8.06.2018

mlb.tv, roku, and appletv: why is this so difficult?

If you're an app developer for MLB, or if you're with Roku or AppleTV, skip down to the final paragraphs!

Because Allan and I follow a baseball an out-of-town baseball team, we subscribe to MLB.TV, and have done so for ages. As much as I dislike pay-per-TV services, being able to watch any baseball game at any time, with either the home or away feed, is amazing.

Once we were able to do this by streaming, as opposed to through cable, the price went down and the quality went up. I've blogged many times about the wonder of the Roku streaming device, and how it solved so many issues for watching baseball, TV series, and movies.

Last year, I learned that the Canadian streaming service CraveTV offers lots of Showtime and HBO content. Thanks to exclusive licensing deals, Crave is not available on Roku; it only streams on AppleTV. (You can watch on a computer or mobile device, but we don't like that.) So in order to get the additional Showtime and HBO content, we bought an AppleTV device.

Lo and behold, AppleTV is now way better than Roku! When Roku first came out, it was widely agreed that it was the best streaming device on the market. Now fourth-generation AppleTV blows Roku away. The streaming quality is much better, the interface is easier, and it offers more premium content.

Here's where baseball comes in. MLB.TV on Roku lets users choose separate video and audio feeds. For many reasons, I prefer the NESN (Red Sox) TV feed with audio from the local Red Sox radio on WEEI. Roku lets you do this, and it syncs. (In the olden days, I would watch baseball on TV with the sound on mute, and keep the game on the radio. This was my preferred way to enjoy baseball, but the audio and video were completely out of sync.) So Roku did away with all that, and we've been in baseball heaven.

But now, with the 2018 season, the Roku MLB app is a total shambles. It stutters, freezes, and crashes constantly. We could barely make it through a half-inning without frustrating stops, starts, and reboots. And the definition is awful. It's like we're streaming some analog feed with a dial-up modem.

On AppleTV, MLB streams beautifully and in good-quality hi-def. However, the MLB app on AppleTV does not let you choose separate video and audio feeds. We can watch NESN with the NESN announcers, or listen to WEEI with no video at all, but we can't mix-and-match feeds.

Roku: Please fix your MLB.TV app!

AppleTV: Please get your MLB.TV app to have this capability!

MLB.TV: Please get your developers on this!

google does it again: recent blogger updates are not user-friendly

Once again, Google has reduced the ease and functionality of Blogger.

A while back, the layout of the Blogger dashboard changed. I used to be able to see an overview of all my blogs plus my "following" list on one dashboard page. I found this very useful, and I imagine that other users who also moderate more than one blog would have agreed. Now I can no longer check for and moderate comments on all blogs at the same time, and I no longer have one-stop-shopping for which blogs on my list have updated.

For comments, I have to check each blog separately, necessitating many more clicks.

For blogs I read, I had to subscribe to email updates, on blogs that offer this function. Not everyone does. (I don't like using feeds; I prefer to visit blogs and websites on their native platforms.)

Next, Google discontinued the option to have comments on your own blog emailed to you. So, for example, if Allan put a bunch of comments through on wmtc, those comments would be emailed to me.

I'm talking about this, found in Settings > email, which tells you when a comment has posted --


 -- not this, found in Settings > posts, comments, and sharing, which emails you when a comment is waiting to be moderated:


Now to check for new comments, I now have to go to Comments > published. I have to remember to do this for each blog in order to see what comments may have posted. Not very convenient.

Google also discontinued the option for any user with any ID to comment. Previously, the choices were Anyone (including anonymous), Any ID (Google, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc.), or Only Members of this Blog. This has changed to Anyone (including anonymous), User [sic] with Google ID, or Only Members of this Blog.


When "Any ID" disappeared, I didn't want to exclude readers who might not have a Google ID. As a result, I've been deleting about 20-30 spam comments every day. It's become so annoying that I've changed commenting to anyone with a Google ID. I wanted to be more inclusive, but Blogger and spammers have conspired against that.

It's been months, and I'm frustrated. 

8.01.2018

listening to joni: #6: court and spark

Court and Spark, 1974

Writing about the music of Joni Mitchell has been a huge challenge. My love of music and my writing abilities seem to live in separate spheres: I write with my brain, but I listen with my heart. If writing about Joni's music has been challenging, writing about Court and Spark feels impossible. The love and connection I feel for this music is impossible to put into words. So with that disclaimer, I will now attempt the impossible.

Court and Spark is many Joni fans' favourite album. I mentioned that fans over a certain age seem to choose Blue; fans under that age, those younger than the boomer generation, seem to gravitate towards Court and Spark.

Listening to this music in retrospect, you can follow the very clear musical progression from Blue to For the Roses to Court and Spark. But in its day, no one could have been prepared for this masterpiece.

On Court and Spark, Joni more fully realizes many threads that emerged on previous albums. The music itself is richer, more layered, more polyphonic than Joni has written before. Woodwinds, strings, brass, percussion, and vocal harmonies are all a major part of this album, often taking centre-stage. The lyrics are at once some of the most poetic Joni has written, but also among the most accessible, with some of her familiar themes elegantly fleshed out.

Inside Cover; the back is solid tan with music credits
Something unusual on this album is Joni's use of instrumental breaks to continue the story she's telling. The best example is on the album's centrepiece, "Down to You".

The first part of the song paints an image of depression. The subject of the song is lonely, alienated:
Things that you held high and told yourself were true
Lost or changing as the days come down to you.
She (I think "she", but it doesn't have to be) seeks solace in a one-night stand. Then,
In the morning there are lovers in the street
They look so high
You brush against a stranger
And you both apologize
You brush against a stranger and you both apologize: is there a more perfect image of loneliness and alienation?
Old friends seem indifferent
You must have brought that on
Old bonds have broken down
Love is gone
Love is gone
Written on your spirit
this sad song
Love is Gone
After the spiritual-sounding repetition of that line, there is a musical break. It starts out with slow, deep, somber notes, but the tempo picks up, the waves of strings give way to pizzicato, the piano shines through -- the dark bass notes give way to a more lighthearted treble -- and piano chords become triumphant. We have survived the dark night. Then at last the woodwinds signal: a new day has dawned. There's an oboe trill that completely takes me apart, every time I hear it.

When the long instrumental break ends, we look around to discover we're in a totally different place -- one of acceptance, affirmation, maybe even transcendence. When the lyrics return, they celebrate that life is always changing -- that life is change -- and that we all hold all of human potential in our hearts.
Everything comes and goes
Pleasure moves on too early
And trouble leaves too slow
Just when you're thinking
You've finally got it made
Bad news comes knocking
At your garden gate
Knocking for you
Constant stranger
You're a brute you're an angel
You can crawl you can fly too
I can't imagine how many times I've listened to this song, yet as time goes by, it only means more to me.

Court and Spark is full of so many moments like this. Writing this post, I saw that on the cover of my original LP, in the lyrics to "People's Parties," two lines are underlined in blue pen.
I feel like I'm sleeping
Can you wake me
This is probably the only lyric underlined on an album cover in my entire collection. (I didn`t realize it was there until I wrote this post.) The girl with that blue pen was struggling with depression, and the continuing effects of an abusive upbringing, and the beginnings of her own liberation. I was waiting to wake up to myself. I related to the girl in the song:
One minute she's so happy
Then she's crying on someone's knee
Saying laughing and crying
You know it's the same release
There is much internal conflict in the lyrics of Court and Spark. The "art vs. commerce" conflict, this time round, is not hers, but someone else's -- in "Free Man in Paris," famously about Joni's close friend, the producer David Geffen. Poor Geffen was so deeply closeted, that he reportedly begged Joni not to release the song, feeling that it outed him as gay. There's really nothing in the lyrics that imply anything about sexual orientation. Geffen's fear speaks to the paranoia that comes with a life in hiding.

The other conflict, presumably Joni's, in Court and Spark, is career vs. love. From "The Same Situation":
Still I sent up my prayer
Wondering who was there to hear
I said Send me somebody
Who's strong and somewhat sincere
With the millions of the lost and lonely ones
I called out to be released
Caught in my struggle for higher achievements
And my search for love
That don't seem to cease
Joni hits us with this right up front, in the title track. Love has "come to my door" -- this love understood her so well, that "it seemed like he read my mind, he saw me mistrusting him and still acting kind" -- but she couldn't leave her life and her career in California.

Bad critic comment of the album

On JoniMitchell.com (an amazing resource), I found some joker from the Oakland Tribune who clearly wasn't up to the assignment. In his opening paragraph, he accuses Joni of "tiptoeing in and out of love just enough to gather some material together for a new song." He writes that "Free Man in Paris" "infers" (by which he means implies) "that business responsibilities leave her cold" and in another song, "seems to be acknowledging the fact she may end up an old maid". All I can say is I'm glad my first juvenile attempts at writing aren't preserved on the internet.

For serious criticism, though, Court and Spark appears to have been universally acclaimed. But don't worry, the "bad critic comment" section will soon be very useful.

The album cover

Joni's Japanese-inspired drawing combines mountains, water, and an abstract wave that is also a lover's comforting embrace. Against a tan background, the title and artist's name embossed in Joni's own handwriting, it's understated and elegant. Inside, an abstracted photograph of Joni, eyes closed in what seems like musical bliss.

Cacti or stockings?

The most famous song on this album, Joni's "biggest hit" -- a strange concept to apply to this music -- was always my least favourite. But "Help Me" contains an iconic Joni image: "the lady with the hole in her stocking", who has by now become the Joni's stand-in, the lyric-persona Joni.

On "Just Like This Train," that lady with the hole in her stocking looks out the window at the "rocks and these cactus going by".

You know, even that hole in the stocking is a conflict. She wears stockings -- "a refinement" ("Ludwig's Tune") -- but she's also a bit unkempt, or more likely defiant, refusing to wear the proper clothes. Part of the glitz and the glamour, but apart from it, too.

Other musicians on this album

This is the first album for which Joni takes producing credit, knocking Henry Lewy down to "sound engineer". Lewy felt he had been her producer. Joni felt she has always been the producer, with Lewy merely a technician.

Drums and percussion, John Guerin
Bass, Max Bennett, Jim Hughart, Wilton Felder
Chimes, Milt Holland
Woodwinds & reeds, Tom Scott
Trumpet, Chuck Findley
Electric Piano, Joe Sample
Background voices, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Susan Webb, Cheech and Chong
Electric Guitar, Larry Carlton, with Wayne Perkins, Dennis Budimir, Robbie Robertson, Jose Feliciano
Joni: piano, clavinet, and background vocals
String arrangements by either Tom Scott, Joni, or both. The string musicians themselves are anonymous.

7.31.2018

what i'm reading: collected (and amazing) nonfiction by saul bellow

When the author Saul Bellow died in 2005 at the age of 90, I was saddened and disappointed by the scant attention paid to his passing. Bellow was one of the greatest writers of the 20th Century. His novels are still relevant, in a way that many of past generations are not. And his writing... his writing is simply astounding.

With this in mind, and my love of nonfiction, I looked forward to reading There Is Simply Too Much To Think About, a collection of Bellow's nonfiction. I assumed that Bellow's intelligence, insight, compassion, and precise command of language would make for some fascinating reading. I was right.

The essays, speeches, and literary criticism collected in this volume display a towering intellect, but not a cold one. Bellow's view of the world is always humane and compassionate. He observes keenly, he understands deeply, but he also feels deeply. His gift is the ability to convey that feeling in a way that feels completely novel, bringing the reader new insights into the human condition.

There Is Simply Too Much To Think About recalls, for me, my favourite nonfiction collection, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace. Both Bellow and Wallace are willing to play out a train of thought as far as it will take them, both broadly and deeply. Both were gifted observers who possessed an astounding command of language. But beyond all that (which is a lot), both observed with compassion, and with love.

At the time Wallace was writing the essays collected in A Supposedly Fun Thing, novels, film, and visual arts were stuck in the ironic mode. Everyone was jaded; everything was viewed with rolled eyes. Wallace wrote about the overuse of irony, and in his own work, he eschewed that orientation for something more meaningful, and more compassionate. (If you're not familiar with this, this piece in Salon may be useful, and if you want more, Wallace's "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction".)

Bellow, of course, didn't grow up in a world of ironic observation, but he similarly comments on an orientation from his own eras -- the academy, and the theoretical approach to literature. In many of the essays in There Is Simply Too Much, Bellow discourses on his own methods as being free from theory. He digresses to tell us, in essence, that he writes from his heart and his mind -- and he hopes you will read with yours. Bellow wants us to stand in front of a work of art and gasp at its beauty, and be awed by the emotions that beauty stirs in us -- not read about that art in a guidebook, or worse, be told what it symbolizes.

The writing collected in There Is Simply Too Much, selected by Benjamin Taylor, is organized chronologically, but there's no reason to read it that way. For me this is a book to dip into, to read in bits and pieces, perhaps in between novels. The writing is extremely clear and precise, lively and not dense, but it's heady stuff, requiring time and thought. Reading it from start to finish could be a test of endurance, and there's no point turning such good writing into a drudgery.

These essays contain a huge number of references to people that readers may not be familiar with, both because their fame may not have made it to our era, and because Bellow must have been the most well-read man in the world. Some of the references I knew, others I was able to understand through context, and for a few, I employed Google. In the endnotes, editor Benjamin Taylor explains:
Bellow's references are typically to well-known persons and phenomena and I have preferred not to impose on the reader with unnecessary footnotes. If certain of his allusions are less familiar, details about Viscount Bryce, Elbert Hubbard, Freud's Rat Man, Boob McNutt, Colonel Bertie McCormick, Billie Sol Estes and Oh! Calcutta! are nowadays at one's fingertips.
Given how many footnotes would have been needed -- how often the flow of Bellow's writing would have been interrupted -- I applaud Taylor's choice.

The book jacket blurb calls this book "a guided tour of the twentieth century...conducted by one of modern life's most inspiring minds". I'll go with Taylor's words, as he thanks Janis Freedman Bellow, Bellow's wife and partner: it is "a book of wonders".

7.22.2018

what i'm re-reading: the ax by donald westlake and other literary thrillers

I've just re-read* one of my all-time favourites: The Ax by Donald Westlake. I'm agog with how much I love this book. But first, the requisite blather.

* * * *

One of my favourite kind of books -- although I don't read them frequently -- is a mystery, detective story, crime thriller, or spy thriller that transcends its genre and is also a literary novel.

The definition of literary is always a bit squirrely -- and of course always somewhat subjective --  but in general, a genre novel is generally plot-driven, and follows a formula that readers of that genre recognize. The writing itself is not particularly important, and may be mediocre, passable, or worse.

The best-selling titles in the genres I've mentioned are all about plot, pacing, and recognizable character types. But I just can't get past the writing. I can't stand reading mediocre writing, no matter how good the rest of the package.

So for me, a crime, hard-boiled mystery, or spy novel, with an intricate, surprising plot, interesting, fully realized characters, and truly excellent writing -- that is a great find. From my own limited reading, the pinnacle has been Graham Greene. But whenever I read a book review that sounds like a literary thriller, I put it on my list.

In the past, I didn't read in this category very often. Years would go by when I completely forgot about it! But these days I'm looking for these books more frequently. I like to intersperse fiction and nonfiction, and while there's an overwhelming supply of great nonfiction out there, I find myself bored or unsatisfied with so much fiction. So more and more, I find myself looking for quality mysteries, detective stories, and thrillers. (I don't read a series straight through, all in a row. I read other books in between and return to the series.)

Right now I'm slowly working my way through Henning Mankell's Wallander series, Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce novels, and all the Donald Westlake -- under any name -- that I can get my hands on. (Westlake's Parker series, written under his Richard Stark pseudonym, are genre novels. But damn, they are addictive. They are potato chips!) Olen Steinhauer, Ted Mooney, and Martin Clark are others I've enjoyed. I've also loved reading classics by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler (which I wrote about here). I haven't had much luck with the noir classics by James M. Cain, Jim Thompson, and James Ellroy, but I'm still trying.

* * * *

So, The Ax. Why do I love this book?

It is built on a fascinating premise, and a plot line that is a both a shocking roller-coaster and eminently believable.

It has a very strong anti-capitalist point of view, a thread that runs through the entire book, without any soapboxing or author intrusion (something I have zero patience for).

It is a psychological study of a man losing his moral compass, and how humans rationalize and accommodate evil.

It's a philosophical study of social mores and ethics -- and how what's permissible on one scale is criminal on another.

The main character changes gradually and credibly, so that the reader is aware of the changes before the character's self-awareness -- and self-deception -- catches up.

It's a meditation on violence, not only physical violence, but the psychic violence of capitalism, and how they are linked.

And all this is wrapped up in a brilliant plot and a bone-chilling crime novel.

* * * *

From the New York Times 1997 review:
Donald E. Westlake has caught and logged our unspoken fiscal dread in a novel of excruciating brilliance. His protagonist, Burke Devore, is Homo reductus, Downsized man: out of work in the processed paper industry for month after stupefying month, about to lose the wife (Marjorie) and children (Betsy and Billy) he can no longer support, bitter, desperate, made furious by an economic system in which stock prices go up when (and even because) people get axed. . . .

With trenchant and subtle special pleading, Devore will convince himself -- and almost convince his agonized readers as well -- that it is justifiable homicide to kill.... That, in fact, such an act constitutes not murder at all, but an act of self-defense. "If the alternative is despair and defeat and grinding misery and growing horror for Marjorie and Betsy and Billy and me, why shouldn't I kill him, the son of a bitch? How could I not kill him, given what's at stake here?"

. . . .

As novels go, "The Ax" is pretty much flawless, with a surprise ending that will unplug your expectations. Burke Devore is American Man at the millennium -- as emblematic of his time as George F. Babbitt and Holden Caulfield and Capt. John Yossarian were of theirs. Westlake has written a remarkable book. If you can't relate to it, be thankful.
* I rarely re-read anything, with these notable exceptions: 1984, The Grapes of Wrath, Winter's Tale (Mark Helprin), Wuthering Heights, and selected Charles Dickens.

7.15.2018

things i heard at the library: an occasional series: #29

It's TIHATL, Summer Reading Club edition!

Summer Reading Club is in full swing in Canadian libraries. In more than 2,100 libraries around Canada, kids are earning prizes and recognition for reading. Thanks to Toronto Public Library and a certain sponsoring bank, we all have lots of free stuff to give away.

The most popular kids' series ever,
still going strong after almost 15 years.
Our motives are simple: kids who read during the summer do better in school in September. SRC also helps remind parents of pre-readers to read with their little ones daily.

Our children's library is very busy. The first day of SRC, we signed up 180 kids! After two weeks, we're well over 600 participants. When kids register, or when they come in to "report" and collect prizes, it's a great time for some one-on-one conversations with our young customers. Some won't say one word without their parents' prompting, but others are so forthright and articulate! It's really a pleasure chatting with them. What have I heard?

"My favourite books are the ones where things happen, and you know, you don't know what's going to happen, and you think things won't happen, and then they do happen!"

"I love reading about space, and planets, and the universe. I'm going to be an astronaut and go to Mars -- when I'm six!" This boy was amazing. At not yet six years old, he knew so much about astronomy! And he wasn't just regurgitating facts without engaging, as you sometimes see with kids who are on the autism spectrum. This boy was relaxed and social, and had clearly synthesized what he had read. We had a great conversation about his impending Mars visit. His mom and I looked at each other in amazement.

Two sisters wanted to read about... it sounded like churchills.

"Miss, can we bring our churchills to the library?"

"Your ... what?"

"Our churchills!"

"I'm not getting it. Can you say that again?"

"Our CHURCHILLS! Can we bring our CHURCHILLS to the library?!!"

Finally I am forced to admit, "I don't know what that is."

"They are little animals, they have a shell, and their little arms and legs and head sticks out of the shell, and when they're afraid, they can go inside it. We have two baby churchills and we want to bring them to the library!"

I try not to laugh. They are hearing the word from their parents, who are new English speakers.

"Do you mean turtles?"

"Yes, yes, tur-tills!" Without missing a beat, they now begin to pronounce the world tur-till with great enunciation.

"I don't think your turtles would be very happy at the library."

"We would help them! We would show them all the books!"

"But you know what, all the kids would want to see the turtles and pet them, there would be a huge crowd, and I think the turtles might be afraid."

They nod with great seriousness.

I ask, "Would you like to read some books about turtles?"

"Yes yes yes yes yes!!!"

"Do you want to read stories with characters who are turtles, like Franklin, or information about turtles?"

"Information! Information about tur-tills! Tur-till information!"

The book on having a turtle as a pet is nowhere to be found, but we find lots of books about turtles in the wild. I try to shield them from books about endangered sea turtles, but they are too fast for me. Fortunately, they are only looking at the pictures, so they're not bothered by the sad stuff.

"Tur-tills! Tur-tills! Mommy Mommy we have books about tur-tills!!"

Currently the hottest ticket, by the
creator of Captain Underpants
* * * * *

[What should we set for your first reading goal? How many books will you read before you come in for your first prize?]

"100! No, 500! No, one thousand! No, three. Three books."

[What kind of books do you like to read?]

The most common answers are Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dork Diaries (Wimpy Kid for girls), Harry Potter (still and apparently forever), Percy Jackson (hero of the Rick Riordan series), Narnia, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. For the younger readers, the most popular answers include Disney Princesses, Ninjago, Pokemon, LEGO, Barbie, various superheroes, and Transformers. (Notice anything?)

For graphic fiction (which kids call comic books), girls are still looking for anything by Raina Telgemeier, especially her new adaptation of The Baby-Sitters Club. Everyone is still reading Amulet. This year's kids have not heard of Bone, but I can talk them into trying it. This is especially great because, being slightly out of fashion, Bone is easy to find.

The graphic hybrids are hugely popular: Geronimo Stilton and related spinoffs, Big Nate, Captain Underpants, Dog Man (this year's runaway hit), and the seemingly eternal Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I often steer girls to Marissa Moss' Amelia's Notebook series, which predates Dork Diaries and is way better.

If you phrase the question, "Do you like funny books, scary books, adventures, mysteries...?" the number one answer, by a huge margin, is funny. Scholastic has the results of a survey about what kids and parents look for in books.

The best answer I heard in a long time was: "I like books with words and pictures! I'm very particular about what I read."

7.08.2018

in which we do something i thought i'd never do: say goodbye to our vinyl

Through all our years together, and all the different places we have lived, Allan and I have hung on to our large collection of vinyl LPs.

Most people I know who are old enough to have lived in the vinyl era stopped listening to LPs with the advent of CDs, and got rid of their LPs some time after that. We never understood this. We couldn't possibly re-buy all these albums on CD, so why wouldn't we keep them?

We must have weeded some duplicates when we first moved in together -- although we still have at least four copies of "Exile on Main Street" (one is autographed by Keith). The core of my own collection was inherited from older siblings, so dates back to the early '70s.

We did replace well-worn favourites with discs over the years, but even then we kept the LPs. Of course we have much of our music digitally now, but still. No vinyl left behind.

And now, suddenly, I'm OK with it. With an impending move to the other side of the continent, I'd like to lighten our load  -- both for moving, and for how much space we need to live. Allan would rather cull the collection down to essentials. But I don't want a small LP collection. I want our collection or none.

Before we make any drastic moves, we're cataloging all the titles, so I can see what we already have on CD, what we need to download, and what's not worth keeping in any form. Do I really need "Frampton Comes Alive" and "Rumours"? When was the last time I listened to Yes? Good lord.

Amazingly, I also suddenly feel ready to really downsize, which means the unthinkable -- getting rid of large quantities of books. I love books as much as I ever have, but I no longer feel the need to own them. This is not a battle I would ever win, so I'm not taking up the cause. For his part, Allan is scanning mountains of paper, as hard drives take up a lot less space.

kevin baker in harper's: "the death of a once great city -- the fall of new york and the urban crisis of affluence"

Everyone who cares about cities, about privatization, and frankly, about humans and our ability to live on our planet, should make time to read the July cover story in Harper's magazine. New York writer Kevin Baker unpacks "The Death of a Once Great City -- The fall of New York and the urban crisis of affluence".
As New York enters the third decade of the twenty-first century, it is in imminent danger of becoming something it has never been before: unremarkable. It is approaching a state where it is no longer a significant cultural entity but the world’s largest gated community, with a few cupcake shops here and there. For the first time in its history, New York is, well, boring.

This is not some new phenomenon but a cancer that’s been metastasizing on the city for decades now. And what’s happening to New York now—what’s already happened to most of Manhattan, its core—is happening in every affluent American city. San Francisco is overrun by tech conjurers who are rapidly annihilating its remarkable diversity; they swarm in and out of the metropolis in specially chartered buses to work in Silicon Valley, using the city itself as a gigantic bed-and-breakfast. Boston, which used to be a city of a thousand nooks and crannies, back-alley restaurants and shops, dive bars and ice cream parlors hidden under its elevated, is now one long, monotonous wall of modern skyscraper. In Washington, an army of cranes has transformed the city in recent years, smoothing out all that was real and organic into a town of mausoleums for the Trump crowd to revel in.

By trying to improve our cities, we have only succeeded in making them empty simulacra of what was. To bring this about we have signed on to political scams and mindless development schemes that are so exclusive they are more destructive than all they were supposed to improve. The urban crisis of affluence exemplifies our wider crisis: we now live in an America where we believe that we no longer have any ability to control the systems we live under.
The article unpacks the trend I was lamenting in the 1990s, worsening each passing year, until it finally drove us out in 2005 -- the City paying diminishing returns on the "why live in NYC" equation, finally allowing me to defect from the whole mess of the United States. Since then, of course, it's only gotten worse. But no longer seeing the City on a day-to-day, boots-on-the-ground level, I had no idea how much worse.

This is not nostalgia. And it's not an inevitable act of nature. It's the result of deliberate choices by the ruling class. And it's happening all over North America.

I'm still reading the story. With every paragraph, my heart breaks a little more. It's a long, depressing, essential read.

If you can't access it through the Harper's website, try using your library card to get it through rbgdigital or hoopla.

7.01.2018

happy canada day: a wish for a pledge

One unfortunate result of the current ascendancy of white supremacy in the US is the increase in Canadians' nationalism and self-love -- the strengthening of Canadians' conviction that our society is peaceful and democratic, our institutions benevolent, our kindness manifest in law.

We pat ourselves on the back while Trudeau spends our money trampling Indigenous rights, poisoning our water, and hastening climate catastrophe. We say "We're the greatest country in the world," while our most populous province has elected a false-majority, white supremacist government of our own.

So often, if Canadians can believe that it's better here than in the US, they are happy enough to stop there.

We can do better.

We must do better.

This Canada Day, let's pledge to push our governments -- and to educate our friends, family, co-workers, and ourselves -- so that Canada can live up to its reputation, a little more every day.

magazine covers presented without comment, because what is there to say