what i'm reading: what i haven't read and am not reading

Many of my co-workers keep colourful lists like this,
or use Goodreads or Shelfari to track their reading.
I prefer plain old text.
Like most avid readers, my to-read list contains far more titles than I could ever read in a lifetime, even if I did nothing but read. Although I add books at a considerably faster rate than I tick them off, I do still keep The List, and I consult it when I'm looking for my next book. I do this with movies, too.

I also read books not on my list, much more so now that I work in a library, and my reading tastes have broadened. But I don't keep a list of all the books I've read.

This really bothers me. It has bothered me for a very long time. But at no time did I ever start keeping a list of All The Books I Read, because... I didn't start it a long time ago, so it will always be incomplete, so there's no point in starting it, ever. I know this is not rational, I know it's part of All Or Nothing thinking, which I work at avoiding, but... I can't shake the belief.

In library work we are urged to "track our reading," because it's supposed to help us be better readers' advisors. I question whether this is true. Most library workers don't consult their own reading lists when helping customers find reading material. But whether or not this is a useful practice, I don't do it.

I do keep track of movies and series that I watch. I've done this since the late 90s, and for some reason the incompleteness of this list doesn't bother me.

So, here are some book lists, sub-lists of The List.

Three biographies I want to read
Jackie Robinson: A Biography -- Arnold Rampersad*
Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder -- Caroline Fraser
Helen Keller: A Life -- Dorothy Herrmann

Three people I want to read biographies of but don't know which one to read
Muhammad Ali
Bob Dylan

Five books that I want to read but am daunted by because they are so long
This is a stupid category for someone who has read The Power BrokerBleak House, and City on Fire. Nevertheless.
London: The Biography -- Peter Ackcroyd
Dickens -- Peter Ackcroyd*
Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 -- Edwin G. Burrows,‎ Mike Wallace**
Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919 -- Mike Wallace
Jackie Robinson: A Biography -- Arnold Rampersad*

Three books I didn't finish but am determined to get back to one day
At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68 -- Taylor Branch (This is the third book in Branch's "America in the King Years," and an almost impenetrable read. But I read the first and second books, and half the third. Must finish.)
The Sherston Trilogy -- Siegfried Sassoon
Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 -- Tony Judt (also fits under previous category)

Six writers whose books keep appearing on my list but I haven't read yet (there are many more)
Frans De Waal
Carl Safina
Robert Sapolsky
Margaret Laurence
Colm Toibin
Helen Oyeyemi

Three topics I would like to read more about
Utopian communities
Confidence games, grifters, and hoaxes
Language -- acquisition by children, origins of, ASL, Esperanto...other stuff

Orwell still to read
A Clergyman's Daughter
Coming Up for Air
Collected Letters

Dickens still to read
The Pickwick Papers
The Old Curiosity Shop
Barnaby Rudge
The Mystery of Edwin Drood

The Shakespeare Project
In 2003, I decided to read or re-read all of Shakespeare's plays. I re-read all my favourites, then got totally bogged down. Here's a real test of All or Nothing. Even though I haven't read a Shakespeare play in more than a decade, the goal still nags me. I want to drop it! Can I???
Comedy of Errors
Love's Labour's Lost
Merry Wives of Windsor
Henry VI, Part I
Henry VI, Part II
Henry VI, Part III
King John
Antony and Cleopatra
Timon of Athens
Titus Andronicus
Troilus and Cressida

* We own this in hardcover.
** We own this in hardcover and we acquired it by trading a box of used books for a new copy of this.

new year's un-resolutions

I don't do New Year's Resolutions, but I do enjoy using the revolution of our Earth around the Sun as an excuse to take stock in where I am and think about where I'm going.

This is not a Big Promise To Do Something; it's not even goal-setting. In my ongoing work to free myself from a strong tendency towards All Or Nothing, to not paint myself into a corner, to not create Rules which I then use to limit my experiences, I don't even set concrete goals.

My thinking takes the form of general precepts that I'm trying to remember.

When the weather is nice, spend more time outdoors.

Walk more.

Remember to make plans with friends sometimes.

Do a jigsaw puzzle now and again.

At work, take my full one-hour dinner break without doing union work.

Remember that it's all right to make mistakes.

Explore local history.

Stop multi-tasking.

Remember to blog instead of Facebook.

Read more.


what i'm reading: rolling blackouts, graphic novel that asks many big questions

I see by the wmtc tag "graphic novels" that I intended to write about graphic books I read and enjoyed...and I see by the scant number of posts with that tag that I have not been doing so! The last wmtc post tagged for graphic novels is from four years ago, almost to the day.

In any event, I want to tell you about a graphic book I just finished and really enjoyed: Sarah Glidden's Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq.

In 2010, Glidden traveled with three friends who had journalism visas to the three countries in the book's title. Two of the three were part of a nonprofit, progressive media collective; the third was a former US Marine who served in the Iraq War, and was a childhood friend of one of the journalists.

Glidden doesn't merely report on what they found -- which would be interesting in itself. She stands outside the frame, as it were, and writes about their process and all its implications -- the ethics of their interviews, the industry constraints, the impossible dilemmas, the necessary compromises. The weighty responsibility of telling other people's stories, how stories are shaped into narratives, and how narratives influence our perception -- these questions are contemplated, explored, and challenged, as the inside view of how journalism happens is revealed to the reader. The question at the heart of Rolling Blackouts is "What is journalism?".

Dan, the ex-military friend on the trip, has a strange -- and often unwelcome -- perspective on the invasion of Iraq. From a privileged, middle-class background, with no family history of military service, he was an unusual enlistee. What's more, Dan insists that he was opposed to the invasion and actually protested against the war, but enlisted so he could improve the outcome. (Seriously?) He also insists that he has suffered no ill effects from his participation in the war, despite losing four friends. The journalists' attempts to mine and disrupt his odd perspective forms one of the recurring themes of the book.

But Rolling Blackouts is definitely not self-absorbed navel-gazing. We meet Kurdish Iraqis whose lives were improved by the removal of Saddam Hussein, and we meet Iraqi refugees living in Syria, whose lives, and the lives of their children, and generations to come, were destroyed by the US invasion. There is an Iraqi man who has been deported from the US, separated from his young family, because he was -- perhaps falsely -- accused of connections to terrorism. There's a young Iranian couple, both artists, on the brink of resettling in Seattle. There's a United Nations refugee administrator, an Iraqi taxi driver, a "fixer" who helps introduce the crew to potential interview subjects, and many other encounters. To each story, Glidden brings compassion and empathy, and an insistence on nuance in a world that is seldom black and white.

I really enjoyed Glidden's illustrations, soft watercolour snapshots of tiny moments in time, the kind that our memories are made of. The compassion and empathy with which Glidden approaches her subjects is evident in her lovely art. I also loved and appreciated the book's simple and extremely readable font. I wish more graphic book creators would think about the accessibility of their typeface choices. I understand that fonts are art, but when typeface impedes access, something has gone awry.

Rolling Blackouts is an ambitious book, aiming to do many things at once, and succeeding in all of them.


i hate christmas 2017: the return of a wmtc tradition and then some

Last year, I took a break from my annual "i hate christmas" post. I don't remember the circumstances, but it was probably related to getting ready for our trip to Egypt. We lost Tala a few days later, but for better or worse, we were ignorant of that until the day before.

This year I revive the fine wmtc tradition and then some.

I did a stupid thing and it caused me to remember just how much I hate Christmas, like a sharp slap in the face: I went to the mall.

Yes, after all my years of not stepping foot in any store for any nonessential shopping during the holiday madness, I found myself in a gigantic mall, three days before Christmas, in the afternoon. My hair salon happens to be in the mall. I normally go there first thing in the morning and am well clear by the time it is the slightest bit busy. But I waited too long to make an appointment, and I can't wait until January... and thus I ended up in a mall, the Friday before a Monday Christmas, at 4:00 in the afternoon.

I took a cab to avoid the frustration of trying to find parking. So all I did was walk from the entrance to hair salon, sit through the crowded, noisy, Christmasy hair experience, then walk from the salon to the exit. That was enough. The mobs of people, walking apparently in slow motion, laden with packages, gawking at every window. Large groups of teens and 20-somethings, dressed like store-window mannequins, clearly there to be seen. (This is a thing!) Screaming children and exhausted parents of every description. Happy couples looking like they are out for a stroll. In the mall! Recreational shopping.

In our incredibly multicultural environment, I have to wonder how many of these families celebrate only the North American consumerist version of this winter holiday, and have no religious connection to it at all.

I personally will spend a lovely December 25 and 26 with my favourite people (one human, one canine), food, drink, movies, books, puzzles, and maybe a trip to the dog park. But damn, it is out there, and it is scary!

I'm not even going to explain why I hate Christmas so much. Writing this post, I took a trip down memory lane. It's all there, and it's more relevant than ever.


listening to joni: #3: ladies of the canyon

Ladies of the Canyon, 1970

Original Front Cover
I put this album on for the first time in probably three decades, and I thought, ah, here's Joni.

Ladies of the Canyon, Joni's third album, is the first time we hear the seeds of the future Joni, the first glimpses of elements in her music which would become old friends.

It's the first time we hear her on piano. The first time she has arranged horns, strings, percussion, and background vocals. The first time we hear several of the themes she would explore in much more depth and beauty in the future: the conflict between art and commerce on "For Free," and the bleakness of bourgeoisie life on "The Arrangement".

On Ladies, we also hear the beginning of her distinctive guitar voice, more of the range of her actual voice -- and her peculiar and distinctive diction and phrasing.

I love piano in rock (Nicky Hopkins, Roy Bittan, Chris Stainton, Dr. John) and piano in blues (Pinetop Perkins, Professor Longhair, Memphis Slim), and then there's piano by Joni. Her piano makes my heart soar, makes me weep, strikes "every chord that you feel".

On this album, we hear some of the beginnings of her lyrical wordplay -- "She would wake in the morning without him, and look out through the pain," a play on window pane, or "You called me beautiful, you called your mother, she was very tan," setting up the word called and then changing its meaning. These are tiny examples, of course. In the future she'll evoke whole worlds with unexpected changes in lyrics.

Back Cover
So all this is happening today, for a fan retrospective, but in its time Ladies was much loved. I think it's been overshadowed by the masterpiece that came next.

This album ends with three of Joni's most famous songs: "Big Yellow Taxi," "Woodstock," and "The Circle Game". When Ladies came out in 1970, "Big Yellow Taxi" and "The Circle Game" were already well known, made famous by covers. "Woodstock" would soon be a hit for Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Now whole generations know BYT from newer covers and sampling.

It was strange hearing these three songs again. In BYT, I had forgotten the original lyric of the final stanza, the taxi of the title that "took away my old man". The more familiar lyric -- "a big yellow tractor pushed around my house, took away my land" -- was coined by Bob Dylan in a live show. Joni liked it and adopted it.

"Woodstock": I had forgotten how slow this original version is, how plaintive Joni sounds. Could that have been because she wasn't there -- the Woodstock concert event -- and so is imagining it from a more philosophical point of view? It's so easy to be cynical about the social revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s, to see it all as fashion, or posturing, or naivete. I get that -- because I've done it, too. I'm glad I shed that cynicism. Today, when I hear that plea for peace --  "I dreamed I saw the bomber jet planes riding shotgun in the sky, turning into butterflies above our nation" -- it just breaks my heart.

"Circle Game" is one of those songs that seems to have always existed and has never lost its meaning, like Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind". For me, the song is attached to a painful childhood memory, not in the sense of "this song brings back memories" -- but in a much deeper way. The song begins, and I am instantly in tears, before I even understand what I'm hearing. It's a trauma trigger. I have only one other song like that, an Aimee Mann tune that immediately puts me back to the shock and sadness of losing our dog Buster. Funny thing about music, and our consciousness.

I must have listened to this album a lot at some point. I used to think a line from "Blue Boy" -- "Sometimes in the evening he would read to her / Roll her in his arms and give his seed to her" -- was so melancholy and romantic, like something out of Wuthering Heights. It seems stilted now, maybe even creepy.

But overall, listening to this album has been like re-connecting with an old friend.

Inside Cover
I couldn't find this image anywhere,
so you get to see the water damage on my copy.
Bad critic comment of the album

This album seems to have been universally loved. I can see why. It's accessible, there are a range of emotions, the stellar arrangements are new and fresh, and Joni's voice is developing beautifully. But of course, nothing is universal. The famous music critic Robert Christgau hated Joni's "vocal gymnastics" and found her wordplay on this album "laughably high school". He must have gone to some kinda high school!

The album cover

This is again a self-portrait, and a view -- on a skirt, or perhaps a quilt -- from her home in Laurel Canyon. I think the geese are from Canada. The house -- where Joni lived with Graham Nash, one of the great loves of her life -- was the inspiration for the "very very very fine house" of Crosby, Stills, and Nash fame.

Detail of inside cover.
One of the times I saw Joni in concert, we sat near a woman who was wearing a white denim jacket that she had embroidered with this cover art. It was amazing. I went to compliment her and chatted briefly with her and her friends. It was like the Community of We Love Joni.

Joni's notes on the cover art are here, and you can see all her paintings on her website.

Other musicians on this album

Teressa Adams, Cello
Milt Holland (a pioneer and a legend), Percussion
Paul Horn, Clarinet and Flute
Jim Horn, Baritone Sax (another legend)
Background vocals, "The Saskatoons" (i.e., multiple tracks of Joni) and "The Lookout Mountain Downstairs Choir" -- James Taylor, David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash


in which i achieve a career milestone

I am a Senior Librarian!

It's a position I have aspired to for quite a while. Although I love my current job as a youth librarian, I've been ready to move on for a while. I had several near-misses, but couldn't get over the top. Just as my colleagues and I were all convinced I was being discriminated against because of union activism, I placed first in a big competition, and ended up with my choice of several locations.

I chose the Children's Department of Central Library -- where I started as a Library Page and where I had my first Librarian job. During the past year, when I sometimes covered the information desk in that department, I remembered how much I enjoyed being there. I loved introducing all our newcomer families to the many resources we offer, loved finding tweens their next great read, loved being around children who are excited about books -- and the challenge of enticing children who aren't. It has its moments of insanity and frustration, of course, but what work doesn't. The great majority of the time, it's such a happy, positive place, a place that gives me energy.

All this and I get to keep my seven-minute commute.

Senior Librarian means being in charge of the day-to-day operations of a branch or department, being everyone's supervisor except the manager. My work with our union has really prepared me for the challenge.

I'm also happy to create an opening for one of our many talented members, hopefully someone who has a librarian degree but is not yet working as a librarian, someone who wants to work with youth. I've made no secret of the fact that I'm trying to get out of the way!


why i write for rights and how you can too... redux #write4rights

Trying to compose my annual Write For Rights post, I thought I would recycle a good one from 2014... only to learn I had already recycled it in 2015! And here it is again -- slightly edited, with new cases linked below.

Tomorrow, December 10, is Human Rights Day. The date commemorates the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations on December 10, 1948, the first document of its kind.

Every year on December 10, Amnesty International holds a global letter-writing event: Write For Rights (in Canada). Thousands of people around the world write letters and sign petitions calling for action for victims of human rights abuses, and offering comfort and support to political prisoners.

Here are 10 reasons you should participate in Write For Rights.

1. It's easy. Amnesty makes it really easy to participate. Read, type, send.

2. You can do do it from any device. No meetings to attend, no schedule to keep. Just more of something you do all the time anyway: typing.

3. It's free. No need to donate money. The most this will cost you is postage.

4. You'll feel good about yourself. You know that warm buzz you get from helping other people? Get more of it.

5. You can choose how much to participate. Write one letter, write two letters, write three. Spend 10 minutes writing or spend an hour. (This year I am challenging myself to take one action for each of the 11 cases.)

6. You can choose what to focus on. Write about an issue in your own country. Write about an issue in your country of origin. Write for children, or for women, or for LGBT people, or for workers, or for environmental activists, or for another issue that you care about.

7. You're busting stereotypes. We supposedly live in a selfish age where all we care about is entertaining ourselves and consuming. Prove them wrong.

8. It works globally. Every fight against injustice begins with someone shining a light in a dark place. Be that light.

9. It works locally. When political prisoners are released, they often attest to the difference letters from strangers made in their lives -- how knowing they were not forgotten helped them survive.

10. You enjoy your own human rights every day. You can use them to help someone who can't.

Here are 10 more reasons. They're not cute and cheery. They are why we write.

For each, I have linked to the online action. If you go here, you will find links to more information and instructions for a more significant action.

1. Homophobic murder without consequences in Bangladesh.

2. Torture and a life sentence for a Facebook post critical of government policies in Chad.

3. Beatings and other violent harassment of a defender of evicted people in China.

4. Imprisoned for searching for her husband, who was "disappeared" for political opposition in Egypt.

5. Humiliated and prohibited from gender expression in Finland.

6. Arrested and jailed for defending human rights in Turkey.

7. Violence and threats against people who defend land and water from private development in Honduras.

8. Harassment and arrests of peaceful protesters in Israel/Occupied Palestine.

9. Intimidation and harassment for speaking out about murder by police in Jamaica.

10. Arrested and jailed for defending the rainforest [video] in Madagascar.

It doesn't take much time. It's not difficult to do. And it works.

Spend 15 minutes of your day writing a letter or two.

Write like a life depends on it.

Write for Rights in Canada

Write for Rights in the US

Write for Rights internationally.

Twitter: #Write4Rights

listening to joni: footnote #2

I decided to solve the problem of over-interpretation of lyrics in Reckless Daughter (described here) by putting down the book. I'll go back to it in the future. For now the listening project is more interesting and absorbing to me than reading the biography.

This means I'll review the two books on the nonfiction book group blog without having finished the second book. Don't tell anyone. Then I'll write new reviews for wmtc.

Next up: Ladies of the Canyon.


listening to joni: footnote #1

Reading the biography Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell while doing this re-listening project is proving to be an obstacle.

In general I'm enjoying the book. I love learning more about the artist who created some of the most meaningful music in my life, and about the woman I have always considered a personal role model. I love the stories of how albums were recorded, and even how they were received. What I don't like -- and don't want -- is author David Yaffe's pronouncement of what a song is "about".

Art is always open to interpretation. In fact, art is not complete without interpretation. All art -- novels, film, theatre, visual arts, music -- is incomplete until the receiver (viewer, listener, reader, etc.) experiences it. And that experience is unique to us as individuals. I don't experience art exactly the same way you do, because we each bring our own unique experiences and consciousness to that art. Our interpretation may be conscious or subconscious. It may be intellectual or emotional or, likely, a combination of those. But it is unique to us.

I always say that if I really love a book, I will not see the movie, because I'm almost guaranteed to be disappointed. I want my own interpretation to live in my mind, and if I see the movie, I'll never be able to do that again. The filmmaker's interpretation will taint -- or at least supplant -- my own.

This is what's happening with Reckless Daughter. I don't want to know who or what these songs are "about," because they're not about one thing. I have been listening to and loving this music my whole life. I loved this music without knowing who "Willy" is (Stephen Stills) or which heroin addict in Joni's life inspired her to write "Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire" (James Taylor). I'm currently listening to Ladies of the Canyon, so soon I'll be moving into music that means a great deal to me -- not one album, but many -- and I don't want someone else's interpretation mucking up my personal experience of this art.

I wish I could read the book with some kind of filter on.


listening to joni: #2: clouds

Clouds, 1969

Clouds, front cover
Listening to Clouds was a strange experience for me: I didn't know the album! I know every note of every album Joni has recorded since then, but this one was foreign.

Of course I know the famous songs from this album -- "Chelsea Morning," "That Song About the Midway," and "Both Sides, Now" -- but I had no memory at all of the other songs. The one exception was the a cappella "The Fiddle and the Drum," about the US's war-making -- but that's because not long ago, we saw Joni perform it on an episode of the old Dick Cavett Show, filmed right after Woodstock had taken place. But the actual album? It felt like I was hearing it for the first time.

This must mean that my sister and I didn't play Clouds. Maybe we didn't own it and filled it in later, when Joni's music had gone way past this stage. I really don't know. I'll see if my sister has any idea.

Even more surprising, I had a mixed reaction this album. 

On Clouds, we hear the true beauty of Joni's voice. Her voice sounds so much richer and fuller than it does on Song to a Seagull. This must be a consequence of production. According to biographer David Yaffe, David Crosby's production of Song was a bit bizarre. Although Clouds was only her second album, Joni already was through with producers, and would fight throughout her career to produce her music herself, working only with a sound engineer. On Clouds, her voice is beautiful -- still those crazy high notes, but also a whole range of full, supple sound.

Clouds, full cover, opened
When this album was released, Judy Collins had already covered "Chelsea Morning" and "Both Sides, Now" on her album Wildflowers. I'm not a Judy Collins fan, and if I had heard only her version, I would think the songs were banal. But both songs come alive on Clouds. Incidentally, if the media was still looking for Joni The Folksinger, "Both Sides, Now" would tick that box.

"That Song About the Midway," I know chiefly from Bonnie Raitt's excellent cover, and I prefer Raitt's bluesy swagger and full production to this girl-with-guitar version. Joni supposedly wrote "Midway" about Leonard Cohen, something I wouldn't have known at the time -- considering I wouldn't know who Leonard Cohen was for at least another 20 years. (The biography is full of revelations of what songs are "about" or who inspired them. It's only 1969 and it's already bothering me.)

The most significant development on this album is the beginning of Joni's talent as a poet. The lyrics are beginning to display her prowess for offering unexpected descriptions and metaphors. "...You stood out like a ruby in a black man's ear..." Many people mistake this line for a description of the man she is singing about wearing a jewel in his ear. But no, it's a picture for the listener.

Other than "Chelsea Morning," "Both Sides, Now," and "Midway" -- three great songs -- the rest of the songs are maudlin, and the album overall feels morose. Not somber. Lots of good music is somber. But -- speaking of Leonard Cohen -- morose is wallowing in somber. Morose is one-dimensional. Yaffe says that many of these songs were written years earlier, then gathered on this album, and represent different scraps of thought and styles that Joni was trying on and discarding. While the lyrics are simply too good to call them filler or throwaway tracks, the songs do feel like aberrations -- some alternative not-Joni.

The best example of this is "I Don't Know Where I Stand," which sounds like something from the crooner era, a la "Send in the Clowns", the kind of music Joni frequently mentions as her earliest exposure. The song has been covered by more than 30 artists, including Barbra Streisand and Fairport Convention. It's not a bad song, but the lyrics, structure, and arrangement seem old-fashioned. It feels completely out-of-sync with any of Joni's music.

So in the end, I don't have much of a personal connection to this album. Joni's voice is beautiful and the songs are beautiful, but girl-with-acoustic-guitar feels thin.

Bad critic comment of the album

In the Reckless Daughter anthology, about "Both Sides, Now," some music writers wonder how then- 24-year-old (when she wrote it) Joni had looked at life or love from "both sides, now", the implication being she was too young to have known much of life at all. So let's see. By 24, Joni had: survived polio, living alone in a hospital without her parents for months, re-learned how to walk with only minimal rehabilitation, left her conservative prairie town, arrived in Toronto with a few dollars in her pocket, found a way to support herself, became pregnant, gave birth and tried to support herself and her daughter, surrendered her daughter for adoption, got married, traveled and performed with her husband, left her husband, lived in New York City, and traveled and performed thousands of miles for months at a time on her own.

Did anyone ever question if 24-year-old Mick Jagger really had a woman under his thumb? Mick and Joni are the same age. Sexist crap.

The album cover

Joni's cover art -- a self-portrait over a sunset-coloured sky -- doesn't match the album's mood. But the artist portrays herself as somber and composed. That would come to be a theme.

Other musicians on this album

None. This is just Joni and guitar.

Allan suggests that I link to videos and reviews from the relevant period, but for me that would feel like a chore, and unnecessary. JoniMitchell.com contains every album, every song, album notes, and reviews. This, for example, is the Clouds  page. 


listening to joni: #1: joni mitchell (song to a seagull)

This is my first post in my re-listen to the music of Joni Mitchell in chronological order of album release. These posts come with all kinds of disclaimers, chiefly that I don't know what I'm doing.

I wanted to write about the two Reckless Daughter books before starting on these posts, but I'm ready to move on to the second album, and haven't yet finished the books. So here we go.

* * * *

Joni Mitchell (Song to a Seagull), 1968

Song to a Seagull, front cover
I hadn't listened to this album in a very long time -- probably not since childhood. I am the youngest of three siblings, and got into music much earlier than my peers, listening to anything my older siblings had. My sister and I adored Joni and listened to her obsessively. Of course in the present, all the songs came back to me immediately (long-term memory is amazing) and I knew many of the lyrics.

The songs on this album hang together as a whole, which was very common in those days. The album is also thematically divided by sides: "Part I: I Came to the City", and "Part II: Out of the City and Down to the Seaside".

Joni Mitchell's early music is usually referred to as folk or folk rock. As I listened to this album over the past weeks, I kept thinking, This is not folk. There is nothing folk music about it. I was glad to see my view validated by Joni herself: in the anthology, in separate interviews over much of her career, Joni insists that she never recorded folk music. At the start of her career, she performed folk music in clubs and at festivals, but once she recorded her own music, it was never folk. But, she says, she looked the part -- female, long hair, acoustic guitar -- and no one knew what else to call her music, so they slapped on the folk label. Twenty, 30, and 40 years later, journalists were still referring to her as "folk music turned jazz singer" and the like.

Full cover, opened to show back (left) and front (right)
I read various descriptions of what comprises folk, folk-rock or folk revival, but didn't find any clear definition. To my own ears, folk and folk rock music usually have fairly simple lyrics, simple guitar chords, basic melodies (often a stock melody used for many different songs) and are full of repetitive choruses or refrains. Taken together, these elements make folks songs easy for anyone to play and conducive to sing-alongs -- hence folk, which means people.

Song to a Seagull has none of those elements. Musically, Joni is already using the open tunings for which she will become famous, her playing already distinctively Joni. The melodies are complex and often unpredictable -- or almost nonexistent. The lyrics are dense and intricate.

Repeated refrains or choruses are absent, too. In most songs, the closest thing to a refrain is one repeated line -- "And she's so busy being free" (Cactus Tree) or "My dreams with the seagulls fly / Out of reach out of cry" (Song to a Seagull) or "All his seadreams come to me" (The Dawntreader) -- or a line that changes a bit in each stanza -- "We have a rocking chair" (Sistowbell Lane) or "Red is..., Green is...." (Marcie). "Night in the City" has an actual refrain, but Joni's impossibly high notes render it impossible for most singalongs.

The most quintessential Joni song on this album is also, for me, its best song: "Cactus Tree". It is only 1967, and Joni is already exploring what would become one of her central themes: the conflict between love and freedom. Each time the line repeats -- "she was off somewhere being free" -- it is sung with more urgency. In the Reckless Daughter anthology, every review mentioned this song. Many critics hear it as laced with regret, but I hear it as a wistful understanding. It is also a bold disruption of the popular image of women waiting for men to settle down and marry them.

After three stanzas about the different men who court her, the song turns to the woman herself.

Inside Cover
There's a lady in the city
And she thinks she loves them all
There's the one who's thinking of her
And the one who sometimes calls
There's the one who writes her letters
With his facts and figures scrawl
She has brought them to her senses
They have laughed inside her laughter
Now she rallies her defences
For she fears that one will ask her
For eternity
And she's so busy being free

The woman is full of love, but she knows that commitment, for her, will be poison. Perhaps the next, final verse signals a tinge of regret, as she describes the woman's heart "as full and hollow as a cactus tree" -- not exactly an image of warmth and comfort. (This is the first of many cacti in Joni's songs.) But the cactus is also strong, a survivor, and the heart is not only hollow, it is also full. She knows "they will lose her if they follow". She knows herself well, so she "rallies her defences".

Other great songs on this album are "Michael From Mountains," "Night in the City," and "Marcie". Some of the songs also have a kind of pompous feel. In "I Had a King" -- said to be about Joni's brief marriage to Chuck Mitchell -- lines like "he's taken the curtains down" and the repeated "they never can" with the big flourish finish, seem too much like proclaiming. Such was 1967.

This is an astonishing debut, especially when we consider it doesn't contain some of her best-known early songs. Judy Collins had already become famous for Joni's "Both Sides, Now", "Urge for Going" had been covered by both Tom Rush and George Hamilton IV, and Joni herself sang "Circle Game", "Chelsea Morning," and "The Song About the Midway" in clubs and festivals. According to biographer David Yaffe, in those days it was not uncommon for an artist to release only one or two major songs on their debut album, and save the really amazing stuff for their second album, once they had built a following. Bob Dylan is a great example of that, and Joni clearly did it, too. Yaffe says that by the time Joni went into the studio with her then-boyfriend and nominal producer David Crosby, she had enough original material to fill three albums.

The album cover

Although the title "Song to a Seagull" is clear in the photo (above), on the album itself, it's barely visible. It's written in the Vs that are birds in flight. I always assumed the album was called "Joni Mitchell," and I think many others thought so, too.

The cover art is Joni's own drawing, and it references all the songs in the album, along with two fish-eye photos of Joni in a city, and some Hirschfeld-esque drawings of her own name.

Other musicians on this album

David Crosby is listed as producer, but apparently what he did most was keep others from ruining the music. Stephen Stills plays bass. Everything else is Joni, including background vocals and a bit of piano on "Night in the City".


our papyrus painting is finally on the wall

You can read the story of how we got these: here.

This, below, is the smaller painting that the salesman added to the pot after the price would budge no further. It is possibly painted on banana leaf, a cheaper and less durable papyrus substitute.

There is also a third, yet smaller painting, also "thrown in," but not display quality or worth framing.

The celery-looking stuff is fresh papyrus.
We watched Papyrus Guy make a small sheet.

That's our painting behind them!


things i heard at the library: an occasional series: #26

In library school, you learn that the most important part of the reference transaction, or reference interview, is asking questions. Customers, it seems, rarely know how to describe what they are actually looking for. Most people ask for something entirely different than what they want. Tonight was a classic example.

Woman: Where would I find paperback nonfiction?

This is a bit of a strange question, because normally people don't specify hardcover or paperback when it comes to nonfiction.

Me: Nonfiction is in a few different places, depending on the subject. Do you have a title, or a call number? Or the topics you're looking for?

Woman: I want to read about kings and queens from a certain time period. You know, how they lived, what they did.

Me: That would be on the third floor--

Woman: But the stories aren't necessarily what really happened. It's real kings and queens but in made up stories.

Me: Ah, so you're looking for historical fiction.

Woman: Oh is that it?

Me: What have you read that you like? An author you like?

Woman: I can never remember...

Me: No problem. Give me a few seconds...

Usually in this genre, people read by author. I gathered the top names, and we went to the shelves.

Working backwards in alphabetical order, we stopped first at Alison Weir. We pulled a few books and looked them over, but she seemed hesitant.

Me: If this doesn't work for you, it's not a problem. Have you read much Philipa Gregory?

Woman: Who?

Now this is a clue. Philipa Gregory is the top name in historical fiction featuring royalty. If the customer doesn't know her, something is off.

We walk over to dear Philipa, but I'm losing the customer. She's starting to mutter to herself. Never a good sign!

Me: Here's a paperback of a popular Philipa Gregory book.

Woman: The books are usually much smaller than this. And in the title there's, you know, duke or rogue, or maybe a rake... (A bell goes off in my head.) ...and there'll be a man on the cover, you know... (She gestures as if she's ripping a shirt open.)

Me: I know exactly what you're looking for.

We laugh and easily find some books. She walks out with any of the gazillion titles of historical romance novels, covers graced with dukes, rogues, rakes, scoundrels, pirates, and "highlanders," their bare chests gleaming, their lusty conquests dressed in long gowns, off the shoulder, with plenty of cleavage.

To think I almost sent her to the third floor for history!

All the men are barechested, all the
women in gowns.

Sometimes the encounter has advanced
a bit further.

These books come in many flavours,
but the readership is almost entirely female.


11.11: remembrance day readers' advisory

I've posted 11 anti-war songs, and I've done Labour Day readers' advisory, but I don't think I've ever done anti-war readers' advisory. Here are 11 great books with an anti-war themes.

1. The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

2. Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut

3. War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, Chris Hedges (nonfiction)

4. Regeneration, Pat Barker

5. Johnny Got His Gun, Dalton Trumbo

6. Hiroshima, John Hersey (nonfiction)

7. Mother Courage and Her Children, Bertolt Brecht (drama)

8. A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway

9. Catch-22, Joseph Heller

10. The Deserter's Tale, Joshua Key with Lawrence Hill (nonfiction)

11. And finally, the greatest anti-war novel of all time, All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque

There are many, many others: here are some lists.

Honour the dead by working for peace.


listening to joni: a new wmtc feature

Two new books about Joni Mitchell have come out, with -- strangely -- the same title.

Reckless Daughter: A Joni Mitchell Anthology, edited by Barney Hoskyns, is a collection of stories about Joni* and reviews of her work. It's part of an ongoing collection called Rock's Backpages, which looks at rock through accomplished music writers of the last 50 years. I'm reading this now.

Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell, by David Yaffe, is a biography of the artist and her music. It's especially noteworthy because of the unusual access Yaffe had to his subject. I'm going to read this after I finish the anthology.

While reading reviews and impressions of Joni's earliest performances and recordings, I realized how long it's been since I've heard her early music. In some cases, at least her first two albums, I probably have never played as an adult! I decided I would listen to all her albums in chronological order, starting from the beginning. I'm going to try to write about the listening experience on wmtc.

I don't know how this will go. I don't think I have anything particularly insightful or interesting to say about these albums, and I've never been able to write very well about music. My response to music is very emotional -- not intellectual, not analytical, and not verbal. My love for Joni Mitchell and her place in my consciousness is intense -- profound -- and thus very difficult to articulate. But if I'm going on this musical journey, wmtc is coming with me. 

Your comments, as always, will be very welcome.

* I normally hate when female artists and athletes are referred to by their first names, often in contexts where men are referred to by their last names. But to her legion of devoted fans, Joni is Joni.


the worst part of trump is not trump

The freak show that is the Donald Trump presidency gives us so many things to lament, and mourn, and goggle at. But for one organization, it is a singular gift, valuable beyond all measure: that is the Democratic National Committee.

For me, the worst part of the Trump presidency is not Trump. It is the enormous setback to -- maybe the death of, in my lifetime -- building a progressive alternative in the United States.

Four decades of deindustrialization, job loss, corporate welfare, and ever-widening income inequality has brought progressive economic ideas to the forefront in the US, and has rejuvenated the appetite for making them a reality. The evidence is plentiful, from the fight for a $15/hour minimum wage to the jubilant crowds that greeted Bernie Sanders at every campaign stop. People are hungry for change, and many people are hungry for change from the left.

Fill in the blanks. A vote for ____ is a vote for ____.

And now we have Trump.

Hillary Clinton supporters -- and of course Clinton herself -- blame Sanders and Sanders' supporters for the election of Donald Trump.

While not surprising, this is as misguided as those who blamed Ralph Nader and his supporters for George W. Bush's installation in the White House in 2004. It has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt that both the 2000 and 2004 elections were riddled with fraud and vote-fixing. Florida alone was the product of massive fraud, and the Supreme Court (not the voters) decided the results, something at least one Supreme Court justice regrets. Yet loyal Democrat voters blame Nader -- and they vowed never to let it happen again.

This time, there is plenty of blame to go around, beginning with the corruption and arrogance of the DNC, insisting on running the candidate who was anointed by the party, rather than one who was chosen, you know, by the voters. They did everything they could do rig the results, and when that didn't work, invoked arcane rules that were designed to thwart democracy. When they were caught, the DNC defended their actions. (The lawsuit against the DNC was not dismissed because it lacked merit, but because the judge ruled it was not a matter for the judiciary.)

In the DNC's bubble of unchallenged power, they overlooked one crucial variable: people loathe Hillary Clinton. It doesn't matter why. It doesn't matter if it's based on fact or fiction or how much sexism is or isn't mixed in. Millions of people detest her and would never vote for her, no matter what the choices.

If Sanders supporters chose Trump over Clinton, that's not Sanders' fault. It's Clinton's, and it's the DNC's. But like Homer Simpson, the DNC cannot accept responsibility for any outcome. It's Sanders' fault. It's the fault of you people for wanting to build a movement for economic justice.

Learning all the wrong lessons

Now that we're witnessing the debacle of the Trump White House, the lesson could not be clearer: don't ever dare vote for a third party, or this is what will happen. You must vote Democrat, no matter what. If you dare to start building a viable party on the left, you will move the country even further to the right (even if only in appearance). Millions of anti-Trump voters now believe more strongly than ever that it is their sworn duty to Always Vote Democrat, no matter what. This must be an especially powerful lesson for the young voters who rallied around Sanders.

For decades, Allan and I have referred to "the circus coming to town" as a shorthand for the theatre of  US election campaigns, lending a thin (and getting ever thinner!) veneer of democracy to a corrupt, undemocratic system. This time, the circus never ended. The threat of real change on the left was more feasible than it had been in a long time, so the distraction had to be even bigger and more lurid.

As I was writing this, as if on cue, an Economist/YouGov poll found that 51 percent of Democrat voters now have a favourable opinion of George W. Bush. If Democrat voters feel that way about Bush, any Democrat candidate who can put a sentence together -- anyone who waves the words "woman's right to choose" and "the rights of all families" around -- will get their vote.

The worst part of Trump is not Trump.

The worst part of Trump is the lost hope of building a new party.

* Personal disclosure, to avoid assumptions. Although I am a dual citizen (Canada-US) and am eligible to vote with an absentee ballot, I do not vote in US elections. While I agree with Bernie Sanders' ideas and his platform, I did not support him. Sanders played the role historically assigned to the most left-leaning Democrat in the primaries, used by the party to bring in the progressive vote. There's one in every election. They do their job and are never heard from again. In Congress, Sanders voted with the Democrats 98% of the time.


the mysterious case of kars4kids: deceptive advertising for orthodox jewish proselytizing

When I watch baseball, I always watch the Red Sox broadcast, and almost always choose local radio for the audio feed. (Hooray for MLB streaming on Roku!) And while I always mute the ads between innings, hundreds of ads are stuffed into the broadcast itself, so it's impossible not to hear and see a lot of advertising.

One advertising staple is something called "Cars for Kids". The ad exhorts you to make a cash donation or to donate your used car, and tells you how Cars for Kids makes it very simple. I've been hearing this for years, but only recently wondered, what is Cars for Kids? Who are the kids, and how are cars helping them?

I assumed it had something to do with fundraising for children with a serious illness. The Red Sox are linked to an organization called The Jimmy Fund, which supports the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The Make-A-Wish Foundation of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, is also a Red Sox sponsor. So I assumed that Cars for Kids was something similar.


First, I discovered Cars for Kids is actually "Kars 4 Kids," which is stupid and pointless. Since the misspelling is pronounced the same way as the proper spelling, why misspell?

Next, I discovered that when you visit the Kars 4 Kids website, it's not immediately apparent what the vehicle donations actually support. The FAQs are all about how to donate your car. The donor comments are about how easy it was to donate a car. The "How It Works" link, same.

Those links are in all-caps, bold, right up front when you first go to the site.

In a smaller font, not all-caps, not bold, on the left, there are links to "charity" and "about us". Click on one of those, and for the first time, you see the word Jewish on the site.

The website for Kars 4 Kids Canada (I guess they realized Kanada would be a mistake), shows this.

Both websites (and all the Kars 4 Kids websites) keep the purpose of the charity pretty vague. They help "children develop into productive members of the community", they "keep kids busy in a healthy environment", they "give Jewish children and their families the support, resources and guidance they need". What does that mean?

All the Kars 4 Kids websites mention something called Oorah. In the US: "our sister charity, Oorah", with no further explanation. The Canadian site says "Your car donation will benefit Kars4Kids, d/b/a Oorah Charitable Organization, a registered charity dedicated to addressing the educational, emotional and spiritual needs of Jewish children and their families."

Having been raised Jewish, when I see those words -- the educational, emotional, and spiritual needs of Jewsih children -- I know exactly what it means. I have the code book.

Next stop, Oorah. Oorah appears to sponsor programs exclusively for Jewish people to explore Judaism. This is code for trying to get Jews to become Orthodox.

People who practice Judaism generally fall on a continuum from Reform, to Conservative, to Orthodox; these are called movements. (They are sometimes known as sects, but they're really not equivalent to, for example, the Protestant sects.) In addition to the three movements, there are sub-divisions, such as Reconstructionist, Modern Orthodox, and several others. This is a huge, complex political and cultural stew, full of hypocrisy and arrogance, full of people looking down on other people for choosing or taking paths different than their own. To someone like me who was raised in a Reform but observant household, the words "make their Judaic heritage more personal, relevant and meaningful" are heavily loaded.

More importantly, why would the general, non-Jewish public donate to this charity? I'm not sure why anyone, Jewish or not, would care about making "Judaic heritage more meaningful to Jewish children", but surely non-Jewish people wouldn't care about this, would they?

The absence of information -- who are the "kids"? how are the cars helping them? -- is obviously not accidental. Ad copy isn't found in nature, it's purposely and carefully written. And once I discovered Kars 4 Kids' mission and purpose, the omission of the word "Jewish" in ad copy seems purposely misleading -- deceptive.

I'm not the only person who thinks so.

From Tablet, a online magazine of "Jewish news, ideas, and culture": Kars 4 Kids Rakes In The Buckz: "A well-branded Jewish charity goes to great pains to avoid calling itself Jewish—and takes in millions nationwide."

From CharityWatch: Costly and Continuous Continuous Kars4Kids Disguise Charity's Real Purpose. (Clever use of alliteration!) From this story I learned that Kars 4 Kids advertises everywhere, especially on sports TV and radio, and apparently has an incredibly annoying jingle. CharityWatch writes:
Cars for… an Orthodox Jewish Cause

Nowhere in the Kars4Kids ads (in most states) does the charity inform potential donors of how their car donations will help kids. A visit to the "kars4kids.org/howtohelp" website displayed at the end of the TV commercial is similarly vague as to how kids will benefit, simply encouraging people to "take action" for the "1.2 million kids [that] leave school without a diploma each year" by volunteering to "mentor, fundraise, advocate or run an awareness campaign." (This "take action" message likely is a strategic one designed for Kars4Kids to take advantage of an accounting rule that allows charities to report a portion of advertising costs as program instead of fundraising expenses.) When going to the website address shown in the TV commercial, only by scrolling all the way down to the fine print that includes Kars4Kids' copyright notation at the bottom of the page will donors eventually learn what activities their donated cars support: [emphasis mine]"Your donation will benefit Kars4Kids, a national organization dedicated to addressing the educational, material, emotional and spiritual needs of Jewish children and their families [emphasis from CharityWatch]."

In CharityWatch's view, the Kars4Kids ads deceive potential donors by failing to inform them that donated cars will benefit a Jewish organization and kids of Jewish faith. Furthermore, the youth programs Kars4Kids supports promote an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle, which CharityWatch believes compounds the deception perpetrated by the Kars4Kids ads. Oorah, Kars4Kids' "sister charity," is the organization that actually runs the "educational, developmental, and recreational programs for Jewish youth and their families" described in Kars4Kids' mission statement. Kars4Kids and Oorah share a principal officer, Eliyohu Mintz, the son of their founder, Rabbi Chaim Mintz, and both organizations are located at the same address in the heavily-Orthodox Jewish town of Lakewood, New Jersey. Oorah, which means "awaken" in Hebrew, "specializes in outreach to non-observant Jews, operating summer camps and other programs that seek to make non-Orthodox Jews more observant," according to an October 2016 article in the Forward, which covers news for a Jewish-American audience.
CharityWatch continues:
While supporting Orthodox Jewish organizations is a worthy endeavor for those donors who are intending to do so, many donors of other faiths may not be pleased to learn that the car they donated to Kars4Kids may have funded religious teachings that are in conflict with their own faith or personal beliefs. Orthodox Jews, who follow the traditional interpretations of Jewish law with strict observance of Jewish ritual, make up only about 10% of Jewish adults in the U.S., according to a 2013 survey published by the Pew Research Center in August 2015. Moreover, many secular Jews are not enthusiastic about funding Orthodox organizations...

If the truth about Kars4Kids' mission as a Jewish organization and its funding of Oorah's Orthodox Jewish outreach is an unwelcome surprise to some donors, perhaps they will be comforted to learn that since 2010, Kars4Kids also has conducted various charity events and giveaways for the benefit of needy children, regardless of their religious affiliation. These events have included several backpack giveaways and coat distributions in parts of New Jersey and New York. Kars4Kids also released a free smartphone app in mid-2014 designed as a safety alert for parents to remind them not to leave young children in the backseat of hot cars. Nonetheless, Kars4Kids' grants to Oorah still represented more than 91% of its program spending over the two-year period from 2014-2015, thereby making Jewish children the primary "kids" that benefit from its car donation proceeds – a fact that many Kars4Kids donors likely never end up knowing.
I also found stories, showing that less than one percent of funds raised even goes to the "kids". Oorah is also the subject of a million-dollar lawsuit, accused of using a synagogue to hide questionable financial dealings and putting the synagogue on the hook for a million bucks.*

Even more troubling than Kars 4 Kids deceptive practices are their unwitting donors. Do people really donate to organizations without knowing what they support? Never mind researching what percentage of donations goes to the actual cause -- start with the basics! What is the cause? Where does your money go?

According to everything I'm seeing online, millions of people -- which by definition means millions of non-Jewish people -- are forking over their hard-earned money to support Orthodox Jewish indoctrination education? Seriously?

Are tax deductions from car donations so amazing that donors don't care where the money goes, so long as they get their deduction? From CharityWatch: Car Donations: Taking Taxpayers for a Ride, and from Nonprofit Quarterly: Nation's Largest Car Donation Charity a Self-Dealing Mess.

* Since someone will undoubtedly point this out in comments, Bill O'Reilly "exposed" Kars4Kids on Fox News. I don't even want to click. I'll just call O'Reilly a stopped clock and move on.


what i'm reading: turtles all the way down, the new book by john green

I don't usually write about a book while I'm still under its spell, but there are always exceptions. John Green's Turtles All the Way Down is an exceptional book.

One reason Green's writing is so powerful is that he conjures both the specific and the universal at the same time.

The Fault in Our Stars, for example, is about two teens who have cancer, and how they fall in love and have a relationship, even with the awareness of their own looming mortality.

The Fault in Our Stars is also about how we all love, even with the awareness of our own mortality always looming, be it far or near. We humans must love and be loved, and we must lose our loves, and they us. That is the paradox of homo sapiens sapiens, the animal who knows it knows. TFIOS is about nothing less than the human condition.

Green masters both of these, at the same time, and wraps it in an accessible package that is easy to read, to understand, and to love. The specific lives are vibrant and authentic, and the universal truths are recognizable and powerful.

Green brings that same duality to his long-awaited new youth novel. Turtles All the Way Down is a book about a girl, Aza Holmes -- her struggles to cope with her mental illness, while trying to be a good friend, find love, and cope with life after the sudden death of her father some years back.

And it is also a book about mental illness -- how it might feel, what it might make us do, how it might be survived, how our society frames it, how it impacts everyone in its sphere.

And it is a book about all of us -- our doubts, our fears, our self-hate and, we hope, our acceptance of ourselves. Aza wants to know how anyone will ever love her, given her limitations. Don't we all.

When I count the people in my life, over the course of my lifetime, who have been affected by mental illness, it becomes a long list. I think most people could say the same. We are only just beginning to recognize the prevalence and reduce the stigma of mental illness. Turtles All the Way Down will stand as a soldier in that important and necessary battle.

You'll notice I haven't written at all about the plot of this book, only the themes. The plot is excellent -- strange enough to be unique and unpredictable, and authentic enough to be convincing. You should read it to find out.


update: the gay cop on barney miller comes out, plus an adorable child sex worker

About a month ago, I wrote about an episode from the late 1970s-early 1980s sitcom "Barney Miller", in which the squad discovers that an officer from their precinct is gay. To my surprise, Officer Zatelli returned to Barney Miller -- and he came out, right there in the squad room.

That's Zatelli (Dino Natali)
on the right, blurting out: "I'm gay!"
In this follow-up episode, gay couple Marty and Mr. Driscoll return to the squad room after a long absence. Driscoll's ex-wife is trying to prevent him from seeing his son, and the couple comes to the 12th Precinct for help. When they find none, Driscoll collects his son anyway, and the ex-wife is pressing charges; Officer Zatelli happens to be there.

While the plot device bringing these characters together was a bit clunky and obvious, the episode, which aired one year after the first gay-cop episode, demonstrates a bit of social progress. When the mincing Marty makes a sarcastic comment about the squad room decor, his partner Driscoll says, "Can we stop perpetuating the stereotype for a moment and get on with this?" Wojo's homophobia is on display again, but this time it is even more isolated, as no one else has a problem. Even the plot line is progressive, acknowledging Driscoll as a loving and positive influence in his son's life.

And then it happens. When the ex-wife goes on bigoted rant about "those people" and their "degrading, unnatural lifestyle," Zatelli tries to ignore it, then suddenly blurts out, "I'm gay!" It was a funny and poignant episode. It marks Marty and Driscoll's final appearance on the show.

* * * *

In my earlier Barney Miller post, I mentioned that the show re-used actors for multiple characters. In Seasons 6, 7, and 8 (the final season), this became completely ridiculous. The same actors show up repeatedly, playing different complaining citizens and arrestees. A criminal from one episode even turns up as a new detective in the 12th, which -- with the "retirement" of Fish (Abe Vigoda), the disappearance of any female detective, and the death of actor Jack Soo -- had gotten a bit empty.

If you go to the "full cast" link on the Barney Miller imdb page, beginning with John Dullaghan, look how many times those actors were all used! In that entire list from Dullaghan down, all but a few recurring roles have multiple character names listed for each actor -- many as many as 5, 6, or 7 roles!

In a show that sometimes had recurring characters, this became downright confusing. I can't imagine a TV show doing this now.

* * * *

The Barney Miller marital rape episode was puzzling, but, as it turns out, not uniquely strange: how about an episode featuring a child prostitute, played for laughs?

In "Call Girl," from Season 6, young Tasha Zemrus plays Rhonda Haleck, a sex worker so young and innocent that when asked for her age, replies "Fifteen and a half." She is a bit tough and wise-cracking, but appears squeaky-clean, well dressed, and well fed, in a way that a teenage street-walker would not.

Young Rhonda, sex worker, getting schooled by
Sassy Black Prostitute, sitcom edition.
Rhonda lives at a group home, and Detective Dorsey (played by Paul Lieber, the above-mentioned sometimes criminal, sometimes detective) uncovers the odd "coincidence" that numerous underage residents of the home have been arrested on similar charges. He accuses the avuncular adult who runs the home of pimping, and vows to watch him closely. (You can watch the episode here.)

Yet despite this suspicious revelation, Rhonda is sent home with the older man, and everyone has a good laugh at her cute little jokes.

Can you imagine a sitcom today playing child prostitution for laughs? Sex workers are a regular part of Barney Miller. They are always clean, well-dressed, and sassy. Some readers may remember Mary Tyler Moore's character Mary Richards getting arrested with a bunch of sex workers. They were also clean, well-dressed, and sassy. I guess that was the 1970s sitcom version of prostitution, more Neil Simon than Charles Dickens.