4.30.2014

josh lueke is a rapist and why we should continue to say so

Stacey May Fowles has written an incisive, biting, and definitive piece about shaming men who rape. I can scarcely quote from it (although I will), because every word is not only necessary but perfect. Please join me in reading this stellar essay, and in cheering for Fowles and every survivor of sexual assault, and in calling out every Josh Lueke we can find.

May I add, too, that this essay explains exactly why I will never stop saying animal torturer and dog murderer every time I hear or read the name Michael Vick. A blog reader recently told me I should give it up because Vick has "done his time" and "expressed regret". To which I politely say: fuck that.

Stacy May Fowles, "Josh Lueke Is A Rapist, You Say? Keep Saying It.":
I know that a lot of us are well aware of what kind of person Josh Lueke is, and that rape is a very bad thing. We don't need reminders to be secure in that knowledge, nor is it likely we'll forget. But with all due respect to Mr. Hahmann and his ilk, the onslaught of tweets calling Josh Lueke a rapist is not for you. It's for the thousands of rape survivors who watch games and know that what they love is sullied by baseball's willingness to turn a blind eye to the kind of suffering they themselves endured. It's a gesture on the part of fans who know it's unlikely Lueke will ever see his career end as a result of those actions, but refuse to tolerate his inclusion, who believe that, while a team may opportunistically decide to field a talented player who has committed an act of sexual violence, it shouldn't be immune from the disgust of the public.

That disgust is healthy, too; it reinforces the taboo and militates against the impulse of big-time sports to normalize and flatten out even abhorrent behavior like Lueke's. (Josh Lueke is "moving forward" from his difficult "situation," says MLB.com, as if he'd done nothing more serious than strain an oblique. Five years from now, he could very well be just another ballplayer with a vaguely checkered past. Was it some legal thing? Drugs, maybe? Who can remember, anyway?) Saying something out loud is a small token that takes very little effort, and perhaps it doesn't "do anything" in the traditional sense, but for someone like me who understands what it's like to be violated and to watch the man who altered my life forever live on in relative, undisturbed success, it certainly means something. In many ways, the gesture means even more within the confines of sports culture, a place that is generally ruled by the most toxic kind of masculinity.

Apologies to those for whom these Josh Lueke tweets interfere with their enjoyment of a game, but the threat of sexual assault interferes with how a vast majority of women enjoy life.

dark times in canada, part 2: marci mcdonald on jason kenney: "and you thought harper was right-wing?"

You won't catch me implying that Stephen Harper and his corrupt, anti-democratic, anti-human government is moderate. But there's always room to move even further to the right, and that space is called Jason Kenney.

Marci McDonald, author of The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada, has written a lengthy exposé of Kenney in The Walrus. (I've had the print edition for a couple of weeks, and have been waiting for it to post online so I could share it. The "and you thought Harper was right-wing?" tagline is from the print edition.) It's very long, but if you invest the time, it will not disappoint.

McDonald's article is very thought-provoking, and here's one thought it provoked in me: a Kenney-led Conservative Party of Canada may be our best hope at getting them out of power.
As the country’s official gatekeeper, Kenney turned a portfolio once seen as an instrument of nation building into what Solberg lauds as a gigantic manpower agency, screening out the elderly, people with infirmities, and those who had shown up unasked, in favour of the young and the skilled—those with enough schooling and language fluency to land jobs in the oil sands or at seniors’ bedsides, then blend seamlessly into Canadian society and metamorphose into that most valued of Conservative species, the hard-working taxpayer. “Jason has quite dramatically reoriented our system to one that responds to employers in Canada,” says Solberg. “It’s the most dramatic change since the Second World War.”

Along the way, Kenney used the ministry as a bully pulpit for small-c conservative values. Rewriting the country’s citizenship guide to celebrate entrepreneurship while institutionalizing reverence for the royals and the military, he may have helped to redefine what it means to be Canadian for generations to come. Under the newly toughened rules unveiled by his successor, Chris Alexander (but essentially drafted under Kenney’s watch), citizenship has become, as he liked to remind his bureaucrats constantly, “harder to get and easier to lose,” in some cases subject only to the minister’s say-so, an immense discretionary power that critics charge could “foster a citizenship of fear.”

In his five-year stint at Immigration, the longest of any minister’s in history, he managed to pull off a precarious balancing act: boosting the number of newcomers, among them thousands of cut-rate temporary foreign workers, needed to fill the yawning corporate maw, while brandishing the lexicon of a law-and-order zealot who cast asylum seekers as guilty until proven innocent. Staging showy crackdowns on alleged human smugglers, marriage fraudsters, and whole classes of refugees he branded as “bogus,” he used such inflammatory language that it has changed the terms of the national debate. “What Kenney has done is create this whole new vernacular,” says Philip Berger, co-founder of a national physicians’ campaign against Kenney’s cuts to refugee health care. “It’s creating a terrain of hostile attitudes to refugees.”

By pandering to those remnants of the old Reform Party who still cringe at the notion of multiculturalism—and keeping one eye trained on opinion polls—Kenney managed to radically revamp immigration policy without provoking the sort of racist backlash that imperils governments across Europe. As he likes to point out, Canada does not have a single political party that is anti-immigration.

Still, that balancing act has come at a cost: increasingly, this country has seen its international image tarred with a mean streak. A few years ago, a nation that once welcomed nearly 60,000 Southeast Asian boat people to its shores all but threw up a blockade against two rusting freighters carrying Tamils on the run from Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war. Armed border guards descended on the ships, herding their hapless human cargo to two Fraser Valley detention centres for months of interrogation and insinuations of terrorist ties. That provocative act of political theatre, combined with Kenney’s contentious cuts to refugee health care, telegraphed the intended signal abroad. Last year, the number of refugees seeking asylum in Canada fell to fewer than 10,000, less than half the norm in previous years and a historic low. Says Berger, “The message is getting out that Canada is an inhospitable country to refugee claimants.”

After years as Harper’s pit bull, lashing out at the slightest intimations of criticism with a scalding righteousness that has left targets such as Amnesty International reeling, Kenney has emerged as one of the most polarizing figures on the political scene, both famously affable and deeply feared. As one former Liberal leader warned, demanding anonymity, “With Jason, what you see is absolutely not what you get.” He has become so controversial that when the University of Haifa awarded him an honorary degree two years ago at Toronto’s Royal York Hotel, enraged protesters shut down the surrounding streets.

For some Conservatives, however, the biggest threat to Kenney’s aspirations is not the intensity of emotions he provokes, but his own social conservative convictions. Ironically, while some observers pounced on his comments about Rob Ford and Nigel Wright as signs of ambition, others saw them as symptomatic of the very impulses that could keep him from ever filling Harper’s shoes: a deeply ingrained moralism and religiosity that have won him the mantle of his old boss, Stockwell Day, as leader of the party’s disgruntled religious right. While that wing may constitute the Conservatives’ most reliable voting bloc, it also represents their most problematic constituency, one with a history of scaring off mainstream swing voters, and the potential to topple the very edifice of big-tent conservatism Harper has spent more than a decade cobbling together.

dark times in canada, part 1: the lancet: the case against canada as a world citizen

I want to share two articles from well-respected venues reflecting on what's happening to Canada now - where it is and where it may be going.

In The Lancet Global Health, one of the foremost medical journals in the world, there's "A rising tide: the case against Canada as a world citizen", Chris David Simms. It begins:
A generation ago, Canada was perceived to be an exemplary global citizen by the rest of the world: it took the lead on a host of international issues, including the Convention of Child Rights, freedom of information, acid rain, world peacekeeping, sanctions against South Africa's apartheid regime, and humanitarian and development assistance—much of this under conservative leadership.

During recent years, Canada's reputation as a global citizen has slipped, in recent months more precipitously than ever before, and in new directions. The Climate Action Network recently ranked Canada 55th of 58 countries in tackling of greenhouse emissions. Results of other analyses show a government systematically removing obstacles to resource extraction initiatives by gutting existing legislation, cutting budgets of relevant departments, and eliminating independent policy and arms-length monitoring bodies.

Canada's reputation is further undercut by its silencing of government scientists on environmental and public health issues: scientists are required to receive approval before they speak with the media; they are prevented from publishing; and, remarkably, their activities are individually monitored at international conferences. These actions have outraged local and international scientific communities.
It's a short piece, and worth your time to read and circulate. And agitate, and write letters, and demonstrate, and vote.

4.28.2014

a baby polar bear, three white lions, and my first visit to the toronto zoo

After living in the Toronto area for more than eight years, I still had never visited the Toronto Zoo, opting for several trips to Jungle Cat World and the Haliburton Wolf Centre instead (links here and here). But when one of the polar bears in the Toronto Zoo gave birth in November, there was finally enough incentive to plan a trip.

My friend J and I went in March, when the cub was four months old. We took an insane number of photos, which you can see here on Flickr. (The set is about half of what I shot.)

4.26.2014

the gluten-free hoax: nutritionism run amok

Today I saw a bag of high-end cheese puffs, made with organic corn and real cheese. WHEAT FREE and GLUTEN FREE, the package boasted, which made me chuckle. Yup, just like all cheese puffs for all time. Like most snack food, cheese puffs are made of corn, and corn does not contain gluten.

Marketing old products with a new twist to take advantage of a nutrition craze is nothing new, of course. I remember when fat-free and low-fat labels were slapped on everything. (This craze happened to coincide with some of my worst dieting addiction.) In those days, supermarket shelves were laden with fat-free cookies and other snack food, all of which were loaded with white sugar and other empty calories. Candy that is little more than sugar cubes with artificial colouring and flavouring would be advertised as fat-free. About a decade later, globules of saturated fat, salt, and nitrates were hawked as zero grams of carbs per serving.

I've wondered what the next craze of nutritionism would be. Now that carbohydrates are no longer the work of the devil, what would we all rush to eliminate from our diets?

I've been gluten-free

A long time ago, a doctor thought some issues of Allan's were caused by celiac disease or at least a gluten sensitivity. So I can honestly say, I was gluten-free before gluten-free was cool! We learned all about what a diet containing gluten can do to a gluten-sensitive person. It isn't pretty.

We purged our home and most of our restaurant eating of gluten. When we didn't see the expected results, we read it could take a long time to repair past damage, or we must have slipped up, or... maybe come back for more tests.

Over the years, as will happen, we became less disciplined about eating gluten. Recently our doctor confirmed that Allan is not celiac, and likely never was. So I've been everywhere on the spectrum from completely gluten free to not caring about it at all. I do know some people who have celiac disease, but I never imagined that eliminating gluten from ordinary diets would become some kind of moral imperative.

If it sounds too good to be true...

These days we are urged to believe that everything from cancer to diabetes to Alzheimer's is caused by gluten. And that should be a clue to what's really going on. When normal foods that humans have eaten for millennia are suddenly called poison, your hoax alert should be lighting up. (Similarly, when a food or a diet or a nutrient is said to cure a wide range of disease, be highly skeptical.)

Turns out there's not much science behind any of the claims for eliminating gluten. What science exists is all "...a correlation was found," and "a possible association may exist," and based on one or two studies with insignificant sample sizes. Conclusions are leapt to, wild extrapolations announced as fact, with a healthy dose of fear-mongering thrown in. After all, don't you want to prevent dementia?

Here's another trope that should set your bullshit-detector blaring: diet claims that evoke the lives of early humans. This is familiar ground in the diet industry, so adept at exploiting the disconnection and alienation of consumer culture and the vertiginous rate of change, along with the media-fostered sense that we are all so unhealthy (despite all evidence - life expectancy up, infant morality down - to the contrary). Where once we wished to "get back to the land," now we imagine we can get back to the cave.

Several very popular gluten-free diet seeks to "realign" our eating with that of our hunter-gatherer (and gluten-free!) ancestors, who supposedly never suffered from dementia. But as James Hamblin points out in "This Is Your Brain on Gluten":
In the Paleolithic Era, human life expectancy was around 30 years. Even accounting for childhood deaths and tramplings by wooly mammoths or wooly rhinoceri, humans did not live past their 50s. I wonder often why these are the times we cite as a standard of health. The paucity of old age should in itself explain why Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease were basically nonexistent, shouldn’t it?
Truth is, the authors of these diets know very little about what early humans ate, how their brains differed from ours, or even whether or not they were healthy. They certainly don't know if early humans had dementia.

I have no wish to deny anyone's personal experience. People with a gluten sensitivity absolutely feel better when they eat gluten-free. And many people without gluten sensitivity find their lives enhanced by reducing the gluten in their diets. A gluten-reduced diet is usually lower in processed foods and higher in fruits, vegetables, protein, and whole grains. That is, a healthier diet. So of course they feel better.

But if being gluten-free means a diet full of commercially processed foods labelled "gluten-free," the general rule applies: garbage in, garbage out.

This is your brain on advertising

To me the gluten-free fad is a prime example of what Michael Pollan calls "nutritionism," the ideology that reduces eating to the intake of specific nutrients, such as antioxidants, omega 3, cholesterol... or gluten. In some of Pollan's tweets to "glutenphobes," he has pointed out this Scientific American article about how unhealthy a gluten-free diet can be (not unlike the fat-free diet of the 1980s) and these two from The Atlantic: A Gluten-Free Diet Reality Check and This Is Your Brain on Gluten, the latter a thorough debunking. I didn't want to recreate their arguments here, but if you're skeptical about my skepticism, please do click.

I think what bothers me most about these nutritionism trends isn't the junk science or the fictions about our hunter-gatherer ancestors but the amnesia that enables their success. First we try to eliminate all the fat from our diet, and end up fatter and unhealthier. Then we try the same thing with carbohydrates, until it's obvious that, too, is unsustainable and doesn't work. But now we run off to eliminate another ordinary, (to most people) harmless, naturally occurring substance, as if we haven't heard it all before.

If you're eating gluten-free, I hope it's working out for you. It is definitely working out for marketers, advertisers, diet-book authors, and commercial producers of crappy, unhealthy, gluten-free food.

4.23.2014

help me buy a tablet, part 2

Three months have passed since I asked you to help me buy a tablet. Money is tight - thanks to past and upcoming travel! - and I squeezed a few more months out of my dying netbook. But now I am serious about replacing it.

After that last post, I was sure I wanted the ASUS Transformer, the tablet that docks into a keyboard, so it's both a tablet and a netbook. I love the idea of that, but the price with the keyboard is quite a bit more than I should spend for something that's a want, not a need. I also realized that I want something smaller. Looking at other people's tablets, I want something more along the 7" size as opposed to 10".

After reading reviews, I decided on the Google's Nexus 7. Most people agree it's the best Android substitute for an iPad Mini, at a much lower price. I even identified what sounds like a great keyboard-stand-case combo made by MiniSuit.

I was all set to buy the Nexus 7... when I realized it is WiFi only, and does not have data capability. Part of what I want in a tablet is being able to get online without WiFi. I'd like to keep my BlackBerry Curve for voice, text, and organizer functions, and use a tablet that can handle both WiFi and data. The lack of data seemed to be the only thing missing from the Nexus 7...

...until the Nexus 7 With Mobile Data came along. (That's really the name.) So far this is only sold online through Google Play. Google sells it unlocked, so it can be used with any compatible carrier.

I had a hell of a time finding out if a Nexus tablet would be compatible with Wind. Everyone, including Wind, wanted me either to (a) use a mobile hotspot (not exactly the same as having a tablet with data!), or (b) tether the tablet to my cell phone. Come on, folks, is it so unthinkable to get a data plan for a tablet?

But Wind doesn't have a data-only plan for a tablet. What to do...

Do you have a data plan for your tablet? Through which carrier and what does it cost?

I've been Rogers-free for years now, and I've never used Bell for anything. I'd be loathe to start now, but are there options from smaller carriers?

Do you think it's worth it to get a voice/text/data plan through Wind when I only need data?

Is there some big chunk of information I'm missing here? Please don't suggest a mobile hotspot!



4.20.2014

youth books, children's book edition #10, and the best part of my job

I thought readers' advisory was the best part of my job, but that was before I began running our library's teen book club.

Once a month, I spend an evening with a group of teens who choose to spend their evening at the library, talking about books. We hang out, eat snacks, talk about books, talk about life. Although I've never had an interest in book clubs for myself, facilitating these young people's enjoyment of reading is a joy and a privilege.

The teens themselves come from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Most are the first generation of their family born in Canada. Some lead pressured, overly scheduled lives. Others are relatively independent and mature. Some are bursting with ideas and enthusiasm. Some are quiet and speak very little. All of them listen respectfully to each other and encourage each other. This is what I love best. Always, they are kind to each other.

I've read that reading helps people develop empathy and compassion, that readers exhibit a higher degree of empathy than non-readers. I don't know if these teens are such nice people because they read, or if they read because they're nice people, or if it's just a random coincidence. But on the last Monday of every month, these kids make me love my job even more.

* * * *

TBC is also an opportunity for me to venture out of my reading comfort zone and try books I wouldn't normally pick up.

Many TBC members, including me, thought they wouldn't enjoy Cinder, a dystopian-future take on the Cinderella fairytale, by Marissa Meyer. We all ended up tearing through it, cheering for the strong, independent, but damaged main character, hanging on suspense and plot twists, and not guessing the ending.

TBC gave me an excuse to read Coraline, Neil Gaiman's modern classic children's horror novel. I normally don't read horror, and I really had no idea what constituted horror for children. Coraline seems like just the right amount of scary for kids - and me! It's creepy and shivery, in a way that makes you want to keep reading, not in a way that gives you nightmares.

Gaiman follows some standard children's-lit conventions - the child of absent or neglectful parents as a solo adventurer, forced to rescue herself and others from the clutches of something evil - but energizes them with lyrical language and unexpected twists. One member of TBC shares my avoidance of all things scary, so I'm looking forward to seeing what she thought.

Other upcoming TBC selections: The Maze Runner by James Dashner (which I wrote about here), It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini (here), Epic by Conor Kostick, the first book of the favourite adventure series of one of our members, Hate List by Jennifer Brown, and Gauntlgrym by R. A. Salvatore. At our next meeting, we're voting by secret ballot for the last two titles of the year.

what i'm reading: eleanor & park, another truly great youth book for readers of all ages

If you enjoy youth novels of the realistic (non-fantasy) variety, Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell, is just about as good as it gets.

Who else might enjoy Eleanor & Park? Readers who like beautifully drawn, believable, yet quirky and unique characters. Readers who are teens. Readers who have ever been teens. People who have fallen in love. People who dream of falling in love. People who like to read.

Eleanor & Park is about two people who don't fit in slowly and tenderly finding their way to each other. It's about the horrors that ordinary young people endure, adults who make their lives hell, and adults who are there to support them, whether or not they understand them. It's a book full of music, and the discovery of music and art that, as a teen, might just save your life. It's a book about love.

Last year in The New York Times, Eleanor & Park was reviewed by none other than John Green, far and away the most popular and famous author of realistic youth fiction of his generation. Green wrote:
When I began reading contemporary fiction in high school, I remember feeling that each book was an absolute revelation. Whether I was reading Michael Crichton or Amy Tan or Tom Robbins, there had never been anything like it before in my life. The novel's novelty passes, of course. I'm 35 now. I've read a dozen "we brought back the dinosaurs and they are mad" books. I've seen the conventions, and I've seen them interrogated.

But I have never seen anything quite like "Eleanor & Park." Rainbow Rowell's first novel for young adults is a beautiful, haunting love story — but I have seen those. It's set in 1986, and God knows I've seen that. There's bullying, sibling rivalry, salvation through music and comics, a monstrous stepparent — and I know, we've seen all this stuff. But you've never seen "Eleanor & Park." Its observational precision and richness make for very special reading.
Green closed his review with a ready-made jacket-blurb, and it's not even an exaggeration.
"Eleanor & Park" reminded me not just what it's like to be young and in love with a girl, but also what it's like to be young and in love with a book.

4.13.2014

military propaganda at sports events reaches new extremes: continuous recruitment ads at baseball games

I've recently returned from a lovely trip to Boston, filled with so many of my favourite things: friends, family, books, and baseball.

I love Fenway Park, and I'm always happy to be there. On this trip, we saw three great games, two of them wins, so I was thrilled. The games were marred by only one thing: nearly constant propaganda for the US military. This is not an exaggeration.

Throughout Fenway Park, as in many sports venues, monitors show a TV feed of the action on the field. Right now, between innings, the Fenway Park monitors show a continuous feed of advertising for the United States Army. During the game, the ads continue on a sidebar beside the action.

Let that sink in a moment. The constant advertising crammed into every moment of the ballgame, and the constant linking of sports and the military, are now joined in this doubly offensive development.

There is something particularly Orwellian about watching a baseball game while a constant stream of silent images of war and military run in your peripheral vision.

I gathered from the brief branding displays that the ad feed is supplied by Access Sports Media. According to its website, Access Sports Media
provides advertisers cross-platform solutions engaging passionate fans in sports venues nationwide through digital out of home, social media, mobile, and in-venue sponsorships. Access Sports reaches more than 110 million viewers annually through a national footprint of 200 sports properties and a digital network of over 20,000 screens across professional, minor league and college sports.
Its list of clients includes many major corporations, a few specific products, and - listed first - the US Army.

The Army ads themselves stem from a campaign written about here in The New York Times, called a "reality" theme without a trace of irony. Of course, it bears little resemblance to reality. There are no bombings, no destroyed villages, no torture prisons. No amputations, no traumatic brain injury, no alcoholism, no domestic violence, no suicides.

The ads are built around the slogan "Army Strong": "There's strong, then there's Army Strong". This is a particularly good sell for a Boston-area audience: after the Boston Marathon bombing, the city rallied to a cry of "Boston Strong". The Times article notes that the ads are
an example of what is known on Madison Avenue as a program-length commercial or infomercial. Once the province of gadgets peddled with hard-sales entreaties like, “But wait, there’s more,” such longer spiels have been embraced by well-known brands like AT&T, Bing, Chase and Teleflora, along with a number of automakers.

Program-length commercials are becoming more popular as part of a trend known as content marketing, sponsored content or branded entertainment. The trend is meant to counter the growing habit — particularly among younger consumers, like the target audience for the Army, ages 18 to 24 — of ignoring traditional forms of advertising.
The "Army Strong" ads at Fenway are a barrage of quick-cut images emphasizing camaraderie and bonding, toughness and strength, dirt and grit, and stirring patriotism. Men (I saw no female soldiers in the ads, although there might be one somewhere) worked hard and played hard, always together, often dirty, but always serious and strong. In a world where career choices often involve life behind a desk or tethered to a computer, the men in these ads were running across rugby fields, rappelling down snow-covered mountainsides, parachuting out of airplanes, and using lots of exciting-looking equipment.

Only two quick images gave any hint as to why so many men are running, rappelling, shooting, and seeing the world through night-vision goggles. In one image, a woman in a hijab slides a slip of paper in a ballot box. In another, a group of soldiers sit in a circle in a tent, listening to a traditionally-dressed Afghan man (or, I should say, an actor dressed as one). What's the caption here? "How many weddings did we bomb today?" "You take the oil, we'll keep the heroin"? Or maybe just "Me smokem peace pipe."

As both Allan and I have written about before (here, here, and here, for example), there is already a huge amount of military propaganda inappropriately linked to sports events. The Boston Red Sox and the many other teams that contract with Access Sports Media - a list is here - now take the trend to new extremes.

I wrote this to the Boston Red Sox. If you are a sports fan who finds this advertising offensive, I hope you will speak up to your team's management, too.
I am a Red Sox fan who lives out of town. I am able to enjoy games at Fenway about every-other year, at best. I love Fenway Park, and thus, when I attended three games against the Texas Rangers last week, I was extremely disheartened to be subjected to continuous military recruitment advertisements.

Many young people, especially those from low-income families, believe what they see in the United States Army's ads and enlist, only to find the reality gravely different. Of course, who would ever sign up if the ads showed the truth? Amputations, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder; rampant alcoholism and domestic violence, skyrocketing suicide rates.

By partnering with Access Sports Media to show these deceptive ads at Fenway Park, the Red Sox are complicit in that deception.

The Red Sox Foundation promotes the "Run to Home Base," which raises money to "provide much needed services to local veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan... with combat stress disorders and/or traumatic brain injuries". At the same time, the Red Sox are helping to ensure that more healthy young men and women will eventually need those services.

The constant showing of military propaganda during a baseball game is inappropriate and offensive. I hope the Boston Red Sox will reconsider the decision to run Access Sports Media's US Army recruitment ads during games.

4.08.2014

we movie to canada: wmtc annual movie awards, 2013-14 edition

It's time, once again, for the wmtc annual movie awards. To recap, my silly rating systems so far:
- 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!)
- and last year, Big Life Events in a personally momentous year.

Now completely bereft of ideas but hopelessly locked into this system, I appealed for help on Facebook. Lucky for me, my friends are more creative than I am. Thank you to David H for this year's delicious theme: cheese!

Here are the movies and series we saw from the end of the World Series (why yes! the Red Sox did win yet another championship, thank you for noticing!) until the beginning of the current baseball season. I try to see only movies I think I will like, so the list is - or should be - be top-heavy.



Reblochon. So rich it's practically liquid, so pungent it can make your eyes tear, and so incredibly delicious, it is only savoured on the most special occasions. Movies of this calibre are rare.

Beasts of the Southern Wild
-- A community's resistance to the dominant culture, and the indomitable spirit of a small girl. Lyrical, powerful, gritty, and just a little bit magical, this film took me apart. Almost too beautiful to see again. My top movie of the season. Also the only non-documentary to reach the top category this year.

Gasland
-- I thought I knew about the dangers of fracking. I was wrong. Impeccably written and produced, and deeply frightening.

Prohibition
-- Ken Burns does it again. Longer review here. Shorter review: see it.

The Square
-- See the revolution in Egypt through the eyes of the people who made it happen, and who are making it happen still, today. A must-see for everyone who dreams of remaking the world.

Hot Coffee
-- Yet another way the corporatocracy is stripping us of our rights, with a giant assist from the corporate media. An important movie, extremely well done.



Roquefort is bleu cheese on steroids. The good kind of steroids that make you creamier and more flavourful. You rarely see roquefort, and although it's not reblochon, it is of the (almost) highest quality. These movies were exceptional.

The Angels' Share
- A feel-good crime caper from Ken Loach and Paul Laverty. Funny, sweet, and just plain wonderful.

5 Broken Cameras
- Occupation and resistance by the people who are living it. Puts you right in the heart of the Palestinian struggle.

The Central Park Five
- An important documentary about justice, for victims of violence, and victims of the system. My thoughts here.

War of the Worlds
- Why did people go nuts over a radio broadcast? Is the whole thing an exaggerated urban legend, or were people just stupid in those days? This doc puts the incident in historical context. Fascinating.

Wuthering Heights
- This "Masterpiece" treatment from 2011 is, for me, the definitive adaptation. My full review is here.

The Fall, Season 1
- This five-episode mini-series about a series killer and the detective hunting him was riveting and incredibly scary. Somehow I'm not having nightmares about it. I can't understand how a second season is going to work, but the first was amazing.

The Wire, Season 2
- Looks like we're going to watch one season a year. Great writing, great acting, complex situations. Excellent.



In Canada, it's "goat's cheese". In New York, it's simply chevre. In France, chevre is the animal that le fromage comes from. Whatever you call it, it's rich and delicious, not rare, but still a real treat. These movies are yummy films that are well worth seeing.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe: The Godmother of Rock & Roll
- An imperfect but solid documentary about an important and overlooked musical pioneer.

Make Believe
- Amazing young magicians. You'll want to strangle some parents but you'll love these amazing teenagers.

The Hunger Games
- Nowhere near as great as the book (of course), but a good movie.

Shut Up Little Man! – An Audio Misadventure.
- Starts out as a documentary about an odd subculture phenomenon, but ends up as an extended commentary on privilege. Thought-provoking, and in my view, not a comedy.

The Gymnast
- Standards are pretty low in the lesbian-love-story category, putting this decent but unremarkable movie in the goat cheese spot.

Save the Date
- Nice independent film about friendship and love. My issues would involve spoilers, so I'll just say good, with some problems.

Cracks
- Creepy girls' school power struggles. A suspenseful drama.

Life of Pi
- I didn't like this book, but it was a pretty good movie.

Hugo
- Martin Scorcese laboured to bring the wonderful The Invention of Hugo Cabret to life, and thus the movie is too long and too slow. But it's also beautiful, rich, magical, and worth seeing. I wrote about the book here.

Episodes
- A funny, smart comedy TV series about a TV series. Matt LeBlanc's character is the perfect combination of maddening and loveable (not unlike some Community characters).

Sound of My Voice
- Time travel, or a hoax, or both? A smart psychological thriller, marred by some plot holes, but worth seeing.

Page Eight
- This British political thriller, written by David Hare, is almost too subtle. But it boasts a great cast, terrific acting, and some nice twists.

No
- It's 1988 in Chile, and a historic plebiscite will decide whether the dictator Pinochet stays or goes. This is said to be the first instance of advertising playing a crucial role in political campaigns. I wanted more out of this film, but it was worth seeing.

Dirty Wars
- An important film, marred by nationalism. That's what I said here.

Robot & Frank
- In the future, we will all have robots to help us. Or to help us commit crimes. Or to take the place of family. A funny and unsentimental look at aging.

Searching for Sugar Man
- How could a musician be so popular and so unknown at the same time? And if you could be so popular elsewhere, why would you ever return to your mundane and struggling existence? This documentary didn't answer that latter question, but is very good nonetheless.

Brooklyn Castle
- Young chess masters from Brooklyn. This doc was too long and repetitious, but worth seeing.

There But For Fortune
- Biopic about the late, great musician Phil Ochs. The film had some problems (if a man is a raging alcoholic, perhaps let us know before it kills him?), but it's a solid doc and tribute to Ochs.

Johnny Carson: King of Late Night
- We're on a bit of a biopic craze, thanks to PBS's American Masters series. It's hard to fathom Carson's unique place in television history, but this doc does a good job.

Mel Brooks: Make a Noise
- Another American Masters about a very smart, very funny man.

Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay
- One of my few regrets is not seeing Ricky Jay perform in New York. This is Jay's story and the story of his unusual profession and career choice. Really good, almost a roquefort.

Serenity
- I saw Firefly for the first time this year, so I didn't approach Serenity with the high expectations of a fan. It strikes all the right notes. A good time, but for me, not as good as the series.

The Hour, Seasons 1 and 2
- We're halfway through the second season of this BBC production. It's smart, exciting, well acted, and well written. Could almost be a roquefort, but the self-consciously stylish 1950s period setting gets a bit much for me.

Justified, Season 5
- With the current season, Justified has slipped into the middle category. It's still totally worth seeing, but without a great villain working opposite Raylan, it has lost a step.



This stuff is not very good. You might be able to do something with it, like grill a halfway decent sandwich, or melt it over nachos. Not a complete waste of time, but then again, why not just eat something better. A surprising number of these - and some from the dead-last category - were on several critics' best-of lists.

Upstream Color
- A pretentious bore, and a Swiss-cheese of plot holes. This did generate an interesting conversation about how it could have been an exciting, credible film, and that saved it from the scrap heap.

We Need To Talk About Kevin
- How could a human being appear so completely different around different people, and if those people are his parents, wouldn't they ever all be together at the same time? And just why is Kevin so evil? The answer: he just is. Kevin is a bad seed. Nope, that doesn't work for me.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
- Mildly amusing romantic comedy, predictable and transparently aiming for demographic appeal. The kind of movie you should see on a plane, when you're half paying attention.

Hungry for Change
- The basic premise of this movie is sound and undoubtedly true, but outlandish claims and product marketing blow it.

Mary and Max
- I'm a sucker for stop-motion animation and misfit stories, so I should have loved this. Yet I could barely watch. Might be worth a peek.

The Master
- A long, tedious journey to nowhere. Some good acting and a few random interesting insights. Totally skippable, but won't kill you to see it.

Tabloid
- It seems wrong to put Errol Morris in a Velveeta category, but this movie was a mess. There's an interesting story in here somewhere.

Looking For Lenny
- This biopic about Lenny Bruce was halfway to the goat cheese category, but not quite. If you've ever wondered what all the fuss is about Lenny Bruce, this will help answer it. Could have been much better, but was all right.

56 Up
- Maybe it's me. I've lost interest in these people's lives. I could have sworn that this series once had a political point-of-view. Now we just get a walk-through of what's new. You might be interested. I was not.

Downtown Abbey, Season 4
- It feels wrong to put such a well-produced show in with crappy Velveetas. But now that Downton has lost all social and historic context, it's just Coronation Street with better clothes. As the Rolling Stones sang, I used to love it, but it's all over now.



This crap is not cheese, and these movies are not worth seeing.

The Deep Blue Sea
- This 2011 remake of a 1952 film was boring, melodramatic, and unwatchable.

Frances Ha
- It's difficult to watch a movie about self-absorbed hipsters that you would hate in real life. The only good thing I can say about this movie: it's set in New York City.

Butter
- This film is like a refugee from the 1990s. What was once signature indie is now sad re-tread.

A Beginner's Guide to Endings
- A confused mess. Figure out what movie you're making, then try again.

Love Actually
- Wow this is bad, and sexist beyond belief. My thoughts here.

Pain & Gain
- Well, what did we expect from Michael Bay. I thought it would be funny and exciting. Instead, it was overblown dreck.

A Band Called Death
- This is supposed to be about an early proto-punk rock band made up of three black guys from Detroit. Instead, it's the life histories of some people who you don't care about.

* * * *

I've expanded this year's post to include all my TV watching. Since dumping cable and switching to streaming on Roku, I watch a lot more TV shows, so why not include them here?

TV falls into three distinct categories for me. One, high quality series that I've been including in my movie awards for the past few years. (Those are included above.) Two, binge-viewing that I watch almost exclusively alone, for downtime relaxation. And three, comedies before sleep. I'm difficult about comedy, so these can sometimes be tough to find.

I am always in the market for more of these titles, so if you have any to recommend... please do.

Binge Viewing That Worked:
The Bletchley Circle
Luther
Wallander (UK version)
Endeavour
Firefly
Star Trek: TOS (Not first time, but first time through whole series end-to-end)
Star Trek: TNG (First time through, loved it)
Murdoch Mysteries
Inspector Lewis (love!)
Farscape (watching now)

Binge Viewing That Didn't Work (tried and gave up on):
Cracker
Vera
Star Trek: Enterprise
Star Trek: Voyager
House of Cards (UK)

Past Binge Viewing (already saw and love):
Xena: The Warrior Princess (I'm a huge fan)
The Chris Isaak Show
Monk
Inspector Lewis (my favourite detective show)
Jackson Brodie mysteries

Future Potential Binges:
Buffy The Vampire Slayer (I'll watch it one day!)
The Good Wife
Boss
Longmire

Comedy before sleep:
Current: Community
Recent Past: Parks & Recreation

Past and complete:
The Office (US only)
Malcolm in the Middle (greatest sitcom ever)
Futurama, until the comeback season
King of the Hill (early seasons only)
Family Guy (early seasons only)
The Simpsons (off and on and completely out of order)

4.05.2014

whither wmtc (updated)

I feel so disconnected from this blog, and from writing in general. I hate it.

I love having this blog. I love that when I do want to write, and have the energy to do so, and have something to say, I have a place to do it. But writing occupies such a small space in my life now. 

I'm finding tremendous satisfaction from my job. Meaningful work from which I can actually earn a living! What a concept. I've also gotten very active in my union. The need to protect good jobs and the public sector has never been greater, so the timing is perfect, and I feel I have a lot to contribute.

When I'm not working and not engaged in union activities, I'm re-charging. That means movies or baseball, sometimes reading, and trying to get some exercise. I've been very pleasantly surprised at my energy level. I'm very conscious of managing my fibromyalgia, but that's second-nature to me now. I know when to say no, or to cancel plans if I have to. If I do feel a little fibro-ish, it never lasts too long or becomes too severe.

All good. 

But writing! Where is writing? I knew it was coming. I knew it was inevitable. But it makes me too sad to think of this part of myself shrinking and disappearing.

Update. Did it sound like I was pulling the plug on wmtc? Not a chance. Just musing... and wishing I could live in a few alternate realities at the same time. Perhaps you can relate.