5.28.2020

george floyd, christian cooper, and when will this end?

The murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers may be the most shocking disturbing of any I've been aware of for a very long time, possibly since the murder of Amadou Diallo, way back in 1999. Police murders of unarmed, and often completely subdued, African Americans have lost all power to shock, piling up at such a fast rate we can barely track them all. When I saw the hashtag #RememberThemAll, I thought, we can't. No human can.

The original New York Times story said George Floyd "died after being taken into police custody". There is no excuse for that headline. Watch the video of George Floyd being slowly murdered by a police officer, while other officers look on and do nothing, while Floyd and bystanders plead for his life. Now imagine the two roles reversed, white cop on the ground, black man with foot on his neck. Murder?

As of the time of this post, no charges have been brought against the murderers. They hold the universal get-out-of-jail-free card, the blue uniform.

Rioting? No shit there's rioting! It's a wonder there aren't riots in every US city every day.

* * * *

Only days earlier, Amy Cooper tried to trigger the same result, by falsely claiming that a black man was threatening her life. If Christian Cooper hadn't been videoing her, who knows what would have happened?

I was surprised and impressed at the general reaction to Amy Cooper's actions. Personally, I don't think she should have been fired, because I don't think employers have the right to dictate what workers say or do on their own time, and her actions were not related to her job. But I'm not feeling sorry for her. She lost her job, her dog, her privacy, and perhaps, for a time, her feelings of safety. Her victim could have lost his life.

Amy Cooper's actions place her squarely in an old American tradition, going back to Emmett Till and the countless victims known only by their loved ones who had to cut down their mutilated bodies from trees. Like Emmett Till's murder, the Tulsa Race Massacres were touched off by a false accusation made by a white woman.

I was very impressed with Christian Cooper's reactions after the incident, trying to focus the discussion on systemic racism, rather than on one perpetrator, and asking the public to stop threatening Amy Cooper.

I was also surprised and impressed with this statement from the Audubon Society.

George Floyd and Amy Cooper demonstrate two brands of systemic racism alive and well in the United States. African-Americans are being slaughtered in the United States, and it's up to white Americans to put a stop to it.

* * * *

White people are killed by police, too. Police violence is out of control against poor people of all backgrounds. But consider these infographics from the excellent Mapping Police Violence.









When will this end?

WHEN WILL THIS END?

WHEN WILL THIS END?

rest in power, larry kramer


We activists like to paraphrase the legendary labour activist Joe Hill by saying "First mourn, then organize". Larry Kramer, who died yesterday at the age of 84, defined the phrase. He taught a generation -- he taught an entire culture -- how to use grief as fuel, how to channel anger into action. How to use a nearly constant state of mourning to propel an entire movement into the next phase of liberation.

As if that wasn't enough, Kramer was a talented and powerful writer. Kramer's play "The Normal Heart" broke new ground in the New York theatre landscape. He also wrote the film adaptation. If you haven't seen it, you should: it's great.

The obituaries will tell you Kramer was a provocateur, that he understood how to use shock power to gain attention for his cause. That is true. But his cause was always the greater good -- health, justice, love, liberation. He understood those as necessary and inextricable.

The obituaries will also tell you how people disliked him. He made himself very unlikable, alienating opponents and potential allies alike. 

He founded the first service organization for HIV-positive people, which was the first step towards lifting the shame and stigma from the HIV diagnosis.

He was one of the founders of the first major AIDS-activist group, which revived the power of civil disobedience, disrupting Wall Street, the Catholic Church, and the government -- and influencing a major shift in how life-saving drugs are tested and approved. (You can read Dr. Anthony Fauci's memories of Kramer here.)

And he used the power of his art to help us witness the ongoing liberation of the LGBT community. 

Thank you, Larry Kramer. You changed our world. 

Writer and theatre critic Jesse Green wrote this beautiful tribute: Larry Kramer, Prophet and Pussycat.

5.17.2020

what i'm reading: prairie fires: the american dreams of laura ingalls wilder

I read Little House on the Prairie when I was very young, and eventually went on to read the whole Little House series. I didn't know any other girls named Laura -- there were at least five in my Master's program, but it wasn't a popular name back then -- and I was infatuated with the idea that the Laura in the story grew up to write the book I was holding in my hands. Even then, I wrote stories, and fantasized that I would write a similar series that children would love.

The series was always said to be autobiographical, but it is also fiction. When I picked up Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser, I was curious how much the books reflected Wilder's life -- and how that pioneer girl came to write such an enduring (if now dated) children's series.

Prairie Fires is revelatory. It's meticulously researched, and the writing is both precise and accessible. It's a fascinating read.

The elephant in the room

We can't talk about LIW and her celebrated books without addressing the racism embedded in them. There is racist language in the Little House books -- degrading comments about Indigenous people -- language that young Laura heard her father and other adults use.

"Pa" Ingalls believes "the only good Indian is a dead Indian," but young Laura is also fascinated by Indians. To her, Indians represent freedom, and the wildness of the untamed land, which she loved and revered -- another racist myth.

But focusing on these details may obscure the larger picture. LIW wrote about her settler family and community -- not "settlers" as the term is now used, but actual settlers, the first European people who made permanent habitation on land recently stolen by the United States government.

Prairie Fires addresses this immediately, with a clear-eyed view of what happened to the original inhabitants of the prairie and the woods that the Ingalls family and others like them claimed as their own. The book first offers an overview of the US's treatment of the Indigenous people during westward expansion, then focuses on the specific story that intersects with the Ingalls. The land on which they settled was stolen from the Osage people, who (as was typical) entered into an agreement with the US government, and were then betrayed -- repeatedly. By the time the Ingalls enter the picture, the Osage are desperate, facing starvation. The outcome was bloody and ugly.

Fraser tells this part of the story with obvious empathy for the Osage people, and great respect for their leaders, who behaved ethically until the end -- and also with respect for those who chose to break with those leaders, and acted out of anger and revenge. Like all contact stories, it is staggering in its outright injustice and cruelty, and heartbreaking. And although we all know the broad outlines of what happened, any time we can read about the fate of specific nations, that's a positive thing.

From bad to worse to impossible

Reading Prairie Fires, I learned a lot about US history, especially the incredible trials faced by the settlers on the great plains. They were doomed to fail in so many ways.

First, they bought into a dream, a land rush, which supposedly would lead to a prosperous life -- but the size of their claims were too small to ever be self-supporting, and the land was utterly inhospitable to farming. Although this was known by some, the message was drowned out by profiteering promoters.

This wasn't the first time that immigrants and hardscrabble city-dwellers were induced to follow an ill-conceived dream, and it wouldn't be the last. As Fraser writes, "Fundamentally, the question was whether national decisions of significant economic import, affecting thousands of citizens, would be governed by Enlightenment science of by huckster fantasy." In US history, the answer to that question is always certain.

The settlers were doomed by the arrogant and ill-conceived notion that "empty" land, as they saw the prairies, could naturally be changed into farmland. But there was simply not enough rain, and stripping the grasses from the land made that exponentially worse. The farming settlers actually changed the climate. Fraser writes, "Scientists estimate it took a thousand years for an inch of topsoil to accumulate on the arid high plains. It was the work of a moment to blow it away." In 1935, 850 million tons of topsoil blew away. Children died of "dust pneumonia". Animals died when their nostrils became stuffed with sand or else starved when their grass disappeared.

If you've read The Grapes of Wrath or perhaps seen Ken Burns' excellent documentary about the Dust Bowl era, you may know that monoculture farming and the absence of crop rotation caused untold damage.

Fraser unpacks the many forces at work, some natural but most human-caused, that led to widespread crop failure and starvation. Much of it was driven by the profit motives of the railroad companies, a predatory banking system, and an economic system rigged to benefit large-scale operators and middlemen. But it also arose from a foundational belief in "the pioneer spirit", as Fraser writes, "treasuring the fantasy that a fistful of dollars and a plow could magically produce not only a farm but a nation."
But the Dust Bowl was no act of god or freak accident of nature. It was one the worst man-made ecological disasters of all time. Farmers had done this, and they had done it to themselves. It was small farmers, in particular, who were responsible, since they were more likely to cultivate intensively and less likely to employ any form of crop rotation or erosion control. As scholars have noted, settlers had boasted of their prowess in dominating the landscape, bragging of 'busting' and 'breaking' the land. Well, now it was broken.
Then there were the locusts. I won't give you the details, out of respect for friends with entomophobia. Let's just say that it sounds like a 1950's B sci-fi movie. Months of back-breaking, penny-pinching labour would be destroyed in minutes.

The disasters just kept coming -- droughts, locusts, debt, fire, extreme deprivation, near starvation. No one would have written a children's book that gave an honest account of the Ingalls' lives. It would simply be too gruesome, easily crossing the line from adventure to inappropriate. LIW's books took this grim material and shaped it into something noble, stirring, and triumphant -- and in doing so, helped cement the romantic view of western expansion that so many Americans grew up with.

If you have an interest in history, even if you don't particularly care about LIW or the books she wrote, I highly recommend reading the first parts of Prairie Fires -- the introduction, "On the Frontier," and "Part I, The Pioneer". It is fascinating.

A double biography, more than I wanted

LIW's story embodies so much of American history. She was 62 years old when she wrote her first book! Then, after a lifetime of near-poverty and extreme frugality, she became wealthy and famous. She is certainly worthy of a serious and important biography.

But Prairie Fires is really a double biography -- of LIW and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane.

The stories of these two women are inseparable. They had what Fraser calls an "editorially incestuous" relationship. RWL edited LIW's work, and apparently many scholars, editors, and other book people have claimed that RWL was the real author and ghostwriter of the Little House series. Fraser offers evidence that this was not the case -- although I wouldn't call it definitive. But there is no doubt that the strong, working collaboration between LIW and RWL produced most of LIW's work.

RWL is a strange and fascinating figure. She traveled around the world and published widely. She is credited with being one of three women who founded libertarian politics -- taking a distant third to Ayn Rand and Isabel Mary Paterson. In general, she lived an unusual, tempestuous, and dramatic life.

To me it is clear that RWL was mentally ill. She repeatedly sabotaged her own chances for happiness and prosperity. Although she was paid very generously, earning more than LIW would ever see until her old age, RWL burned through everything she had and was always in debt. She betrayed old friends and repeatedly destroyed relationships, often ending up completely alone. She was prone to bizarre obsessions, which she indulged until she was destitute.

Fraser does mention that RWL was depressed, and had a breakdown. But mostly she seems to regard RWL as a bad person with inexplicably bad behaviour. I felt sorry for RWL, but the author seems to have little sympathy for her.

Fraser doesn't idealize LIW; she is presented as a real human, with faults and blind spots like anyone else. But the book continually contrasts the two women -- LIW as the rational, patient, frugal, hard-working adult, and LIW as an impulsive, melodramatic, exaggerating woman who acts like a wild adolescent.

RWL's story often overshadows LIW's. Perhaps it is bound to do so, as LIW's life was steady, planned, and orderly, while her daughter's life was impulsive and erratic, full of travel, strange relationships, and poor decisions. Even so, I felt that too much time was spent on RWL, and I sometimes lost the thread of LIW's story.

Desperate for help, yet refusing all offers

Another interesting aspect of this book, for me, was learning more about the social and political context of LIW's life. Although LIW's story is founded on one of the most enormous government giveaways in history -- free land -- the pioneers and the farmers were virulently anti-government.

Not all agricultural communities are conservative. The Norwegian and Swedish farmers who settled in Minnesota brought their socialist values with them. Agrarian socialism, and a less political cooperative farming, is a thread running through U.S. history.

But the culture of central Missouri, where LIW spent most of her life, was ultra conservative and (although the word was not yet coined) libertarian. Even though they faced tremendous suffering during the Great Depression, they loathed President Franklin Roosevelt and detested his New Deal. I've never understood this, and Prairie Fires gave me more insight. (I still have little respect for this thinking, and like all libertarianism, it was wildly hypocritical -- but I do understand it a bit better now!)

Overall, an excellent book

I don't want to overstate my issues with this book. Fraser's research and writing are impeccable. Prairie Fires is essential reading for anyone whose life was touched by the Little House series, or is interested in the evolution of American literature, and especially anyone interested in the myth-making of the frontier and the American west.

The media release for Prairie Fires offers a good synopsis.
Millions of readers of Little House on the Prairie believe they know Laura Ingalls—the pioneer girl who survived blizzards and near-starvation on the Great Plains, and the woman who wrote the famous autobiographical books. But the true saga of her life has never been fully told. Now, drawing on unpublished manuscripts, letters, diaries, and land and financial records, Caroline Fraser—the editor of the Library of America edition of the Little House series—masterfully fills in the gaps in Wilder's biography. Revealing the grown-up story behind the most influential childhood epic of pioneer life, she also chronicles Wilder's tumultuous relationship with her journalist daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, setting the record straight regarding charges of ghostwriting that have swirled around the books.

The Little House books, for all the hardships they describe, are paeans to the pioneer spirit, portraying it as triumphant against all odds. But Wilder's real life was harder and grittier than that, a story of relentless struggle, rootlessness, and poverty. It was only in her sixties, after losing nearly everything in the Great Depression, that she turned to children's books, recasting her hardscrabble childhood as a celebratory vision of homesteading—and achieving fame and fortune in the process, in one of the most astonishing rags-to-riches episodes in American letters.

5.03.2020

we movie to canada: wmtc annual movie awards, 2019-20 edition

It's that time of year again. With no baseball, and home most nights, even before the lockdown, I spent a lot of time watching.

First, my annual recap. (This is killing me because these posts had hundreds of comments.)
- Canadian musicians and comedians (2006-07 and 2007-08)
- my beverage of choice (2008-09)
- famous people who died during the past year (2009-10)
- where I'd like to be (2010-11)
- vegetables (2011-12) (I was out of ideas!)
- Big Life Events in a year full of Big Life Changes (2012-13)
- cheese (I'm getting desperate!) (2013-14)
- types of travels (2014-15)
famous people who died plus famous people who died, part 2 (2015-16),
- the picket line (2016-17),
- movies (2017-18),
and last year... I stopped this. I changed to a more conventional 1 through 5 rating system, using ☮ as a meaningful symbol. I'll change symbols every year.

This year, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the symbol could only be πŸ’‰. (That's Blogger's syringe emoji, by the way. Not great, but the only one that will work in this platform.)

Here are the movies and series I watched from April 2019 to May 2020, alphabetically, on a scale of five.
Five = the very best and most memorable of what I saw, flawless
Four = excellent, a real stand-out, not to be missed
Three = good, solid, worthwhile
Two = not horrible, but not worth the time
One = crap

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
I wanted to like this movie because of the title, but its meandering, absurdist tour through the human condition did nothing for me. There were some interesting moments, and I wasn't sorry I saw it, so it earned a two-spot.

Angel-A
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
I rarely like romantic comedies, but once in a while, a movie is truly romantic and amusing. The beauty of Paris, an unlikely couple, and some magical realism made this 2005 movie irresistible to me. Unfortunately its creator, Luc Besson, is a rapist. I still watched it, and I still enjoyed it.

Atlantics
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
The grim reality of poverty, exploitation, and refugees meets a supernatural revenge fantasy. Dark and moving, and very well done.

The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman's Portrait Photography
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
Chances are you've never heard of Elsa Dorfman or large-format Polaroids. Errol Morris wants to change that. A sparkling little documentary about an unusual artist who knew a lot of famous people. Really nice.

Beasts of No Nation
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
A brilliant and brutal movie about an incredibly brutal world. This has been on my watchlist since it came out in 2015, but I couldn't bring myself to click. Also recommended, these books: Long Way Gone by Ismael Beah and What Is The What by Dave Eggers.

Bisbee '17
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
In 1917, striking mine workers in Bisbee, Arizona, most of them immigrants, were rounded up, forced by gunpoint into cattle cars, and illegally deported. It's a fascinating, untold story that touches on so many aspects of US history. If you want to learn more about this, don't watch this movie. It gets πŸ’‰πŸ’‰ out of respect for the filmmaker's intentions. Dreadful.

Blackkklansman
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
Whether Spike Lee's tale of an African-American cop infiltrating the Klan is meant to be a comedy or a drama, it is a cartoon. And just in case the heavy-handed, ham-fisted parallels to current white supremacists are lost on you, the movie ends with footage of Charlottesville and "really good people on both sides". Seeing that again was very affecting and disturbing. For that, the movie gets πŸ’‰πŸ’‰. Like Bisbee '17, other than good intentions, it was just awful.

[Both Bisbee '17 and Blackkklansman were on my favourite best-of lists.]

BoJack Horseman S6
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
Trauma, abuse, addiction, recovery. How we live with the past, and ourselves. Existential dread with animal puns. I couldn't believe how good this show was, how it did everything right, season after season. Allan and I plan to watch the whole show again, with no breaks between seasons. BoJack Horseman may be the best TV show, ever.

Bosch
πŸ’‰
It can be a thin line between noir and parody. This would fit in the Seinfeld episode "The Trip": "Just the trees, Johnny. Just the trees."

Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
A solid documentary about the fascinating life of the radical activist and civil rights leader, who lived courageously and openly gay in the 1940s, '50s, and '60s. He is frequently referred to as the "architect of the 1963 March on Washington," and while that is true, it doesn't begin to represent his accomplishments.

Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
Witness the birth of the disability rights revolution, as radical a movement as the world has ever seen. Featuring the incomparable Judy Heumann, plus Black Panthers feeding Disabled In Action members who had occupied a building in Oakland. I took special note of the one journalist who covered this revolution. A great doc. See it.

The Death of Stalin
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
A dark comedy about revolution and the re-writing of history. Very clever and enjoyable.

Detour (1945)
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
We've been watching classic noir and crime thrillers on Kanopy. This was reputed to include "the most vicious femme fatale in cinema history," raising our hopes without a big payoff. Walking that tightrope between noir and parody, this film was reasonably entertaining.

Dexter, final season
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
I loved this series, but Season 8 was a disappointment. I still enjoyed it -- three stars is still worth seeing -- but it was not up to the standards of the rest of the show.

The End of the F***ing World S1 & 2 (entire series)
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
Teenage misfits, road trips, crime comedy, and the constant disappointment and betrayal of growing up -- this genre-blending series did everything right. Mostly it's about our blind groping towards love and redemption. Funny, sad, suspenseful, romantic, and altogether perfect.

The Expanse S1-4
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
Drama, suspense, hope, heartbreak -- colonialism, racism, control of history, political intrigue -- all folded into a keenly imagined future. This show is riveting; it transcends genre. Absolutely one of the best shows I've seen.

The Great Hack
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
This could have been an excellent documentary about Cambridge Analytical, data collection, stolen elections, and a lot of other important things. Instead, the filmmaker became infatuated with one person's egocentric melodrama. The results are a real disappointment.

Hearts Beat Loud
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
A daughter pursues her dream as a father lets go of his -- music edition. A small story, not overly original, but the love and joy of music permeates the film.

Her Smell
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
Elizabeth Moss transforms herself, and her incredible performance breathes life into a well-worn story of rock-and-roll excess, burn out, and a bid for redemption. An honest (and therefore harrowing) portrait of addiction and recovery, with some scary moments and some poignant ones. Really a 3.5.

The Hero
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
Sam Elliott turns in a beautiful, understated performance as an aging movie star. Similar to "Hearts Beat Loud" (above), it's nothing you haven't seen before, but still a solid movie with good acting.

High Maintenance
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
We only watched a few episodes of these vignettes about random New Yorkers, who have one thing in common: their weed guy. I was surprised to see this has lasted six seasons. Perhaps it gets more interesting later on, but for me it was just meh.

Hunters S1
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰ πŸ’‰
Late-1970s New York City, Al Pacino, and Nazi hunters. What's not to love? Serious genre-blending -- drama, comedy, social commentary, cutaway gags, and more than a little grindhouse. The show is over-the-top but not quite out of control. I am eagerly awaiting S2.

I Don't Feel At Home in This World Anymore
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
A very dark crime comedy, mixing humour with horror, suspense, and a dollop of social commentary. I really enjoyed it.

The Innocent Man
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
Only real life could be this strange. A jaw-dropping, teeth-grinding story of injustice.

Into The Inferno
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
Werner Herzog looks at volcanoes and the people who study them. This would have been another great Herzog doc, if not for the bizarre, extremely long detour into North Korea, which Herzog repeatedly calls a "socialist state".

The Irishman
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
Three and a half hours long and not a minute of fat. Only Scorsese could have made this movie, both sweeping and epic, and intimate and personal.

The Italian Job (1969)
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
Michael Caine leads a band of merry thieves who are too smart and too fast for the police. Fast, funny, and very entertaining. We love a good comedy crime caper.

Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
A very solid documentary about a fascinating life, made by Didion's nephew, Griffin Dunne.

Kansas City Confidential (1952)
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
Part of our noir/crime fest on Kanopy, this movie's maze-like plot had us laughing and scratching our heads.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
Terrifying, bizarre, and incredibly suspenseful. A stunning thriller.

The Land of Steady Habits
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
A man leaves his prosperous suburban life -- and his wife and son -- for something less tame, then is forced to live with the consequences of his choices. In the process, he learns how to be less of a dick. Typically insightful Nicole Holofcener fare. Not her best work, but still moving and perceptive, with excellent acting.

Listen Up Philip
πŸ’‰
This film supposedly parodies narcissistic, pretentious artists. I found the characters so thoroughly unlikable that I couldn't stand to watch. Looking back at my previous movie posts, I see this is a distinct pattern.

Los Lobos: Kiko Live
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
We stumbled upon this documentary about one of our favourite bands. It serves as a biopic of the band and their unusual -- and beautiful -- musical choices. A joy.

Louder Than Bombs
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
A famous and well-respected war photojournalist dies, and her husband and sons struggle to come to terms with her memory and their new life. Unfortunately one of those sons is played by Jesse Eisenberg, but his typically poor acting doesn't ruin the film. A solid movie with a lot of insight into human behaviour.

Mad Men
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
Apparently I'm the only person who didn't love this series. Despite the beautiful production and fine acting, I never felt engaged in the stories, and quit after 2½ seasons. I'm giving it a three because it really didn't do anything wrong. It just wasn't for me.

A Marriage Story
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
This year's most over-rated film. I found it manipulative and contrived, and never once connected emotionally with any of the characters.

Mike Tyson Mysteries S4
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
We're still watching this. It's only gotten weirder -- and much more bloody! We're always waiting for more episodes. Please give us more episodes.

New Blood S1
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
This was a fun take on the buddy-cop / detective show, with young cops for a nice change, written by veteran Andrew Horowitz. Unfortunately it survived only one season.

Occupied S1-3 (entire series)
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
What would happen if a progressive government shut down the fossil fuel industry and went completely green? If that country was Norway, they would be occupied by Russia, with EU consent. That's the premise of this very solid, suspenseful Norwegian show. Complex characters with multiple motivations plus solid acting. Probably a 3.5.

October Faction S1
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
Monster hunting, family style. Good fun that doesn't take itself too seriously. I was sorry to hear Netflix didn't give it another season.

Ozark S1
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
We've just started this series, and we're really enjoying it. Suspenseful, rich with interesting characters and crazy twisting plot lines. I hope it doesn't become another Breaking Bad for me, which foundered on its utter improbability.

Patrick Melrose S1 (entire series)
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
A man of privilege, who is also an asshole and an addict, discovers the trauma that drives him and imprisons him in darkness. This short series is both harrowing in its view of the aftermath of trauma, and hopeful in its view of healing. It has much in common with BoJack Horseman. An excellent show, plus Benedict Cumberbatch.

Personal Shopper
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
Riveting suspense and supernatural creepiness more than compensate for any plot holes or illogic. A real thriller.

Phantom Thread
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
This film looks beautiful, sounds beautiful, and features brilliant acting, all as precise, detailed, controlled, but enigmatic as the subject of the film. I didn't connect with it emotionally, but it was so beautiful and interesting that I didn't mind. Hard to believe this is Daniel Day-Lewis' last film. With his retirement and the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, two of the best actors of a generation are gone.

Prime Suspect S1-7 (entire series)
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
My second time through this series, this time watching with Allan. The show transcends the detective drama, with a darker, seemingly more realistic view of the police world, full of racism, homophobia, and misogyny, but also of people who care deeply about their work. A tour de force for Helen Mirren. Not to be missed -- and currently on Britbox.

The Public
πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
This story about the value of the public library and its intersection with street life and homelessness probably rates a solid πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰for quality and production, but earns a fourth πŸ’‰ for subject matter. It shines a light on a mostly invisible story that is unfolding hundreds of times every day. Thank you, Emilio Estevez!

Purple Noon (1960)
 πŸ’‰πŸ’‰πŸ’‰
Part of our noir/crime festival on Kanopy, Purple Noon is an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's classic The Talented Mr. Ripley, directed by Rene Clement. Very sinister, very enjoyable. (The book is great, too, by the way.) Don't worry if you think you know the ending.

Quirke S1 (entire series)
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Murders, family secrets, the Church, and the Irish, all shrouded in a noir feel and very low lighting. Gabriel Byrne plays the title role, and I was very sorry there was only one season.

Race: The Power of an Illusion
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I've long believed race to be a social construct, not a biological fact. That's the viewpoint of this doc series, which traces the concept of race from its inception to its many uses. Very well done. We haven't finished it, but we will eventually. (See it on Kanopy, through your public library.)

Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story
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Martin Scorcese and Bob Dylan -- what more can you ask of a music movie? Fun with facts and fiction. Don't miss this. Here's more about why I loved it.

Roma
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An excellent film where social commentary -- about class, family, responsibility, human connection -- are woven seamlessly into a small human story. Beautifully shot in black and white.

Shameless UK S1-S7
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How much did I love the original Shameless? I watched it with commercials. Several years ago, I watched S1-5, then lost access to US Netflix. When I found it this year on the Roku channel, I started from the beginning, putting up not only with ads but with the same four ads ad nauseam. Great characters and great acting, equal parts funny and heartbreaking, this is exactly how I like my humour -- with an undercurrent of sadness. I loved it so much that I have no desire to see the American version, despite great reviews and an excellent cast. Maybe one day.

Shameless UK S8-11 (entire series)
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Even with all the cast changes, and with the structure (or perhaps formula) becoming blatant and a bit repetitive, this show was always worth watching.

Shoplifters
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A quietly powerful movie, more complex than it first appears, touching on issues of family, poverty, and our construction of our own stories. The characters are rich and complex, and the acting is amazing. Director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s has a magical touch with the unknown child actors. Shoplifters left me with many questions -- which is just as well, as it gives me a reason to watch it again. An outstanding movie (winner of the 2018 Palme d’Or at Cannes), highly recommended.

Sick Note
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A dark, zany, sometimes silly comedy, but really fun.

Six Feet Under S1-3
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We bailed on this during S3, mostly because of one unlikable character leading to non-credible plot lines. But it was good while we watched it, and I might go back and finish the rest.

Sneaky Pete S1-3 (entire series)
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A terrible name, but a really good show about confidence games and grifters -- and humans building trust and relationships in spite of themselves. Giovanni Ribisi leads a solid cast that includes "esteemed character actress"(™) Margo Martindale. It's labeled crime drama, but that sells it short.

The Sopranos, final season
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I am squarely in the "hated the ending" camp. The season would get five πŸ’‰s, and the ending one, so I've settled on the four. I disagree that the show is the best TV series of all time; I can name several better. But The Sopranos was ground-breaking and it was great, and I wish it had a better ending.

The Staircase
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One of the many true-crime documentaries on Netflix. Interesting, full of ambiguity.

Star Trek: Discover S2
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Entertaining and enjoyable. A bit heavy on the profundity and awe, but hey, that's Star Trek. I liked how this series dovetails with The Original Series, or perhaps does not.

Suits S7-9
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I didn't know how Suits was going to work without Mike and Rachel, but it was addition by subtraction: getting rid of Mike opened up new avenues of stories and dynamics. This show's careful attention to human insecurities and motivations made it rise above the sometimes soap opera-ish plots. I loved it.

Super Dark Times
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This started out as a teenage alienation story and ended up as horror, with all its tropes out in full display. Good performances, very creepy.

Teenage Cocktail
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Teenage romance and alienation, an unexpected love story, the dangers of the internet, and a whack of violence -- a real genre-blending treat.

Thunder Road (2018)
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Possibly the creepiest, cringingest movie I've ever seen. I often didn't know whether to laugh or cry, but either way I was cringing. Jim Cummings wrote, directed, edited, and starred in this movie, and it feels like something utterly original.

Treme S1-4 (entire series)
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The people of post-Katrina New Orleans -- their music, their culture, their divisions of race and class, their unity in music, parades, and parties -- plus the disaster capitalism that profits from their loss. With a few odd exceptions, the music is amazing, and the celebration of the traditions is joyous and triumphant. From the team that brought us The Wire, so you know the writing and acting are superb.

22 July
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A gripping depiction of the mass shooting by a right-wing terrorist in Norway, and its aftermath. Despite the gruesome subject matter, this is a thoughtful movie, about the suffering of the victims and their families, and the workings of the terrorist's mind. I was hoping for more about Norway's heroic and profound response to the event. A bit of that is incorporated, but in order to go beyond one family's survival story, more was needed.

Unforgotten S1-2
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This series rises far above the standard detective-procedural fare, with a depth and emotional authenticity rarely seen in these shows. Each case -- one per season -- touches a web of people and families as the past is brought to light and secrets are exposed. Nicola Walker is outstanding as the lead detective. US viewers can see it on PBS, Canadians need Britbox.

Vera S1-9 (entire series)
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Vera has replaced Lewis as my favourite lead in a standard detective-procedural show. I found her poignant mix of toughness, social ineptitude, and genuine compassion very appealing. Filmed in England's gritty, post-industrial north, there are often political and social aspects to the cases.

The Wages of Fear (1953)
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I had a vague recollection of this movie's climactic scene, but was not expecting such a sweaty, gritty, slow-motion version of a thriller. If and when this movie is remade, it will be brighter, faster, and no doubt bloodier, but I doubt it will be more suspenseful. Part of our crime/noir watch on Kanopy.

When Stand Up Stood Out
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A terribly named but wonderful little doc about the birth of modern stand-up comedy in Boston in the 1980s. We were interested in seeing our late friend Barry Crimmins, but it's a very enjoyable backstage view and a hidden history.

When They See Us
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I preferred the documentary version of this story, Ken Burns' 2012 "The Central Park Five". But it's a solid movie, worth watching, and the mini-series format gets you in a little deeper.

You Were Never Really Here
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Crazy suspense and a great performance by Joaquin Phoenix overrides the contrived premise and clumsy plot. A taut thriller, just don't look any deeper.

Comedy Before Sleep

Friends S1-10 (entire series)
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This was just funny enough for bedtime viewing. Fans of this sitcom may not realize that the first four or five seasons were a blatant ripoff of Seinfeld, sanitized and dumbed down. Once I got over that, it was a relaxing diversion.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show S4-7 (with last year, entire series)
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I was amazed at how well this show held up. It was funny and meaningful from start to finish. Still one of the best sitcoms of all time.

4.29.2020

trulocal.ca for healthy, local meat and seafood delivered to your home or workplace

Tl;dr version: TruLocal delivers a wide variety of local meat, poultry, and seafood from family farms to your door. They serve Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia. And they're great!

* * * *

When we lived in Ontario, we often ordered meat from Beretta Farms. Beretta distributes products from small, local farms, as well as from their own, located in King City, Ontario. (Here's an old post about them.)

Distribution is often the missing link between consumers and healthy, local, non-factory-farmed meat, as the large supermarket chains buy in huge volumes that, by definition, excludes these producers.

I personally am not opposed to humans eating animal products, and I quite love them myself. But the horrors of the factory farm are legion -- for animals, for the environment, for human health, for climate change. So I would try to buy meat and poultry either from Beretta, or from Whole Foods, where I could see the local origin.

Now that we live in a small town in a remote area, I assumed those choices would no longer be available. There is one supermarket, and naturally it has to cater to the majority of the community. So I was surprised and pleased to find a small frozen case with a smattering of meat, pork, and chicken from small and organic producers. Prices are high and selection is low, but I'm very glad this option exists.

Finding TruLocal has resolved this issue for me.

TruLocal is set up like a meal-kit delivery service. You subscribe to a box (there are two sizes), which you can have delivered weekly, biweekly or monthly. The price of the box is a flat rate, and you choose what to fill your box with, using a clever point system. A pound of ground beef may be 1 point, while a half-pound of smoked sockeye salmon will be 4 points. A small box for $125 is filled with 9 points worth of food, while a regular-sized box for $249 is filled by 20 points.

The box is delivered to your home or workplace, with the contents packed in dry ice. Based on your postal code, the website tells you what day(s) of the week they ship to your area, then you receive auto-emails with updates. Delivery is free, that is, part of the price.

I appreciate that there wasn't an extra charge for a rural or remote delivery. In fact, I appreciate that they service our area at all! I emailed to ask, and received a very speedy, friendly reply.

So far everything about TruLocal has been great: the order was correct, the delivery was reliable, customer service is great, and most importantly, the products are very high quality.

My only (minor) gripe is that if you don't want a subscription -- if you want to order less frequently or sporadically -- you have to cancel your subscription and start a new one each time. (You don't have to cancel your account, just the subscription.) I'm hoping that enough customers will want this option that TruLocal will soon offer it.

Here's how it works, and here's an FAQ. If you're an omnivore like me and can afford it, perhaps you will give it a try.

4.28.2020

this year, day of mourning carries great urgency and great sadness

Each year on April 28, we recognize and remember workers who have died, been injured, and become ill through their work.

In 2020, the year of the coronavirus pandemic, this day carries profound and urgent meaning.

Health care workers, emergency workers, supermarket workers, and others put their health at risk and their lives on the line daily.

Most poignantly, health care workers risk illness and must isolate from their own families in order to save the lives of others.

Low-wage workers like supermarket cashiers and couriers, already working physically demanding and monotonous jobs, suddenly find themselves in potentially life-threatening danger.

* * * *

The canary is a potent symbol and a powerful reminder. Not so long ago, this small, fragile bird was the only thing that stood between miners and a suffocating death. The world over, workers are little more than canaries in their own workplaces.

No worker should ever be killed or injured because of work, yet it happens on a regular basis. In our current climate of precarious work, it is happening more frequently.

When workers do not have guaranteed work, or don’t get enough hours, or earn too little to survive, they are much less likely to speak up about unsafe working conditions. Employers know this. In the precarious workplace, all too often there is scant attention given to health and safety standards.

Privatization of services also causes workplace injuries and death, as companies -- with no public oversight -- cut corners to squeeze more profit out of services that should not be generating profit.

Under-staffing also causes injuries and deaths, as workers are required to do work previously assigned to two or more workers.

Working alone has become commonplace in many fields, including mine. Working alone means there is no one to administer CPR, to help if an accident happens, to call for help if there is a violent confrontation.

Injury and death on the job are not facts of life that just happen. All too often, they are the result of precarious work, austerity measures, and privatization. All too often, worker deaths are preventable deaths.

On April 28, the Day of Mourning for Workers Killed or Injured on the Job, while we pause to mourn our losses, we must renew our commitment to ending these tragedies.

4.23.2020

what i'm reading: political graphic nonfiction: wobblies, studs terkel's working, people's history of american empire

Continuing the series, started here. I've decided not to review these books, but instead to post a cover image and a quote.

It was difficult to choose quotes for these books, since they are books about ideas and events, with hundreds of different people quoted and referenced. After flipping through the books and seeing quote after beautiful, stirring, inspiring, infuriating quote, I decided to pull the lens back to more general thoughts from introductions and prefaces.



Wobblies!: A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World, edited by Paul Buhle and Nicole Schulman (many contributors)
The world of the Wobs was made up of immigrant workers without steady employment, health plans, social security or drug benefits (like the future that Republicans and many a Democrat envision), without any responsibility on the part of the filthy rich for the growing class of poor -- so much like the society around us today. The world of the Wobblies was one realized in its best moments by solidarity across race, ethnic, gender, and nationality lines. The Wobbly world and promise was wrecked, finally by the eager collaboration of corporate business and the military, liberals and conservatives, all of them committee firmly to Empire. Will the same thing or something like it happen, as the empire slides into crisis again/ Only time will tell. But what the Wobs did was to hold up an alternative, the alternative we need now more than ever. (2005, from the introduction)



Studs Terkel's Working: A Graphic Adaptation, adapted by Harvey Pekar, edited by Paul Buhle
This book, being about work, is, by its very nature, about violence -- to the spirit as well as to the body. It is about ulcers as well as accidents, about shouting matches as well as fistfights, about nervous breakdowns as well as kicking the dog around. It is, above all (or beneath all), about daily humiliations. To survive the day is triumph enough for the walking wounded among the great many of us. . . . .

It is about a search, too, for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor, in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying. . . .

During my three years of prospecting, I may have, on more occasions than I had imagined, struck gold. I was constantly astonished by the extraordinary dreams of ordinary people. (1974, from the original introduction by Studs Terkel)
Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do, originally published in 1974, is a compilation of interviews with hundreds of working people by the late great Studs Terkel, an oral historian and radio broadcaster. It is a classic text of sociology, labour relations, and humanity. Terkel published an updated edition in 1997.

The cover art of the graphic adaptation reflects the very famous original cover, shown here.




A People's History of American Empire: A Graphic Adaptation, Howard Zinn, Mike Konopacki, Paul Buhle
The history of the United States was written for many generations as a heroic conquest of land and its original inhabitants, and as the steady spread of democracy from border to border and sea to sea. It culminated in the current nation being uniquely suited by history, perhaps by divine destiny, to make the rules for the planet and carry them out when necessary. Every sacrifice made, by Americans and others, was justified by that end. Even when, by 1950, atomic and finally thermonuclear war threatened to wipe out civilization, the sense of rectitude remained firmly in place. Americans had sought to make the world a better place, a nearly perfect place, even if they had been thwarted in the task.

The Vietnam War changed the perceptions of a generation. Some few earlier dissenting historians, such as W.E.B. DuBois, had pointed toward a markedly darker national saga, but they had been not much heard. Then, an evident crisis in empire brought into view past crises of empire, internal as well as external, and the high price that had been paid for those crises. Another story began to be told, not of America as a wicked place or Americans as wicked people but of the trouble in the soul of an imperial nation.

Beginning in the 1960s, scholars of various kinds started to write widely about Indians, African Americans, working people, and women, of struggles for reform won and lost, of wealth gained at vast public expense in squandered dollars and lives. This was the saga of the internal empire, precursor in many ways to the transcontinental empire to follow. None of the scholars charting this empire epitomized the truth teller and political visionary better than the then young professor Howard Zinn. None reached as many readers, a decade after the decline of the social movements of the 1960s, as an older Zinn. A People's History of the United States (first published in 1980), its pages afire with lucidity, set a new standard for the retelling of the nation's story, this time linked closely to other peoples everywhere, and likewise to a distant human past and a hoped for future. (2008, from the foreword)

4.20.2020

ayoubs.ca for the best nuts and dried fruit shipped to your door

Isn't this beautiful?
I had an instant flashback to stores we visited in Amman.
For a healthy snack, you can't beat nuts. They're packed with protein, healthy oils, vitamins, and minerals. They're high in fibre, they have antioxidant properties, and they contain almost nothing of what you want to avoid eating. (They are also vegan and gluten-free, for people who want those.)

All kinds of health claims are associated with nuts, but whether or not those are true, nuts are the perfect between-meal snack. They are what I call self-limiting, as opposed to, say, potato chips. I eat a small amount of nuts and feel satisfied, likely because of the protein and fibre.

Unfortunately, here in our remote area of Vancouver Island, I discovered I cannot buy fresh nuts locally. The selection is poor, and more importantly, the nuts are not fresh. I guess they don't get enough turnover -- which is a shame, as more people should eat nuts! Also unfortunate as it causes people who do eat them to shop elsewhere. And "elsewhere" for us means online.

Kernel Mix
I love the lime and saffron flavour.
I surveyed all the online nut-buying choices. Nuts.com has a great selection and the prices are good, but they're based in the US. Shipping could take a long time, especially to remote areas. Bulk Barn delivers nuts from store locations via Instacart -- not an option for us, plus Bulk Barn creeps me out.

Going Nuts looks like a great family-owned business, based in Alberta. They seem like a company you'd see at farmer's markets (their schedule is here), specializing in handmade granolas, nut butters, candies, and such. I'm sure their products are delicious, and they were in the running -- until I found Ayoub's.

Ayoub's Dried Fruit and Nuts has six stores in the Vancouver area, and they also ship throughout Canada and worldwide. Here's why I love Ayoub's.

Selection. They offer a huge selection both of the variety of nuts and how they are prepared -- raw, roasted, unsalted, salted, and lightly salted. (Lightly salted -- how smart!) In a supermarket, even a really good supermarket, I seldom find exactly what I want. For example, I like almonds raw, but cashews roasted. Pistachios salted, but not so salty that your face caves in. And so on. Ayoub's gives you the full range.

Freshness. Ayoub's nuts are roasted in-store. The most popular nuts, such as cashews, are roasted several times throughout the day -- and they are incredible. Everything is always so fresh. The flavours pop.

Mixed nuts. Their "kernel mix" includes almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, and shelled pistachios. I buy the lime and saffron mix (see below) and eat them literally one nut at a time, slowly, savouring the taste. I chronically eat way too fast and these nuts actually slow me down.

Flavoured nuts. Ayoub's carries nuts that are tossed in their own flavouring blends. I love the lime and saffron flavour, and there is also lime and pepper, and a spicy mix. These are such a treat.

Dried fruit and nut mixes. You can't really call this trail mix -- it's just too good. There are several different kinds, and unlike most supermarket trail mixes, you know exactly what you're getting and each fruit or nut is high quality.
Persian Dried Plums
Soooo delicious!

Dried fruit! I love dried fruit. Unfortunately I also find it addictive and decidedly not self-limiting, so I eat it only as a treat. Ayoub's has an incredible selection of dried fruit. With each of my orders, I buy one dried fruit mix and try to make it last.

Except for every-day dried fruit: Ayoub's sells these amazing green raisins, made from green seedless grapes. They are larger than ordinary raisins and so delicious. I also buy dates to make this super delicious healthy snack. I had been using dried, packaged dates from the baking section of the supermarket. This is a huge improvement.

Price. I compared Ayoub's prices to our local supermarket, and they were the same or less -- for much higher quality.

Free shipping -- maybe. If you live in western Canada or in the US, the free shipping threshold is a bit high, but well worth it. Unfortunately for Eastern Canada and the North, the shipping costs are probably prohibitive, unless you have a big family, or perhaps are splitting an order with friends. I don't know why it costs less to ship to the US than to Newfoundland; it must be a Canada Post thing.

Another reason I love Ayoub's is a personal preference. On my way to a union education retreat, I visited an Ayoub's store in Vancouver. It was an instant flashback to stores we enjoyed in Cairo and especially Amman. A North American version, but a very similar vibe -- warm and welcoming, attentive, knowledgeable, proud of their quality goods. I have found this to be true in Middle Eastern stores in any city I've been in.

Right now Ayoub's has a promotion called "Binge Watch Essentials". For $99, it includes 10 1-pound bags of a variety of goodies, including baked vegetable chips and chocolate-covered almonds. I always prefer to choose my own variety, but this is a great deal -- and very clever marketing for the lockdown.

They must be swamped with orders, as the service is a bit slower than usual, or it might be Canada Post's slower service during the pandemic, or perhaps a bit of both. My most recent order took a few days longer than usual, but really, who cares. When it arrived, it was correct, fresh, and so delicious.

In conclusion, eat nuts! Try Ayoub's and let me know what you think!

Disclaimer: None needed, ever. No "affiliates" or stealth marketing here. Just a rave review.