spokeswoman for American Airlines says the airline is “reviewing our requirements with the goal of protecting our team members and our customers who have a real need for a trained service or support animal. Unfortunately, untrained animals can lead to safety issues for our team, our passengers and working dogs onboard our aircraft. We will continue to support the rights of customers, from veterans to people with disabilities, with legitimate needs.”

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Canadian National Anthem Revised With Gender-Neutral Language

Canadian athletes will be singing new lyrics at sports events. Here, Benjamin Thorne of Canada celebrates after winning bronze in the Men’s 20km Race Walk final at the IAAF World Athletics Championships in 2015 in Beijing.

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

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Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The Canadian national anthem is now more gender-neutral, after a bill that changes the lyrics passed the country’s Senate.

The second line of “O Canada,” which has said the nation inspires patriotism “in all thy sons,” will now read “in all of us.”

This has been in the works for a long time. According to CBC, “Since 1980, when O Canada officially became the country’s anthem, 12 bills have been introduced in the House to strip the gendered reference to ‘sons,’ which some have argued is discriminatory.”

The bill’s supporters are thrilled, such as Independent Ontario Sen. Frances Lankin, who sponsored the bill. She tells the broadcaster: “I’m very, very happy. There’s been 30 years plus of activity trying to make our national anthem, this important thing about our country, inclusive of all of us, … This may be small, it’s about two words, but it’s huge … we can now sing it with pride knowing the law will support us in terms of the language. I’m proud to be part of the group that made this happen.”

Mauril’s bill to make O Canada gender neutral passed third reading in the Senate tonight – another positive step towards gender equality. #inallofuscommand

— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) February 1, 2018

This bill was introduced in the House of Commons in early 2016 and passed there in June of that year. It was the “dying wish of Liberal MP Mauril Belanger,” The Canadian Press reports. “Belanger pushed the legislation for years, but it took on far greater urgency after he was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, following the 2015 federal election.”

But it has faced significant opposition in the Senate. The bill that passed is primarily composed of sheet music of the anthem.

It’ll become law following a formal royal assent, the Canadian Press reports. Some conservative opponents of the bill are critical of the way it was passed. Lankin “introduced a controversial motion in the Senate Tuesday evening that would effectively shut down debate and immediately move to a vote on the bill,” reports the CBC.

Interestingly, O Canada actually started out as a gender neutral song. According to The New York Times, the second line was originally “True patriot love thou dost in us command.” It’s not clear why, or at what point, the lyric was changed.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it “another positive step towards gender equality.”

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When A Still Life Isn't Entirely Still: '24 Frames'

In 24 Frames, still images take on a strangely evocative digital life.

Janus Films

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Janus Films

The late Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami often talked about the audience “completing” his movies, which of course implies that he left his work deliberately incomplete, as if to tease the imagination. “I make one film as a filmmaker,” he once said, “but the audience, based on that film, makes 100 movies in their minds. Every audience member can make his own movie. This is what I strive for.”

None of this is to suggest that extraordinary films like Taste of Cherry or Certified Copy are half-finished or lazily conceived, but Kiarostami always wanted viewers to be aware of what they were seeing. The ending of Taste of Cherry, for example, in which he shattered the fourth wall, caused such an uproar because we’re so accustomed to accepting the reality of images or stories without anyone calling attention to the essential artifice of their creation. Sometimes Kiarostami was rigorous in blurring the line between truth and fiction, as in his documentary hybrid Close-Up, and sometimes he merely accommodated the mysteries of human behavior. But the common denominator was his encouraging us to think through the experience.

Kiarostami’s final work, completed posthumously after his death in July 2016, leaves plenty of time for thought. 24 Frames consists of nothing more than 24 images — one a painting and the rest photographs the director had taken — and not a word of spoken dialogue. Collaborating with Ali Kamali, who handled the technical aspects of the film, Kiarostami took these 24 shots and animated them through digital manipulation. So a static image of, say, a window looking out onto the trees and grass in the yard suddenly comes alive with the movement of birds in the swaying of branches in the breeze, along with whatever natural or unnatural sounds that he chooses to include as accompaniment. As Kiarostami explains in the opening titles, each frame is about four-and-a-half minutes of what he imagines might of taken place before or after the image was taken.

Needless to say, 24 Frames isn’t the ideal starting place for those unfamiliar with Kiarostami, but it is an exceptionally beautiful place for his career to finish — conceptually audacious and adventurous yet a simple, peaceful space to appreciate his artistry. He opens with the one and only painting in the film, Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s “The Hunters in the Snow,” which sits still as a museum exhibit until, slowly, certain elements come to life: smoke rising from the chimneys, animated birds flying around a tree, snow falling from sky. The effects are all subtle, not cartoonish or in any way incongruous to Bruegel’s original work.

From there, Kiarostami turns to his own photographs, which heavily favor scenes from nature, often highly composed shots of hilly snowscapes or of waves crashing on the beach. If there’s wildlife in the shots, he and Kamali will bring the animals to life or introduce animals that were never there before, like deer crossing a forest clearing at the made-up sound of a gunshot. Kiarostami occasionally breaks up the nature shots with an unusual frame, like a matted still of tourists gazing out at the Eiffel Tower while a guitarist dances through the foreground and the structure is spackled with digital light.

The 24th frame is too good to spoil, but suffice to say, it’s the rare example of an artist having the luxury of writing his own swan song, much like David Bowie did the same year with his final album, Blackstar. As a work of art, 24 Frames might exist more comfortably at the gallery installation than as a commercial release, especially given the arbitrariness of the ordering of these images. The first and last frames are the most striking; the others inspire a more casual appreciation for Kiarostami’s multi-layered compositions without overwhelming the senses.

Then again, it was always Kiarostami’s mission to challenge our preconceived notions of what a movie can be. After all, here’s a man who welcomed the digital revolution by affixing a tiny camera to the dashboard of a taxi cab and recorded a series of conversations for the 2002 film Ten. Digital effects have never been deployed quite like those in 24 Frames, which rarely chooses to be fanciful or radical about how it manipulates the images. In the seconds and minutes around the taking of a photograph, Kiarostami reminds us, the world changes, but mostly in increments.

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'A Fantastic Woman' Is As Strong And Complicated As Its Star

Daniela Vega stars in A Fantastic Woman, the tale of a trans woman who finds herself under societal suspicion after the death of her boyfriend.

Sony Pictures Classics

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Sony Pictures Classics

When Orlando (Francisco Reyes) enters a rooftop supper-club in Santiago at the beginning of the film, he can’t take his eyes off Marina (Daniela Vega), a striking young vocalist who’s crooning lyrics about throwing her boyfriend out with the garbage because, she sings, his love “is like yesterday’s newspaper.”

She sings that line straight to Orlando, with a little smile. She’s definitely not throwing him away … she’s moving into his apartment as soon as they celebrate her 27th birthday.

But that night, things take a terrible turn. Orlando wakes up feeling ill. Marina rushes him to the hospital, where less than half an hour later, he dies due to an aneurysm.

At that point, Marina’s ordeal is only beginning. The doctors who couldn’t save Orlando look at Marina in the harsh hospital lighting and begin to treat her as a suspect. A policeman demands to see identification and frowns at the fact that the name on her ID card is “Daniel.”

A Fantastic Woman is Chile’s submission to this year’s Academy Awards, and it’ll be one of the five films up for best foreign language film on Oscar night. Director Sebastian Lelio often makes films with strong, complicated women at their centers — his 2013 awards-circuit hit, Gloria for instance. In Marina, he’s got a uniquely striking heroine, whom he is forever surrounding with mirrors and reflective surfaces, as if determined that we should see her from every possible angle.

The director first encountered Daniela Vega, who plays Marina, while researching Santiago’s transgender community. Initially a consultant, Vega not only won the part, she clearly influenced it — she is herself a trans woman, and an opera-trained singer who supplies her own vocals throughout the film. Vega gives Marina a fierce dignity that the character needs when dealing with Orlando’s son and with his ex-wife, who refuses even to see Marina as a woman.

“When I look at you I don’t know what I’m seeing” she says bluntly, but she also uses the word “perversion” — which suggests she at least knows what she thinks about what she’s seeing. And she’s adamant that Marina not attend Orlando’s funeral, something she emphasizes by always addressing him as Daniel.

“Complicated,” she says at one point, “quantum physics complicated.” The film reflects that, while also acknowledging that things don’t have to be. Even as she copes with her own grief, Marina must deal with being mistreated, misjudged, even mugged. And then there’ll be a moment of grace — as a gentleman simply stands aside to let her enter an elevator first. Someone who can navigate all that, and remain resilient, assertive, even charismatic? Yes — she’s a fantastic woman.

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Dreams End Up On The Slaughterhouse Floor In 'On Body And Soul'

In Ildikó Enyedi’s film On Body and Soul, Maria (Alexandra Borbély) forms a strange connection with another employee at the slaughterhouse.


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They say that movies are the language of dreams, so what does it mean when a film’s idea of dreamland is as dull and sterile as a linoleum floor? On Body and Soul,a Hungarian production premiering on Netflix Friday, February 2nd, is a romance of the imagination that leaves nothing to ours. Nevertheless, it has just enough sad, weird, Michel Gondry-like touches to snag both the Golden Bear at last year’s Berlin Film Festival and an Oscar nomination for best foreign language film. The latter nod is a sure sign that at least one branch of the Academy is still not as innovative and forward-thinking as it believes.

This is despite a premise for a romance that’s strong enough to make one long for the sacrilegious American remake. Two strangers share a dream in which they appear in the same snowy forest, he as a stag, she a doe. The animals share a few chaste nuzzlings, some sprints through the woods, but no hardcore Animal Planet action. Yet it turns out their human counterparts work together, and once they discover their shared subconscious, they struggle to figure out if they can spend their waking moments together, too. Falling asleep over the phone is a nice touch.

A slaughterhouse isn’t necessarily the most romantic setting one could imagine for a fanciful story like this, but such is life. And it’s in keeping with writer-director Ildikó Enyedi’s penchant for mixing whimsy with darkness, like oil in water. Enyedi has been on the Hungarian film scene for decades, since before the current wave of polarizing provocateurs like László Nemes (Son of Saul) and Kornél Mundruczó (White God), who revel in high-intensity images of violence and abuse. She sticks instead to the old-world arthouse model where you give the audience just a little bit of discomfort, but coat it in thick layers of production design and symbolism, as in her period revolutionary drama My Twentieth Century and mystical crime epics Magic Hunter and Simon, the Magician.

Here, that mixture translates to the older boss Endre (Géza Morcsányi) learning more about his pretty, blonde new quality assurance manager Maria (Alexandra Borbély) as cows are being bolted in place and gutted, their blood spilling down the killing floor drain. At least the movie has heart… and brains, and liver, and other internal organs.

So that’s the body. What about the soul? It’s not clear Maria has one. The character is a space cadet: in place of any recognizable human behavior, she’s a grab-bag of oddities that seems meant to approximate a mental illness for sympathy. It’s one thing that she hates to be touched, doesn’t own a phone and possesses a savant-like memory; it’s another that she reenacts scenes from her day at home using dolls and salt shakers, and continues to see a child psychologist well into adulthood. We’re told Maria went to university, but we know nothing else of her past, and we’re given no sort of emotional bridge to her internal conflict. In one scene, having been informed of the existence of music apparently for the first time, she gathers dozens of CDs at the record store and insists on listening to every single one while she stands in place at the checkout counter. She segues from heavy metal into dance-pop. The day gets late. She hasn’t moved. The cashier, staring blankly ahead, should win an award for courage under fire.

Maria shows little interest in Endre at first, paying him less mind than the other slabs of meat under her jurisdiction. That changes once an investigation into a workplace theft of “mating powder” (don’t ask) brings in a comely psychologist whose probing questions about dream behavior bring out a lot of uncomfortable truths among the workers. These middle segments are the most engaging, even though they don’t make a whole lot of sense. The psychologist, Klára (Réka Tenki), gives an off-kilter aura and provokes weird behavior in her interviewees and herself. Sometimes Enyedi will cut to a close-up of her fiddling with part of her shirt or scratching her head, for no clear reason. What’s going on here? Maybe going to work in a death factory every day builds a lot of pent-up sexual energy? Klára flees the film quickly, but not before opening a Pandora’s box of animal behavior that the movie promptly loses interest in.

Instead (mild spoiler ahead), the climax announces itself by mirroring the animal blood from the first half, only this time it’s human. There’s clearly a point being made here, a high-minded juxtaposition of love, death, mating rituals and the qualities that both link and separate humans from animals … but the plot mechanism that links these ideas and images is, we’ll just say, grossly misjudged. Yes, it’s hard to depict loneliness, true loneliness, in cinema. But it shouldn’t be this hard to present lonely people worth caring about, regardless of what they’re dreaming about.

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Her Seizures Looked Like Epilepsy, But Her Brain Looked Fine

Trauma or abuse can trigger seizures in people with psychogenic non-epileptic seizure disorder.

Maria Fabrizio for NPR

When Sarah Jay had her first seizure, she was in her mid-20s and working a high-stress job at a call center in Springfield, Mo.

“I was going to go on break,” she says. “I was heading towards the bathroom and then I fell and passed out.”

An ambulance took Jay to the hospital but doctors there couldn’t find anything wrong. Jay figured it was a one-time thing. Then a week later, she had another seizure. And that kept happening once or twice a week.

“So I was put on short-term disability for my work to try to figure out what was going on,” says Jay, who’s now 29.

The most likely cause for her seizures was abnormal electrical activity in her brain. In other words, epilepsy.

But Jay’s doctors wanted to be sure. In May 2013, they admitted her to a hospital epilepsy center, put electrodes on her scalp and began watching her brain activity.

An epileptic seizure looks a bit like an electrical storm in the brain. Neurons begin to fire uncontrollably, which can cause patients to lose consciousness or have muscle spasms.

But during Jay’s seizures, her brain activity appeared completely normal.

“It was kind of surreal,” she says. “This woman, she sat me down and she was like, ‘OK, you do not have epilepsy.’ And I’m like, ‘OK, so what’s going on?’ “

The woman told Jay her seizures were the result of a psychological disorder called psychogenic non-epileptic seizures.

PNES is a surprisingly common disorder, says John Stern, who directs the epilepsy clinical program at the University of California, Los Angeles. About 1 in 3 people who come to UCLA for uncontrolled seizures don’t have epilepsy. Usually, they have PNES, he says.

That’s not something most patients want to hear, Stern says, especially if they’ve already been diagnosed with epilepsy somewhere else.

“The person’s being told that all the doctors who said this is epilepsy are wrong, and there’s a condition now that I have which I’ve never heard of,” he says. “That’s disarming. That’s confusing.”

Sometimes patients simply reject the new diagnosis and that response is unfortunate, Stern says, because epilepsy drugs don’t help people with PNES. In fact, as a neurologist, he has no way to treat these patients.

So he typically refers them to his colleague, Patricia Walshaw, a psychologist who directs the neurobehavioral epilepsy program at UCLA.

“They may feel lost or confused. They may be angry. There’s denial that arises,” Walshaw says. “That’s where I pick up.”

Many people with PNES face stigma and skepticism about their condition, even from their friends and family, so they need support.

“The common misconception is that the seizures are all in the person’s head, or that they’re just making it up, or that nothing is wrong,” Walshaw says. “But that couldn’t really be farther from the truth.”

PNES patients are not faking their seizures. The events look and feel a lot like epileptic seizures and can be just as debilitating. For example, like people with uncontrolled epilepsy, people with PNES can’t get a driver’s license.

What Jay and most PNES patients want to know is: If an electrical problem isn’t causing their seizures, what is?

The answer is complicated. PNES is more common among young women and people with depression or some other mental illness. And often, Warshaw says, the seizures are a reaction to some sort of traumatic experience like abuse.

“And you need to have a treatment that really focuses on trauma,” Warshaw says.

Sometimes the seizures stop once patients learn they don’t have epilepsy. But usually, Warshaw says, PNES requires years of therapy and mental health treatment.

Sarah JayYouTube

Jay says she doesn’t have a history of abuse but has been hospitalized for severe depression. So she is now receiving treatment for both PNES and depression.

It’s helping, but her seizures do still happen and it can be difficult to explain to people that she does not have epilepsy.

“Going to the ER can be kind of hurtful because they don’t know what you’re talking about all the time.” Jay says sometimes doctors and nurses think she’s faking it.

But she’s lucky in many ways. She says that her family and friends have been very supportive and she’s found a community of other PNES patients through online support groups.

Jay is trying to give back by helping others who have the disorder. She’s even made some videos about PNES, including one on YouTube.

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2 Students Shot In Attack At Los Angeles Middle School

Two students have been hospitalized with gunshot wounds in Los Angeles, after a shooter opened fire Thursday morning at Salvador Castro Middle School. Both injured victims were 15 years old — a boy who is in critical condition with a gunshot wound to the head, and a girl who was shot in the wrist and is now in fair condition.

Erik Scott of the Los Angeles Fire Department said three other people, ranging in age from 11 to 30, “suffered abrasions” during the attack.

Police also arrested a 12-year-old girl on the scene.

#Rampart; #LAFD and #LAPD provide update regarding today’s school shooting.

— Erik Scott (@PIOErikScott) February 1, 2018

“As a parent, this is everyone’s worst-case nightmare — a worst-case scenario and a nightmare for all of us,” Robert Arcos, commanding officer of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Operations-Central Bureau, told reporters Thursday.

He added that it is too early to understand the motive behind the attack or how the suspect obtained the weapon.

As The Associated Press explains, district policy dictates that “students at middle and high schools in Los Angeles are subject to daily random searches for weapons using metal-detector wands, but officials have not said whether any such screenings occurred at the school Thursday.”

The Los Angeles Times notes Castro Middle School sits just across the street from Belmont High School, in a building that “used to be part of Belmont High when the high school had a higher enrollment.”

“I’m just scared for all the kids,” Gloria Echeverria, mother of a 13-year-old student, told the AP while standing outside the police tape blocking ringing the campus. “School is supposed to be a safe place for them, and apparently it’s not.”

At least a dozen school shootings have occurred already in 2018.

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