rtod: nope, i ain't gonna kill nobody

 Revolutionary thought of the day:

I would like to see every single soldier on every single side, just take off your helmet, unbuckle your kit, lay down your rifle, and set down at the side of some shady lane, and say, nope, I ain't gonna kill nobody. Plenty of rich folks wants to fight. Give them the guns.

Woody Guthrie


dog agility, worm composting, and morning tea: three things going on with me

Does it make sense to create compost when you don't garden? I don't know, but I'm doing it.

Worms, but no garden

So, I'm not gardening. 

The Urban Worm Bag v2
Since moving to a cool, wet, temperate climate, I haven't done any successful gardening. My little mini gardens in southern Ontario were fun because they were incredibly easy. They also helped me enjoy being outdoors within the densely packed suburban landscape. 

Now, gardening is much more challenging, and I am able to enjoy the outdoors any time, whether that means sitting on our deck, talking long walks through the woods, or strolling on the beautiful empty beach. Working full-time, with limited time to myself, I really don't want to spend any of it gardening.

Last year, I tried to establish a small garden, and thought I would try vermicomposting -- composting with worms. The garden was a bust, but I've decided to continue my wriggling adventure. 

Why create composting if you're not gardening?

  • It reduces waste. We don't have organics recycling here, and it feels really wasteful. Most of what can go in the organics bin can be used as worm food.
  • The worm castings (compost created by worms) will improve the soil for all the plants already growing in our yard, including the raspberry bushes that Allan is trying to re-establish.*
  • Working with worms, creating this miniature ecosystem, just appeals to me. I want to try it. 

The worm adventure was supposed to start last year, but the worms I ordered never made it here. I had already set up my Urban Worm Bag, organics scrap bin, and so on. So this year, I tried again. 

The worms were shipped from Wormbox, a company in Montreal. They assured me they have successfully shipped live worms to every Canadian province and territory, including remote locations, and that the worms would arrive alive. They wait to ship until there are three consecutive days of temperatures above freezing in Montreal and the worms' destination. That finally happened in early May!

The clock was ticking. With a long weekend coming up, and no mail delivery on Saturdays, I was starting to worry. But hurrah, the little creatures arrived on Friday morning, well packed and wriggling. Now they are in their new home, and my project begins.

Canine agility

Now that I am not taking piano lessons (at least for now), I'm planning to do some agility with Kai, and possibly with Cookie, too. 

I've been thinking about this since we bought our home in 2019. It's great physical exercise and mental stimulation for dogs, and having watched agility competitions on video, and once in person, I've always wanted to try it.

Will Kai ever do this? Time will tell!
Decent equipment is quite expensive. And while building a DIY agility course is A Thing, you may recall that I am not a DIY person. I have zero interest in building or macgyvering this equipment. I've decided to start with one piece of equipment -- one event, so to speak -- and gradually add on, as I can and want to spend more. Agility World has periodic specials where one obstacle is deeply discounted, so I'll track that as I go. (There is also the much less expensive Aosom, but I've read the equipment is quite flimsy and falls apart easily.)

This is decidedly not for competition. Just as my piano lessons were not intended for performance, my interest in canine agility will not leave my backyard. I find the human capacity to fashion nearly every activity into a competition simply baffling. I'm just hoping my dogs and I enjoy this and benefit from it.

A momentous life change

I am not drinking coffee in the morning. I am drinking tea! While not quite on the level of moving to Canada or becoming a librarian, I believe this qualifies for Big Change status.

I love coffee, and I'm completely addicted to caffeine. Although I've cut back by mixing regular and decaf, I've given up trying to eliminate it from my diet. I've gone caffeine-free for months at a time for various reasons, but I have no wish to do that permanently. I figure if caffeine is my worst vice, I'm doing pretty good. Caffeine may even have some health benefits -- although that's not why I love coffee.

I do have sleep issues, though. Like many people, I sometimes struggle mightily with insomnia. And because of this, I've always had a strict cut-off. Coffee in the morning, and strong black tea in the afternoon, but never after 4:00.

Allan and I picked up the afternoon tea habit during our trip to Ireland in 2001. It was November, and every day we'd arrive at a bed-and-breakfast, chilly and windswept. And the host would say, I'll put the kettle on. It became an enjoyable habit.

When we got home, we found a New York source for Bewley's Irish Breakfast tea, and with both of us working at home most days, a tradition was born.

When we moved to the Toronto area, I found it too difficult to get Bewley's, and we switched to Red Rose, the Canadian equivalent of Lipton. Now that we can get anything from anywhere, we're back to Bewley's. 

(We do also have decaf black tea in various flavours, which Allan drinks all the time, and herbal teas in a range of flavours, which I drink both hot and iced. I find iced herbal tea a good way to stay hydrated: tastier than water, but with nothing added.)

Recently I realized I really shouldn't be having caffeine in the afternoon, at all. Cutoff or no, it could be impacting my sleep. So I'm trying -- quite painfully -- to give up my afternoon caffeine. 

I made this decision right after a box of Bewley's arrived in the mail, plus a shopping miscommunication landed a huge box of Red Rose in the house at the same time. I can't return either of them, I don't want them sitting around getting stale, and it's more than I want to give away.

So I had an idea. Maybe I could try drinking tea in the morning, and seeing if I can get enough of a caffeine fix to start the day. When we've travelled in places with bad (or no) coffee but good tea, I have had tea in the morning. Maybe it would be possible?

I bought a teapot, and the experiment has begun. I still miss coffee, so I don't know if this will be permanent. But so far, I appear to be surviving.

And by the way, since giving up afternoon caffeine two months ago, I have had only one night of insomnia -- far less than usual.

* There were amazing raspberries bushes when we moved in. Then we cut them down -- as I read you were supposed to -- and they never returned. Allan is starting over.


rebecca traister, 2019: "our fury over abortion was dismissed for decades as hysterical"

Rebecca Traister, writing in New York magazine in 2019:

Which is why I am almost as mad at many on the left, theoretically on the side of reproductive rights and justice, who have refused, somehow, to see this coming or act aggressively to forestall it. I have no small amount of rage stored for those in the Democratic Party who have relied on the engaged fury of voters committed to reproductive autonomy to elect them, at the same time that they have treated the efforts of activists trying to stave off this future as inconvenient irritants. 
This includes, of course, the Democrats (notably Joe Biden) who long supported the Hyde Amendment, the legislative rider that has barred the use of federal insurance programs from paying for abortion, making reproductive health care inaccessible to poor women since 1976. During health-care reform, Barack Obama referred to Hyde as a “tradition” and questions of abortion access as “a distraction.” I’ve spent my life listening to Democrats call abortion a niche issue — and worse, one that is somehow repellent to voters, even though support for Roe is in fact among the most broadly popular positions of the Democratic Party; seven in ten Americans want abortion to remain legal, even in conservative states.
You can try to tell these Democrats this — lots of people have been trying to tell them for a while now — but it won’t matter; they will only explain to you (a furious person) that they (calm, wise, knowledgeable about politics) understand that we need a big tent and can’t have a litmus test and please be reasonable: we shouldn’t shut anyone out because of a difference on one issue. (That one issue that we shouldn’t shut people out because of is always abortion). Every single time Democrats come up with a new strategy to win purple and red areas, it is the same strategy: hey, let’s jettison abortion! (If you object to this, you will be told you are standing in the way of the greater progressive project). . . .
Also about how, for years, I’ve listened to Democratic politicians distance themselves from abortion by calling it tragic and insisting it should be rare, instead of simply acknowledging it to be a crucial, legal cornerstone of comprehensive health care for women, people with uteruses, and their families. I have seethed as generations of Democrats have argued that if we could just get past abortion and focus instead on economic issues, we’d be better off. They never seem to get that abortion is an economic issue, and that what they think of as economic issues — from wages and health care to housing and education policy — are at the very heart of the reproductive justice movement, which understands access to abortion to be one (pivotal!) part of a far broader set of circumstances that determine if, when, under what circumstances, and with what resources human beings might have and raise children.
Read the whole thing here.


the end of roe and how we got here

With the unprecedented leak of the SCOTUS draft brief, and official confirmation of the politicization of the Court, we see the final nails pounded in the coffin of Roe v. Wade -- a turning point which somehow still shocks many people, despite the exceedingly clear regression to this point over the past 40 years.

Given this, it seems strange to me that I haven't blogged about abortion rights in more than two years.

Strange, because this is the issue I care most about, above all else. 

Strange, because I've spent a good portion of my life thinking, writing, organizing, and supporting abortion rights and abortion access.

Strange, because I am angry and hurting about this. But I suspect I am angry at different people than many readers may be.

Partly I stopped writing about Roe and US abortion rights because I feel I have nothing left to add to the discourse -- nothing to write that I haven't written again and again. Here in 2018, I re-ran my essay from 2005. No matter how many ways I find to say it, it comes down to two points.

One. Abortion rights are essential to human rights, to justice, and to basic equality for all people. Abortion rights are the sine qua non of women's freedom, and the bottom line of equality for any person who can become pregnant.

Two. Roe v Wade is meaningless for millions of American women, and has been for decades. Abortion rights have been steadily impeded, eroded, and erased for more than 40 years, a process that began with the passage of the Hyde Amendment in 1976, gathered momentum when Ronald Reagan became president in 1980, and has barrelling downhill ever since. This includes the 16 years of Democrat presidencies. 

And partly I stopped writing about Roe and US abortion rights because I have been so angry and frustrated that people were -- with extreme laws passed in Mississippi and Texas --  now finally paying attention. That sounds counter-intuitive and is not a good way to approach activism! But I just could. not. stand it.

1976 Hyde Amendment (only affects poor people, so who cares)
1984 Global Gag Rule (only affects poor people in other countries, so who cares)
1989 Webster; 1992 Casey -- both losses for reproductive freedom, but left Roe intact, so who cares
And on and on. (Start your timeline here, then here.) As long as Roe had not been overturned, most liberals and Democrats were willing to look away. 

For a majority of Democrat voters, the most important thing to know about abortion rights were: vote Democrat because of the Supreme Court, because we can't let them overturn Roe v Wade.

And while the majority obsessed over Roe, Roe became increasingly irrelevant. 

I'm not suggesting Roe actually is irrelevant.  But it's been hollowed out. It's a shadow. A shell.

The anti-abortion-rights movement had everything it needed to succeed. 

They were extremely organized, extremely well-funded, and very strategic. They got their people elected to state legislatures and began to work the system, passing every type of abortion-rights restrictions anyone could dream up, taunting the court challenges, knowing that eventually, with enough states becoming hostile to abortion, they would accomplish their only objectives: increasing numbers of low-income women and pregnant people would lose control of their reproduction, and the country would move one step closer to overturning Roe v Wade.

The anti movement has had other factors in its favour. In addition to money, organization, and strategy, they had the Democrats. Abortion became a dirty word, replaced by the euphemism "a woman's right to choose". Bill Clinton said let's make abortion "safe, legal, and rare" -- with little or no attention paid to the myriad laws, supports, and resources it would take to make such a thing possible.

They had the "muddled middle" -- to use Katha Pollitt's excellent expression -- whose discomfort with the idea and reality of abortion made it easy to look away. Shamed by stigma created by anti-abortion-rights zealots and the media who support them, most were happy to look away.

There are other reasons, too.

Roe v. Wade was never a strong ruling; it was always vulnerable to attack. The right to abortion is more secure in Canada -- although it is often under threat and must always be protected and defended! -- because the 1988 ruling in R v Morgentaler is a much broader decision. 

The US's obsession with states' rights, and the right wing's expert exploitation of it, have left millions vulnerable, not only on reproductive justice, but on so many fronts.

The US's lack of an organized healthcare system leaves millions vulnerable to assaults on reproductive freedom. If you lack basic healthcare, that's going to include a lack of access to reproductive needs.

The mainstream media's adoption of the disgusting lie "pro-life" -- the greatest PR coup of the modern world -- did untold damage. 

But be assured of one thing. Our side has been planning for this for decades, too, with abortion funds, underground networks, and direct action. It's a much more successful strategy than voting Democrat.

As always, the Guttmacher Institute is your best source for data on all aspects of reproductive justice. 

If you want to help, donate to abortion funds: National Abortion Federation, National Network of Abortion Funds. Canada has one, too.

If you live in a free state and have the resources, you can host a person traveling for abortion from a slave state. It's incredibly important and deeply gratifying work. NNAF can help you find a network. 


my happy kitchen life (i still love my instant pot -- but it is not a good slow-cooker)

Don't get rid of your slow-cooker!
Since moving to a remote region with very limited food choices, I've upped my cook-ahead game to levels I never thought possible. I'm really enjoying it. Here's my routine.

My happy kitchen life

1. I order a box from truLOCAL -- locally sourced, humanely raised, healthy meat and seafood. Vast selection, super high quality food, brilliant customer service. They. Are. Awesome.

2. I spend a half-day cooking -- skillet, Instapot (yes, I know, I just like calling it that), and oven. I usually make four dishes, sometimes five, each good for 3 or 4 dinners. 

3. I put all the food into my ever-growing collection of Pyrex, and pop it all in the freezer. 

4. One box from truLOCAL gives me at least two, sometimes three, cooking sessions of this size. 

This gives us dinner for the four nights that my partner works on his day-job, and we don't eat dinner together. On the other three days, Allan makes dinner one night, and two nights we go out or get takeout. 

In short, Instapot + truLOCAL + Pyrex = my happy kitchen life.

In the summer, I'll order an additional truLOCAL box, usually the small size, just for grilling. Steak, burgers, salmon, bone-in chicken breasts, beef sausages -- anything and everything for the grill.

[In case you don't know me, this is not stealth marketing and I'm not using affiliate links. truLOCAL subscribers can earn points for referrals, but you'd need my name and code for that, and I'm not offering it in this post.]

The Instant Pot is a crappy slow-cooker

There's only one aspect of the Instapot that I don't like: it is not a good slow-cooker. It simply does not get hot enough. 

Several online sources confirm this observation, such as here, here, here, and here.

Some folks mention a possible workaround of adjusting the temperature of the slow-cook setting. On the model I have, the Ultra, you can adjust the temperature slightly, but it makes no appreciable difference. No matter how many hours the food cooks, it never gets hot enough to truly break down ingredients and blend flavours.

When I bought my Instapot, I gave away my slow-cooker. Now I'm buying a new one. 

What I'm cooking

Here's what I've been making using my truLOCAL box. All are cooked in the Instapot unless otherwise noted. All are cooked ahead and frozen, unless noted "day-of".

-- chicken and rice, using boneless, skinless chicken thighs (Why did I ever cook chicken breasts? Thighs are so much better.)

-- turkey sausage and bean stew, with canned tomatoes, white beans, and black beans

-- turkey sausage, white bean, and kale stew

-- linguini with meat sauce, using ground bison (incredibly quick and easy)

-- "mexican" style penne, using ground bison, salsa, black beans, and corn (another super easy one -- I will usually make one of these very fast and easy pasta dishes per cooking session)

-- cheeseburger casserole, quick and easy pasta #3

-- pork tenderloin in honey-garlic; skillet and oven

-- faux fried rice, made with brown rice, ground turkey, snow peas, and shredded carrots; skillet; rice in instant pot, then added to skillet

-- beef stir fry, similar to above but with sliced steak

-- meatballs, made with ground bison

-- old-fashioned pot roast with root vegetables

-- duck legs, this recipe cooked ahead, then served with basmati rice made day-of

-- pork chops, this recipe cooked ahead, then served with little potatoes boiled or roasted, made day-of

-- split pea soup with bacon (incredible bacon from truLOCAL!)

-- lentil soup with ham

-- minestrone soup with turkey sausage

-- beef, barley, mushroom casserole

-- roast beef, served with roast potatoes made day-of

-- chicken noodle soup, noodles cooked separately in advance, then added when re-heating

-- wild salmon fillets in butter and garlic; skillet, day-of

-- wild-caught scallops in butter and garlic; skillet, day-of

-- chicken broth -- I make this for myself, not for cooking, but for a warm, caffeine-free hot drink

... and probably several more that I've tried once and forgotten. 


what i'm reading: say nothing: a true story of murder and memory in northern ireland

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland is without a doubt one of the best nonfiction books I have ever read. 

I'm in awe of Patrick Radden Keefe's ability to weave together so many disparate and often contradictory sources to re-create a story that is incredibly detailed and complex, yet fashion it into an addictive page-turner. 

The book is loaded with vivid details and surprising revelations -- until the very end. A blend of true-crime, spy thriller, history, and incisive feature journalism, Say Nothing is a tour de force of narrative nonfiction.

Keefe uses a brutal and tragic incident that took place in Belfast in 1972 as a focal point to unpack and examine the Troubles. The Troubles is a euphemistically quaint and minimizing name for a complex and prolonged undeclared war. It was a war of violence and politics, language and identity, public relations and extreme secrecy.

I was obsessed with Ireland and Irish history for about 10 years. It started with this book in 1989 and was finally capped with our trip to Ireland in 2001.* But you don't need any particular interest in or knowledge of Ireland to follow Say Nothing. The bare facts will be adequate.**

Two elements of this book were especially compelling for me. 

Say Nothing raises many questions about the use of violence in independence and liberation movements. It's easy to label a group that employs violence as terrorists. But what of the state government that employs the same methods, on a much larger scale? Can independence be won without violence? Has that ever happened? Modern western thought pretends that violence is never justified (except by states, for anything labelled national security) -- a view largely held by people privileged to never need it.

Another theme running through Say Nothing is the shapeshifting presence of Gerry Adams. How many people have been a high-ranking leader of a group labelled a terrorist organization, a peace broker, and a successful politician in the modern arena? One of the very few is Nelson Mandela. There are many parallels, and I suspect if one read a true account of the ANC, their work and methods were not all that different than the IRA's. Yet Mandela is revered as a freedom fighter and Gerry Adams -- well, it depends what side you're on. A terrorist, a politician, a great leader, a lying scumbag? I highly doubt readers of Say Nothing will come away with an impression of Adams as a Mandela-like figure. But he is undoubtedly a fascinating figure.

Don't worry about any of these things. Just read this book. If you enjoy great nonfiction, you will love this.

I've now put Patrick Radden Keefe's most recent book, Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty, on my to-read list.


* When I was planning our trip to Ireland, and especially while we were there, people constantly asked if I have Irish ancestry. I do not. I've never been asked this regarding any other travel, including to countries that have seen substantial emigration to the United States, such as Italy. It's as if people don't conceive of Ireland as a place folks might just want to visit, without a motive. 

It's a beautiful country, and we had an awesome trip. We saw natural wonders, history, Neolithic passage tombs and stone circles. We heard traditional music every night in beautiful small-town pubs, where folks would sometimes erupt in spontaneous song. From the ruins of a ring fort, we watched a border collie herd cows. In Dublin we saw a Brian Friel play and hung out with James Joyce's nephew. I fell in love with Murphy's. History was everywhere. Also rainbows.

** Here's more than you need to know.

150 years of struggle for independence culminates in the Revolutionary Period (1912-1922), most famously including the Easter Rising of 1916.

1919-1922 Irish War of Independence, Irish Civil War: Irish Republic Army (IRA) vs Britain Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) (called something else at first, but this is the name normally used). This maps roughly as Catholic vs. Protestant, but only roughly, as some key Irish independence leaders were also Protestant.

The war ended with the hated partition of Ireland into two separate countries.

The Free State, later the Republic of Ireland, or simply Ireland, is most of the island, to the south.

North Ireland comprises the six northern counties, and is part of the United Kingdom -- i.e. part of Britain. It is majority Protestant. There was a long history of discrimination and persecution of the Catholic minority.

People who fight for a united Ireland are known as republicans. They are largely, although not exclusively, Catholics.

People who want Northern Ireland to remain part of Britain are known as loyalists or unionists. They are largely Protestants.

Republicans fought a guerrilla war to attempt to expel the occupying British from Northern Ireland. Loyalists, British Army, and the police force sought to eradicate them. This period, known as the Troubles, lasted from the late 1960s until 1998.

That's it, you're good to go.


what i'm reading: the turning point: 1851: a year that changed charles dickens and the world

The Turning Point: 1851 -- A Year That Changed Charles Dickens and the World was written for me.

I love Dickens. He's among the core writers whose work mean the most to me (along with Orwell and Steinbeck).

Bleak House is my favourite of all Dickens. I wrote a mini-thesis on it in university.

1851 is "my year". This is the period and the year that I've read and watched the most about, and been most fascinated by. 

I'm a close reader. When I studied literature in university, my thing was the close read -- noticing and analyzing the smallest details -- and I've been that kind of reader ever since. For me the details reveal the deeper meanings, the beauty and wonder of great writing. In The Turning Point, Robert Douglas-Fairhurst gives one year in the life of Charles Dickens the close read.

Given all that, I was primed to read and enjoy this book! And I did enjoy it, very much. 

A close read of Dickens in 1851 brings in so many elements. There is the Great Exhibition ("Crystal Palace"), the steel-and-glass building that gives the exhibition its name, and reaction to it; the industrial revolution, and the treatment of workers and the poor. Dickens' relationships with his wife, family, friends; his editing and publishing work; his charity and reform work; his theatre pursuits; his politics. Out in the larger world, there is the American abolition movement. Frederick Douglass makes an appearance -- yet more interest for me

...from April 1852 to December 1853, Bleak House was reprinted in its entirety by Frederick Douglass's Paper in Rochester, New York -- a decision based on the fact that Dickens's novel, despite the clear British focus of its plot, had a broader social mission that was no respecter of national boundaries. Even the scene in which we are told that children like Jo are "dying thus around us every day" was enlisted in the "Literary Notices" section of the paper to remind Douglass's readers that "us" included them.

There is the women's movement and clothing reformers; the aftermath of the revolutions that swept Europe a few years earlier; and of course, colonialism and imperialism. This is Victorian England, after all. 

Although the book is rich in detail, as a close read must be, it never gets bogged down or tedious. The writing is very accessible and lively; it moves right along, returning to the main themes without belabouring them. 

As much as I enjoyed this book, I don't think The Turning Point would be particularly interesting, or even make much sense, unless the reader knows Bleak House fairly well. Douglas-Fairhurst alludes, without explanation, to many elements from Dickens' life that appear in BH. For example, it is mentioned in passing that Dickens carried a huge key ring that held a giant jumble of keys. In BH, Esther carries such a key ring. Knowing that Esther was partly a stand-in for Dickens -- especially given that Dickens is often criticized for his portrayal of women -- is very interesting, if you love Dickens and BH. But if you don't, would you care? Indeed, you might wonder why the author thought you should care about Dickens' keys.

There is also a honking huge spoiler that reveals the answer to one of the mysteries central to the plot of BH (which of course I will not repeat here).  

Bucket's emergence as a central figure has led to Bleak House being viewed as one of the earliest detective novels: a whodunnit that includes a murder mystery and ends with the revelation that almost every character is part of tangled web of secrets and lies.

I wouldn't want to read BH for the first time knowing the answer to a central question.

The Turning Point is a lovely book -- if it's a book for you.