things i heard at the library: an occasional series: #32

I emailed this to my colleagues and our administrators; I should share it with wmtc readers, too. Along with many library workers, I am worried that our most vulnerable neighbours are being left behind.

* * * *

I just heard a heartbreaking lament from one of our regular customers, who was here for curbside.

She told us that most people she knows do not have internet access or any TV service, and many do not have phones. They rely on library staff to suggest and order materials for them.

We assured her that we can still do that. We asked her to encourage folks to show up during curbside hours and we will find books and DVDs for them.

Then she said, “It’s not just the boredom. It’s the isolation. It’s the friendship. We are a poor community, and this library is our lifeline. I would work on the jigsaw puzzle or read a magazine, but that was just an excuse to be among people, to see friendly faces, to connect. The other place we would hang out is the Salvation Army – also closed. Many people go to church for that reason only, to connect with people – also closed. We’ve been cut adrift. People are depressed and they're suffering.”

She understands why we can’t open our doors yet. She just wants us to know how much the library space is missed.

I share this as a reminder, both of the great need for physical materials – a need not likely to go away, and of the service we provide that cannot fit through the takeout window.


what i'm reading: idiot wind, a memoir by peter kaldheim

One of the many wonderful things about working in a library is having access to such a wide variety of books. This has greatly broadened my choice of reading material. In the past, I kept a list, mostly based on book reviews, and read almost exclusively from my List. I still have a list -- the constantly expanding, never-ending List of books I might one day read -- but I also grab books from displays and book carts and return bins, books whose titles and covers look interesting.

Idiot Wind caught my eye for an obvious reason: the title is the name of a song I love.* I'm glad it has such a catchy title, because it turned out to be a really good read.

When we meet Pete "The Hat" Kaldheim, he is escaping New York City with the clothes on his back and not much else. He buys a Greyhound bus ticket to the southernmost point his $36 will take him. He leaves behind friends who he has lied to, stolen from, and generally disappointed. He also leaves behind a cocaine dealer who will soon break his legs or worse, and, Kaldheim hopes, he leaves behind the choices that brought him to this desperate moment.

The first part of the book recounts Kaldheim's final crazy days in the City, a drug-drink-and-sex-fueled tragic comedy, as his cunning plan -- to earn enough money selling coke to both enrich himself and pay back his drug dealer -- unravels. This story gives the reader a glimpse of a nightlife that most people have not experienced, and from the safety of a vicarious view, it's a very entertaining story.

Throughout this New York mini-saga, Kaldheim interjects that at this point he still could have made his plan work, and at this point there was still a chance of pulling it off... But he didn't stop, and he didn't stop, and still he didn't stop, and now he's on a Greyhound bus, trying to save his own life.

From that first bus ride, Kaldheim takes the reader on a down-and-dirty trek across the United States, by bus, thumb, and freight-train hopping, from dumpster diving to the Salvation Army, from flophouses to homeless encampments and blood banks that pay cash for plasma.

Kaldheim is often cold, wet, and hungry -- but he's clean and sober, and full of introspection and regret. He's humbled by the kindness and generosity shown to him from strangers who themselves have so little. He also relishes the new experiences and knowledge he's gaining, feeling that he's following in the footsteps of some of his literary heroes. It's hard not to like a guy who, when he scrapes together a few dollars in Portland, heads to Powell's, the famous bookstore, to buy a copy of Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London.

Orwell is only one of the many writers and philosophers whose names and quotes find their way into this memoir. Kaldheim majored in Classics and English major at Dartmouth University; he grew up in a comfortable suburban family, even attended seminary school. He's had some ups and downs, including some jail time, but he doesn't attribute his problems to anything but his own poor judgement and a series of bad decisions.

The cross-country travelogue cuts back and forth between the past, laden with regret, and the present, full of adventure, and simple physical pleasures, and the compassion and generosity of total strangers. The reader has a sense that Kaldheim will pull his life together -- after all, he did write and publish this book -- but how and when that will happen creates some suspense and many surprises.

All in all, if you're not offended by drug use or by people who survive on charity, Idiot Wind is a satisfying read.

* * * *

I have two notes about this book, not meant as criticisms, merely observation.

Kaldheim's stringent self-blame is commendable in a way: he takes full responsibility for his choices. This creates more sympathy in the reader, and it renders Kaldheim's escapades more comic than tragic, as we feel his homelessness and poverty are self-inflicted.

I can't argue with how a person frames their own experience, but from a higher vantage point, this is a very simplistic view of addiction. Addiction may technically be a choice in the sense of "no one held a gun to your head," but it's often the result of mental illness, which is not a choice, or trauma, also not a choice. Addiction may be a disease -- also not a choice. And addiction may be the only path to survival.

As far as we know, Kaldheim never returned to his cocaine habit, but late in the book we do see that he probably has an addictive personality, or a predisposition to addiction. I'm pretty sure that's not a choice, either.

My other observation about Kaldheim's travelogue is that it's an almost exclusively male world. Homeless men are sleeping under bridges and in flophouses, they are lining up at charity kitchens, they are selling their blood in "stab labs". But there are more impoverished women in the US than men, since so often women are the sole providers for their children. We don't see these women at all.

Kaldheim's journey would be exponentially more unsafe for a woman. And I'm not implying that the author should have written about anything outside of his own experience. It just made me wonder: where are the women? They are scraping by on meager government assistance. They are hidden in every dark corner of every city, using sex work to survive. They are dependent on abusive partners. They are victims of trafficking. But they are not, apparently, tramping across the country hitching rides and eating at the Salvation Army.

* * * *

* Incredible live version here.


pupdate: prison break, cookie style

I've been putting off the recall training. We have equipment, and we have advice, but we don't have a plan -- because we haven't made it a priority. Honking big flashing neon note to self: make it a priority.

This morning I when called in both dogs from the backyard, only Kai appeared. And she appeared from behind some foliage. Hmm. I called for Cookie a few times, then followed Kai to the back fence.

And there it was, well-hidden behind tall flowers. A tunnel.

 You might not think our girl could fit through that space.

But she's very skinny. And very determined!

This escapes marks a milestone for She Who Cannot Be Contained. It's the first time she's breached the main perimeter fence. The new fence which cost many thousands of dollars. Sigh.

I grabbed Cookie's collar and leash, and my car keys, assuming I would have to drive around looking for her. Once out in the road, I saw a neighbour, several houses down, was talking to Cookie, trying to keep her occupied. I yelled for Cookie -- also yelled a thank-you -- and she came running full-tilt towards me. Yay! She's doing it!

The celebration was premature. I grabbed Cookie, but while I struggled to get her collar and leash with my other hand, she squirmed away. And off she went, running around the neighbourhood, the happiest dog you've ever seen. We'd see her investigating the porch furniture on one house, then she'd disappear for a while, then re-emerge from a different yard, her front legs flying in the air, her tongue wagging, a huge panting grin on her face. I wish I had a video to share, but capturing the scene is not a high priority when I'm trying to capture the miscreant.

At one point she approached me to check out the treats I was holding, then realized it was a trick, and took off again. Food is just not that interesting when you're running wild and free.

This went on for quite a while. It's embarrassing.

Finally, we used the only thing that works when we're at the beach: pretend abandonment. Making sure Cookie was watching, we put Kai in the back seat and drove slowly down the street. She followed the car -- even circled us -- but when we stopped, she would take off again.

Then, while Cookie was off in someone's backyard, out of view, we drove to the end of the block and stopped. She emerged, didn't see us, and took off at full speed -- towards our house. I called very loudly, Cookieeee!!  She turned, and ran as fast as I've ever seen her run, straight to the car, and jumped right in.

All smiles, no shame.

"This look always makes Mommy melt."

Yes, it's time for more training.


essential reading on anti-racism: "we can't tinker around the edges. we need to dismantle systems."

During the current focus on systemic racism, this is likely the best essay I've read. It's written in a US context, but it applies to Canada, both for Indigenous people and black Canadians.

I hope you'll read it and share it.

* * * * *

What the Courage to Change History Looks Like

By William Barber II, Liz Theoharis, Timothy B. Tyson and Cornel West

June 19, 2020

Since the casual killing of George Floyd on camera, unprecedented protests — not policy papers — have radically shifted public opinion in support of the battle against systemic racism. The new nation being born in our streets may yet blossom into Langston Hughes’s “land that never has been yet / and yet must be” — but only if this movement refuses to let its truths be marched into the narrow cul-de-sac of “police reform.”

Yes, years of police killings of unarmed African-Americans had stacked up like dry tinder. True, George Floyd’s public murder furnished the spark. But freedom’s forge must finish its work while the coals are hot. This is the hour to reimagine what America could become if “We the People” meant all of us. America needs what this movement intends to do: change history, after which police training manuals will follow.

We have witnessed a multicolored and intergenerational uprising whose power grows more poised and peaceful by the day, winning support that reveals a newly mobilized majority in our midst. Let no one mistake peace for quiet, however, nor mistake the rage over police violence as ignoring the roots of policy violence and poverty violence. The ruthless indifference of our governments to the poor was clear well before Covid-19 laid it bare.

Cries of “I can’t breathe” call out in compelling shorthand America’s enduring racial chasm in every measure of well-being: health care and infant mortality, wages and wealth, unemployment, education, housing, policing and criminal justice, water quality and environmental safety. The bills that bustle through our legislatures offer narrow reforms of police procedures and bypass the fullness of what the protesters are saying: The children of privilege are protected not by a higher grade of policing but by deeper layers of resources — and that is what ought to protect all of our children.

That so many Indigenous nations have joined the protests should surprise no one. The challenges that confront African-Americans are endemic to these peoples as well. Their unique, continuing struggle to exercise their sovereignty against a continuing conquest reminds us of how deep and various are our struggles against white supremacy. Their own modern Selma — water cannons used on peaceful protesters on a 23-degree winter night — happened near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in November 2016.

The marching feet say what the Congress cannot yet hear: Our national history and character carved these scars into our body politic. Policy tinkering will not heal them. If we are to understand the pressing need for radical reconstruction of our nation in this moment, we must look back to see how 400 years of compromises with white supremacy brought us to this place. The American Revolution’s dreams deferred now call us to a brighter common future.

To hear that call, we might turn to Monticello, where an enslaved woman fetched future-President Thomas Jefferson the lamp by which he framed God’s unalienable human rights, and to Constitution Hall, where the founders secured “the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity” by compromising with racial tyranny.

It is crucial to remember that many patriots of that Revolution found slavery incompatible with its meaning. Mr. Jefferson’s 1774 “A Summary of the Rights of British America” claimed, “The abolition of domestic slavery is the great object of desire in those colonies.” That he wrote this while holding a deed to a baby girl who would one day bear him six children only marks the human paradox of chattel slavery in a democratic republic.

At the Constitutional Convention, Southern delegates required that the document bow to slavery. Fearful of the North’s larger electorate, the planters nixed direct national elections and created the Electoral College to constrain the popular will. They demanded their property in dark flesh be counted as three-fifths of a person for purposes of white representation in Congress. Such measures gave the Southern planters power beyond their numbers; for 32 of our first 36 years, presidents hailed from Virginia and enslaved other Americans.

Jefferson knew America had gained a nation at great cost to its soul. Slavery, he predicted, was “the speck in our horizon which is to burst on us as a tornado, sooner or later.” That “tornado” roared in 1861 as the nation plunged into Civil War. Nearly 200,000 black soldiers battled for the Union. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant reported that their valor constituted “the heaviest blow yet to the Confederacy.” After the victory, African-American families gathered in Freedmen’s Conventions across the South. These men and women sought schools for their children, protection from Ku Klux Klan terror and full citizenship.

The interracial Reconstruction governments created the South’s first public schools and eased restrictions on voting for poor whites as well as freed people. Black citizenship so offended Southern conservatives, however, that by the mid-1870s they turned to unspeakable violence to crush all dreams of a nonracial “We the People.” Between Emancipation and the turn of the 20th century, interracial “fusion” political alliances, mostly between poor farmers, black and white, emerged in states of the former Confederacy. Most were surprisingly robust and persistent. In three states of the Upper South, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia, these “fusion” movements actually took state power. These hopeful democratic experiments ended by blood, not ballots. Tyrants dubbing themselves “Redeemers” stole “We the People” from us and built the Jim Crow South on white supremacy, ending hopes for democracy until the 1960s.

Even now, the ancient lie of white supremacy remains lethal. It has left millions of African-American children impoverished in resegregated and deindustrialized cities. It embraces high-poverty, racially isolated schools that imperil our children — and our future. It shoots first and dodges questions later. “Not everything that is faced can be changed,” James Baldwin instructs, “but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

Change requires an honest confrontation with our history and what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called “the strength to love.” These new American revolutionaries speak their love and strength in language less about right and left than right and wrong. They demand a genuine democracy and are skeptical of democratic braying from a Congress that watched the U.S. Supreme Court wipe its feet on the Voting Rights Act. Nobody in these protests intends to accept a democracy that consistently fails to ensure that all Americans, including people of color, women, immigrants, the elderly and students, have easy and equal access to the ballot. They consider it common sense that democracy will not survive without high-quality, well-funded and diverse schools.

What Dorothy Day called “a revolution of the heart” is blossoming in our streets, where the revolutionaries seem confident that America can spend less on endless war and the police state, make the 1 percent and the corporations pay a fair share and be able to ensure health care, living wages and affordable housing for all. All demand that our legacy must include a livable planet. Black and white, immigrant and Indigenous, Asian-American and Latinx, straight and L.G.B.T.Q., of every hue and faith, they make it plain: These things will require not mere policy tinkering but dismantling the interlocking systems created by and for white supremacy and gender-based oppressions.

Their stunning faith in the possibilities of American democracy will be their gift to both our ancestors and our descendants. And they are inspiring a nation to summon once more the courage to change history. “America never was America to me,” Mr. Hughes writes. “And yet I swear this oath: America will be!”

William Barber II and Liz Theoharis are co-chairs of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. 
Timothy B. Tyson is a senior research scholar at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. 
Cornel West is professor of the practice of public philosophy at Harvard University. 
The Poor People’s Campaign is mobilizing a coalition of national and grass-roots justice organizations for change on June 20.


katy bowman's nutritious movement: will it change my life? i'm working on it

One of my principal goals for 2019 was to improve my level of fitness. I had been only sporadically active for 10 years -- beginning with starting graduate school while working two jobs, then segueing into becoming president of my local union -- and it had definitely negatively impacted my health and well-being.

The year of getting more fit? No.

I was highly motivated and the year started out well. I bought new hiking boots and some rain gear, and we explored all the manageable trails in our area. I bought swim gear and got back in the pool for the first time in 10 years. After we adopted Kai and Cookie, I began each day with a walk, and I walked to work a few days each week. I was feeling good about the effort.

Then I tried to resume a strengthening program I had used a few years back, and ended up with intense back spasms, fully out of commission for a week, then with reduced movement for another two or three weeks. That began a frustrating cycle: every time I would increase my activity, I would end up with an injury. At some point my knee -- my "other" knee, not the "bad" knee that I've had trouble with since age 12 -- started to hurt. It got progressively worse until I was nearly immobilized.

I had some physio, which helped somewhat, but the overall picture was grim. As little as 10 minutes of walking produced back spasms and stabbing pains in my knee.

I was becoming afraid that my back and knee pain were permanent conditions. Perhaps that seems premature, but that's how much anxiety the pain and injuries were causing. I was frustrated and becoming anxious and unhappy.

Various people suggested various things, but I was either unable to do them at all, or my pain would increase.

Enter Katy Bowman

A colleague and union sister suggested Katy Bowman's Nutritious Movement.

I ordered a very basic program designed for chronic pain. I started the program, and within a few days, my knee pain was markedly reduced. After two weeks, I was walking without pain, and was able to gradually increase my daily and weekly fitness routine. I track my exercise, and the minutes rose from almost zero to 180 or more minutes weekly.

A word about my lower back pain

I first experienced lower back pain in the early '90s, the first time I had a job that required standing for long periods of time. I found some exercises to loosen the tight muscles in that area, and I've used them ever since. Before any sustained walking, I would do these stretches, and that would allow me walk without pain.

Over the last 10 years, that equation started to deteriorate. I was having more lower back pain, more frequently. The stretching would "wear off" sooner. The pain would become more intense and last longer.

I consulted with physiotherapists, but nothing resolved it. One therapist's ideas made it significantly worse.

Katy Bowman's program has me not only stretching the muscles in the lower back, but strengthening the muscles in the upper back. I can now walk for 45 minutes with no back pain -- and if I get a slight twinge, I can adjust my upper back alignment, and it stops!

To me, this borders on the miraculous.

Movement versus exercise

Bowman's philosophy is that both the demands and the comforts of modern life have messed up our alignment and cause us all kinds of trouble. On the one hand, we spend a lot of time driving, and a lot of time sitting at our desks. On the other hand, we are relaxing in cushy furniture, and using all kinds of conveniences that make our lives easier -- or, put another way, allow us use our muscles less.

In addition to her exercise routines, Bowman recommends lifestyle changes, some of which sound good and some of which seem impossible to me. But unlike most programs I have tried, Bowman teaches how to gradually transition to these changes. One example is using a standing desk. If I were to try using a standing desk, I'd soon be in agony. But if I had a gradual plan to do so, and a goal of perhaps using a standing desk half of my desk time, it might be very different.

Bowman also teaches lifestyle changes that I have a hard time believing I could ever do. She wants us to wear minimal footwear, also done through a gradual transition. I have prescription orthotics and I wear hiking boots almost all the time -- i.e., I need a lot of support. Bowman's programs all begin with the stretching and strengthening the feet, something I've never tried. Who knows?

She also teaches a "furniture free" life -- strengthening your muscles to make getting on the floor, sitting on the floor, and getting up from the floor comfortable, and to make floor-sitting a standard habit.

I have a hard time believing I will ever do this! But I am very aware that I used to be able to do all those things comfortably and now cannot.

Bowman makes a distinction between exercise and movement, comparing exercise to vitamin supplements, and movement to a healthy diet. She wants us to move our bodies more like our pre-modern ancestors did -- to stand, squat, lift, and carry.

Here are some examples of what Bowman calls a "movement-rich life". Some of it seems obsessive to me, not unlike people who struggle with exercise bulimia or compulsive exercise -- people who can never sit still because they are compelled to burn calories every waking moment. I know that's not what Bowman means, but some of her acolytes can sound that way.

Where does age fit in

I bought one of Bowman's books geared specifically to seniors, which she wrote with the participation of four older women. (They use the lovely euphemism goldener.) All four have had dramatic results from the Nutritious Movement program. There are stories of knee replacements cancelled, lifelong back pain disappearing, doing all the daily errands on foot.

Each of these women applied themselves to Bowman's programs intensively. They took 2-hour classes, five days a week, and eventually trained to become Nutritious Movement instructors. I'm not going to fit that profile.

On the other hand... Bowman feels that our belief that much of our physical pain and breakdown is down solely to age is misplaced. For example, if our alignment has been wrecked by bad footwear, or endless hours of sitting, then as we get older, that's 10 more years, 20 more years, 30 more years of the bad footwear and the hours of sitting -- and all those years of compensating for the immobility and pain. So age is a factor, but -- Bowman believes -- not necessarily for the reasons we think it is.

Her work is as much about re-training our brains as stretching our muscles. She uses the example of learning how to ride a bicycle. One day you cannot ride a bicycle, you're wobbling around, you're falling off... and then one day, it clicks, and boom, you're riding a bike. Nothing much has changed in your muscles. You haven't built up any new strength. But you have new coordination -- meaning, you've retrained your neural pathways.

Skeptical but proceeding

Normally when I recommend something, I'm all-out about it -- I love it to death and have enthusiastically jumped in the deep end. With Bowman's program, so far, I have only dipped my toes in. But the results have been so remarkable that I want to go further.

One drawback I'm finding in Nutritious Movement is that there are so many sessions, each focusing on different muscle groups. Some are 20 minutes long, but many are an hour or longer. The challenge, for me, is to find a way to use the programs that is challenging, but sustainable.

I don't yet know what that will look like. Bowman offers many different options and I'm hoping that I'll be able to create a path that works for me.


listening to joni: #14: night ride home

Night Ride Home, 1991

Although I mostly enjoyed Joni's previous album, Chalk Mark In a Rainstorm, I still harboured a nagging doubt and vague dislike.

Both Chalk Mark (1988) and Dog Eat Dog (1985) didn't feel like Joni to me. I don't mean that they didn't repeat some formula or sound. I hope it's obvious that I don't approach music from that point of view. Those two albums had a cold, flat, pop-synth feel.

Re-reading my posts about them, I noticed I wrote almost exclusively about the lyrics. It was as if I hadn't even heard the music. So I went back for another listen, and it was no accident -- you don't hear the music. It's vague, cold, and indistinct.

Night Ride Home ends that unwelcome trend. You can hear Joni's playing and her arranging, and it's a welcome sound -- warm, intimate, distinctly musical, rather than synthetic. Joni's acoustic guitar, Larry Klein's bass, and some beautiful percussion by both Klein and Alex Acuna form a warm, dark backdrop for Joni's voice, which is deep and rich.

The album's title track is another happy love song! Have these gone from Joni rarities to standards? Unlike the celebratory pop sound of "Solid Love" from Wild Things Run Fast, Night Ride Home has a languorous, romantic feel. It conjures an image of quiet joy and freedom that resonates deeply with me.
I love the man beside me
We love the open road
No phones till Friday
Far from the overkill
Far from the overload
One of the album's most fascinating and enigmatic songs is "Passion Play (When All the Slaves Are Free)". The title, of course, refers to the story of Easter, then juxtaposes the Christian imagery with contemporary commercial ones. The first two lines of the song -- "Magdalene is trembling / Like a washing on a line" -- conjures something Joni will sing about a few albums from now. In fact, it was through Joni's music that I learned about the horrific Magdalene Laundries, which I have written about several times.

"Slouching Towards Bethlehem" is equally enigmatic, interpreting and building on the poem by W.B. Yeats. Few writers could successfully use such a famous piece as a base for their own lyrics, but Joni's words blend beautifully with the original.

Other songs are more straightforward. "Cherokee Louise" paints a painful picture of an abused child. In "The Windfall (Everything for Nothing)", Joni sneers and nearly spits at the greed and rapacious materialism that she sees all around her.
Oh I'm tangled in your lies
Your scam
Your spider web
Spit spun between the trees
Doors slam
You want my head
You'd eat your young alive
For a jaguar in the drive
You lie too much
You lie too badly
You want everything for nothing
The only song on this album that doesn't work for me at all is the nostalgic and prosaic "Ray's Dad's Cadillac". But this is a mainstay for Joni of this era. She often re-visits the music-and-friends portion of her small-town Canadian upbringing with warmth and happy memories.

The album cover

The cover art on Night Ride Home is collage made from Joni's own photography. On the front cover, we see the profile of (perhaps) a man driving, as seen by the other person in the car, and maybe Joni's own reflection in the visor mirror. There are images of some natural setting, perhaps a lake, seen from the road as the couple drives by.

I don't read too many reviews when I write these posts, but I did find something interesting about the album's cover from a review in Billboard. In "Exposing Joni Mitchell's New Album", Chris Morris writes:
The cover of Night Ride Home features a photographic self-portrait.

[Joni] dates her involvement with film to a 1983 live concert in Santa Barbara, Calif. A five-camera crew shot the show; two of the cameras broke down, and Mitchell subsequently had to fill holes in the continuity with other footage.

"That's where I learned film making, on this project -- working from found footage and making it work," she says. "I didn't know the rules, so I broke a lot of them. People kept saying, 'You can't do that, you can't do that.' What came out of it was a pretty strange, experimental kind of piece, but in England they liked it, they played it . . . A lot of early videos in England bore its influence."

Mitchell subsequently shot a Super 8 documentary of the '83 tour, "Refuge In The Roads" ("It's a home movie," she says). In 1988, she worked on three self-financed videos for tracks from the album Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm.

"None of these were authorized by the company," she explains. "Unfortunately, what happens then is that the outlet, the door is closed to you. There's no single with it, there's no push, no one sees it. [For] the money to make them, I sold some paintings in Japan, and I took my profits from that and plowed them back into video art."

The videos were met by resistance at major outlets. Mitchell says, "Finally I told my manager, 'Let's get 'em out somewhere, let's call little small stations . . . Let's just get somebody to play them, because they exist.' Small local stations took them."

Mitchell took a hands-on approach to the video for the current single, "Come In From The Cold", editing director Rocky Schenck's footage. "There were 180 minutes of film," she says hoarsely. "That's where I lost my voice -- a lot of takes . . . Down to 3:40, that's a lot of trim."

She adds, "I'd like to do more videos than the company would like to do. I have a little kitty, so to speak, which comes from the sale of my art, channeled back into art, so that way I feel there's no loss. With the barter system, you avoid the economic paranoia. I know if I deviate from what the company supports, then the audience is lost."
In her own words

On my previous listening to joni post, I stopped using "bad critic comment of the album" and am now going with quotes from a feature story or interview that accompanied the album release.
I was not a protester in the '60s. . . . I was a protester in the '80s, when no one was protesting. I felt it was a nasty job, you're reviewed as negative, but somebody had to do it because everyone was in the midst of their shallow, money-grubbing rah-rah.

The album is mainly variations on the key of C, a lot of C major. People like major chords -- major chords are happy, positive chords. It's a very sunny modality, this album, and friendly. It's not that it's a smile button in any way, because there are moments of minor, where it's tragic reevaluation and yadda-yadda.

[After earlier] dissonance [and] heartlessness, only a positive sunny chord would do. I kind of stroked myself and wrote accordingly and found out other people needed the stroke of those warmer chords, too.

-- Quoted in Joni Mitchell comes in from the cold, by Matthew Gilbert, Boston Globe, March 17, 1991
Co-writing credit

The track "Nothing Can Be Done" gets a rare (outside of Mingus) co-writing credit: "Music by Larry Klein / Words by Joni Mitchell".

Other musicians on this album

Bass, Larry Klein
Guitar, Larry Klein, Bill Dillon, Michael Landau
Pedal Steel Guitar, Bill Dillon
Percussion, Larry Klein, Alex Acuna
Bill Dillon Guitar
Soprano Sax, Wayne Shorter
Drums, Vinnie Colaiuta
Background Vocals, Karen Peris, David Baerwald, Brenda Russell
Strings Arranged and Conducted, Jeremy Lubbock


11 things on my mind about the anti-police-violence and anti-racism protests

1. Most violence is not being committed by protesters.

What percentage of protesters are violent? Filter for police provocateurs, filter for white nationalists, filter for random thieves hiding under cover of mayhem. All of those exist at mass protests and have been proven to exist countless times.

What percentage of actual protesters used violence? 0.5 percent? I have been to my share of protests, and I doubt it is even that. 0.05 percent?

What percentage of media coverage is about violent protests?

2. Most violence is being committed by police.

Police, wearing military-grade riot gear, are attacking peaceful protesters, even destroying their safety supplies.

And while it's true that they were egged on by the cowardly redneck who lives in the White House, blaming him is misplaced. This problem is as old as America.

3. The media's unrelenting focus on whether or not protests are violent is almost exclusively reserved for protests by African Americans -- and in Canada, by Indigenous people.

4. If police want to show the world that the racist violence in their ranks is caused by a few bad apples, they are doing a very poor job. Right now the bad apples could fill an orchard. I would think police have a compelling self-interest in behaving honourably.

5. When the three police officers who watched Derek Chauvin murder George Floyd were arrested, and charges against Chauvin were upgraded, protests had been going on continuously for nine days.

Without visible and sustained public outrage, it never would have happened. As a friend of mine said on Facebook, we had to burn the country down to get them arrested.

6. White people who hate racism must make the leap from not being consciously racist to being consciously anti-racist. Although it is now socially unacceptable to say racist remarks in public, this has not brought large numbers of white people into the battle against racism. White people, we are needed.

7. The only reason we know George Floyd was murdered, and the only reason we know that Christian Cooper did not threaten Amy Cooper's life, is because there is cell phone footage. There is absolutely no reason to believe that police violence against African Americans is worse now than it has been historically. We just weren't able to see it.

And often, even when we are able to see it, the "justice" system does not care. The people who maintain that system do not care.

8. Canadians, get off your high-horses and do the work of dismantling this country's racist systems. The Indian Act. Residential Schools. Missing and murdered Indigenous women. Racial profiling. Carding. Two days ago, social media in Regina was warning people about a black man breaking into a car. It was his own car.

This headline from The Beaverton (Canada's answer to The Onion) sums it up. But it's not satire.

9. The strength of the protests, the pace at which they spread, the determination and persistence of the protesters, makes me incredibly proud and grateful.

10. The United States was founded on protest. All progress in the US was born from protest movements. I dare you to prove otherwise.

11. White people: you are needed. This civil rights movement must be your movement, too. Don't try to lead, don't steer, don't whitesplain. Show your face, swell the numbers, prove that African Americans are Americans. Flood the streets with your white faces alongside the brown and black ones. Prove what kind of society you want to live in.


kareem abdul-jabbar: you start to wonder if it should be all black people who wear body cams, not the cops

One of the best things I've read about the protests rocking in the US and elsewhere is an op-ed by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, in the Los Angeles Times.

In case you don't know him, Abdul-Jabbar is a basketball legend. His NBA stats are off the charts (Wikipedia). He's also a writer and a social activist. I have to say, I'm a bit in awe of him.

Here's Abdul-Jabbar's take on the protests. The piece, originally run by the L.A. Times, is also available on his website.
Don't understand the protests? What you're seeing is people pushed to the edge
By Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

May 30, 2020

What was your first reaction when you saw the video of the white cop kneeling on George Floyd's neck while Floyd croaked, "I can't breathe"?

If you're white, you probably muttered a horrified, "Oh, my God" while shaking your head at the cruel injustice. If you're black, you probably leapt to your feet, cursed, maybe threw something (certainly wanted to throw something), while shouting, "Not @#$%! again!" Then you remember the two white vigilantes accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery as he jogged through their neighborhood in February, and how if it wasn't for that video emerging a few weeks ago, they would have gotten away with it. And how those Minneapolis cops claimed Floyd was resisting arrest but a store's video showed he wasn't. And how the cop on Floyd's neck wasn't an enraged redneck stereotype, but a sworn officer who looked calm and entitled and devoid of pity: the banality of evil incarnate.

Maybe you also are thinking about the Karen in Central Park who called 911 claiming the black man who asked her to put a leash on her dog was threatening her. Or the black Yale University grad student napping in the common room of her dorm who was reported by a white student. Because you realize it's not just a supposed "black criminal" who is targeted, it's the whole spectrum of black faces from Yonkers to Yale.

You start to wonder if it should be all black people who wear body cams, not the cops.

What do you see when you see angry black protesters amassing outside police stations with raised fists? If you're white, you may be thinking, "They certainly aren't social distancing." Then you notice the black faces looting Target and you think, "Well, that just hurts their cause." Then you see the police station on fire and you wag a finger saying, "That's putting the cause backward."

You're not wrong — but you're not right, either. The black community is used to the institutional racism inherent in education, the justice system and jobs. And even though we do all the conventional things to raise public and political awareness — write articulate and insightful pieces in the Atlantic, explain the continued devastation on CNN, support candidates who promise change — the needle hardly budges.

But COVID-19 has been slamming the consequences of all that home as we die at a significantly higher rate than whites, are the first to lose our jobs, and watch helplessly as Republicans try to keep us from voting. Just as the slimy underbelly of institutional racism is being exposed, it feels like hunting season is open on blacks. If there was any doubt, President Trump's recent tweets confirm the national zeitgeist as he calls protesters "thugs" and looters fair game to be shot.

Yes, protests often are used as an excuse for some to take advantage, just as when fans celebrating a hometown sports team championship burn cars and destroy storefronts. I don't want to see stores looted or even buildings burn. But African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer and closer. Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you're choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it's everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands. But we have to stay vigilant, because it's always still in the air.

So, maybe the black community's main concern right now isn't whether protesters are standing three or six feet apart or whether a few desperate souls steal some T-shirts or even set a police station on fire, but whether their sons, husbands, brothers and fathers will be murdered by cops or wannabe cops just for going on a walk, a jog, a drive. Or whether being black means sheltering at home for the rest of their lives because the racism virus infecting the country is more deadly than COVID-19.

What you should see when you see black protesters in the age of Trump and coronavirus is people pushed to the edge, not because they want bars and nail salons open, but because they want to live. To breathe.

Worst of all, is that we are expected to justify our outraged behavior every time the cauldron bubbles over. Almost 70 years ago, Langston Hughes asked in his poem "Harlem": "What happens to a dream deferred? /… Maybe it sags / like a heavy load. / Or does it explode?"

Fifty years ago, Marvin Gaye sang in "Inner City Blues": "Make me wanna holler / The way they do my life." And today, despite the impassioned speeches of well-meaning leaders, white and black, they want to silence our voice, steal our breath.

So what you see when you see black protesters depends on whether you're living in that burning building or watching it on TV with a bowl of corn chips in your lap waiting for "NCIS" to start.

What I want to see is not a rush to judgment, but a rush to justice.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the N.B.A.'s all-time leading scorer, is the author of 16 books, including, most recently, "Mycroft & Sherlock — The Empty Birdcage" 



rip christo. there will never be another.

I was so very sad to hear that the artist Christo has died at the age of 84.

I felt so incredibly fortunate to still be living in NYC when The Gates was there. I went through the entire installation multiple times, when very few people were there -- once in the snow, and once when Christo and Jeanne-Claude were walking through. I have tons of photos... but they're all on film and in prints!

Of course Christo and Jeanne-Claude were much more than The Gates! But that is where my life intersected with their art, and I'm very grateful for it.

Christo was such a giving and expansive artist. There will never be another.

Our autographed poster from The Gates


police resisters: not the solution to systemic racism, but an extremely positive development

I was shocked when Detective Dmaine Freeland, an active duty officer on the NYPD force, publicly condemned the Minneapolis officer who killed George Floyd and the other cops who witnessed the murder and did nothing to stop it. To say this is unusual is a massive understatement. It's absolutely unheard of.

Being the first person to speak out in a culture that demands silence is incredibly difficult.

When one person speaks out against evil and stands up for justice, others will follow. Next, four more New York City police officers joined Dmaine Freeland: Deputy Inspector Winston Faison, Detective Carl Achille, Sergeant Melody Peguese (retired), and Detective (retired) Michael Bell.

These men are heroes. (Calling a cop a hero -- that's a first for me!)

Soon apologies and statements started flowing from police departments across the US. By now, I'm guessing there is some pressure on departments to release these statements.

I know that police officers speaking out against the murder of George Floyd is not the solution to systemic racism. However, Freeland and the other four who broke rank should be recognized for their courage, principles, and empathy. They are resisters.

Those men are resisting a culture that caused three police officers to watch a fourth police officer murder a man, and do nothing to stop it. That culture is where so much violence and corruption comes from.

I'm guessing few among us who are not military or police can appreciate how strong the pressure of that "blue wall of silence" really is.

To my mind, those first cops who spoke out are brave and principled. Perhaps many who are now following are less so, possibly bowing to a different brand of pressure. But wouldn't pressure to have more empathy and be less racist be a good thing? Isn't that how behaviour changes -- when it becomes socially unacceptable?

This development doesn't let white people off the hook! There is so much work to do, and we all have a responsibility to do it. But only cops can change the culture of cops. That work can only come from the inside.


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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

When will this end?



rest in power, larry kramer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Larry Kramer. You changed our world. 

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


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

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

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

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

The elephant in the room

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

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

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

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

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

From bad to worse to impossible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A double biography, more than I wanted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Desperate for help, yet refusing all offers

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

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

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

Overall, an excellent book

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comedy Before Sleep

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

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