9.23.2020

interspecies love: it's been too long

I've been stashing these in a folder, but it's been years since I've posted any! I don't know about you, but I could sure use a break.


























9.19.2020

ruth bader ginsburg, rest in power


 






These highlights of Ginsburg's decisions and dissents on the SCOTUS are a joy to read. I used two sources, and decided to keep the overlap. Many highlight the reason she was affectionately known as the Notorious RBG.

United States v. Virginia, 1996

In United States v. Virginia, Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion that would serve as a milestone moment for women’s rights and university admission policies. The case challenged a policy by the Virginia Military Institute that barred women from being admitted to the institution. Although the state of Virginia said it would create a separate educational program for women for the military institute, Ginsburg questioned its merits, writing that “Women seeking and fit for a VMI-quality education cannot be offered anything less, under the Commonwealth’s obligation to afford them genuinely equal protection.”

“Neither federal nor state government acts compatibly with equal protection when a law or official policy denies to women, simply because they are women, full citizenship stature-equal opportunity to aspire, achieve, participate in and contribute to society based on their individual talents and capacities,” Ginsburg wrote.

Olmstead v. L.C., 1999

The Supreme Court’s ruling in Olmstead v. L.C. proved a victory for the rights of people with disabilities. In the case, two women with mental disabilities were ordered to remain in a psychiatric facility even though some medical professionals believed they could live healthy lives in a “community-based program.” 

Ginsburg wrote:

States are required to place persons with mental disabilities in community settings rather than in institutions when the State’s treatment professionals have determined that community placement is appropriate, the transfer from institutional care to a less restrictive setting is not opposed by the affected individual, and the placement can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the resources available to the State and the needs of others with mental disabilities. 

Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 2007

Ginsburg famously dissented from the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co, which ended up making it more difficult for workers to sue their employers over allegations of wage discrimination. 

The decision was so troubling to Ginsburg, she chose to read her dissent from the bench, which The Washington Post reported at the time was “a usually rare practice that she has now employed twice in the past six weeks to criticize the majority for opinions that she said undermine women's rights.”

"In our view, the court does not comprehend, or is indifferent to, the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination," Ginsburg said. 

Obergefell v. Hodges, 2015

The outcome of Obergefell v. Hodges was a major moment for same-sex couples and the rights of LGBTQ Americans. In the case, a number of same-sex couples sued their respective states over bans against same-sex marriages and not recognizing their legal marriages. Ginsburg’s vote helped overturn the marriage bans; legalizing same-sex marriage in every U.S. state. 

“We have changed our idea about marriage,” Ginsburg said during oral arguments. “Marriage today is not what it was under the common law tradition, under the civil law tradition.” 

Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, 2016

In the case of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the Supreme Court’s decision helped strike down the contentious H.B.2 law in Texas that imposed a number of regulations on abortion clinics, seemingly designed to deter women from obtaining the procedure, among other critiques. Ginsburg said at the time that “it is beyond rational belief that H. B. 2 could genuinely protect the health of women, and certain that the law ‘would simply make it more difficult for them to obtain abortions.’”

She added: “When a State severely limits access to safe and legal procedures, women in desperate circumstances may resort to unlicensed rogue practitioners, faute de mieux, at great risk to their health and safety.”

* * * * 

Shelby County

In a 2013 decision out of the court, Chief Justice John Roberts led a majority invalidating a key provision in the Voting Rights Act that required certain jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to undergo federal oversight before enacting any changes in voting procedure.

Ginsburg penned a fiery dissent in the case, pointing out that Congress passed the latest installment of the Voting Rights Act with "overwhelming bipartisan support," saying the representatives legitimately exercised their constitutional powers in doing so.

"The sad irony of today's decision lies in (the court's) utter failure to grasp why the (law) has proven effective," Ginsburg wrote.

It is the dissent in the Shelby case that grew Ginsburg's following in pop culture in recent years -- spurring the "Notorious RBG" moniker that morphed into a celebration of the justice's legal career.

She wrote that "[t]hrowing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet."

Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.

Some of Ginsburg's most blistering dissents came from cases involving gender discrimination and civil rights -- an issue she pioneered throughout her legal career.

In one such case, Lilly Ledbetter sued her employer, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, in 1999 for gender discrimination after discovering that over the course of her 19-year career at the company, she had received lower compensation than her male counterparts. She won the case in federal court in 2003 and was awarded $3.8 million in back pay and damages.

The tire giant appealed and the case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court. In 2007, the Supreme Court upheld a reversal of the federal court decision, ruling that because Ledbetter's claim was made after a 180-day charging period, she could not sue her employer under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Railing against the all male, 5-4, majority, Ginsburg delivered a scathing dissent from the bench, a rare act by justices intended to demonstrate the strength of their disagreement. She accused the eight male justices of being indifferent to the gender pay gap.

"The court does not comprehend or is indifferent to the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination," she said, calling upon Congress to act where the court had not.

In 2018, Ledbetter recalled the role Ginsburg played in her landmark case in 2006, saying the justice's dissent from the majority gives her chills to this day.

"I get chills and goosebumps today just thinking about it ... knowing how fierce she was," Ledbetter said.

Hobby Lobby

In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that certain for-profit companies cannot be required by the government to pay for specific types of contraceptives, such as methods of birth control and emergency contraception, for their employees.

In her dissent, Ginsburg wrote the court had "ventured into a minefield," adding it would disadvantage those employees "who do not share their employer's religious beliefs."

"Any decision to use contraceptives made by a woman covered under Hobby Lobby's or Conestoga's plan will not be propelled by the Government, it will be the woman's autonomous choice, informed by the physician she consults," the liberal justice wrote.

Ginsburg also noted the cost barrier that many women face in attempting to gain access to different kinds of birth control.

"It bears note in this regard that the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month's full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage."

Obamacare's contraceptive mandate

In one of her more recent dissents, Ginsburg lambasted the court for "(leaving) women workers to fend for themselves," in a case where the justices struck down the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate.

In July 2020, the court cleared the way for the Trump administration to expand exemptions for employers who have religious or moral objections to complying with the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate.

"Today, for the first time, the Court casts totally aside countervailing rights and interests in its zeal to secure religious rights to the nth degree," Ginsburg wrote in dissent.

"This court leaves women workers to fend for themselves, to seek contraceptive coverage from sources other than their employer's insurer, and, absent another available source of funding, to pay for contraceptive services out of their own pockets," she said and noted that the government had acknowledged that the rules would cause thousands of women -- "between 70,500 and 126,400 women of childbearing age," she wrote -- to lose coverage.

When the case's oral arguments were being heard, Ginsburg participated from a hospital bed because of a gall bladder condition. Ginsburg also announced weeks after her dissent in the case that a scan the February before revealed lesions on her liver and she had begun bi-weekly chemotherapy.

Bush v. Gore

In the election of 2000, Florida was the key to presidential victory on both sides of the aisle. The voting process in the state was a mess -- with poorly designed ballots and counting irregularities abound. Both George W. Bush and Al Gore both declared victory in the state before election night was over, kicking off one of the most drawn-out election results in the nation's history.

The election quickly went from a decision steered by vote counts to one steered by the courts.

The bitter court battle first escalated up to Florida's Supreme Court, where a manual recount of ballots was issued. The order was appealed up to the US Supreme Court, where it was reversed and Florida's 25 electoral votes, along with the presidency, was handed to Bush.

Though Ginsburg was not on the winning side, she did not go gentle into that good night.

''I might join the chief justice were it my commission to interpret Florida law,'' Ginsburg wrote. ''The extraordinary setting of this case has obscured the ordinary principle that dictates its proper resolution: federal courts defer to state high courts' interpretations of their state's own law. This principle reflects the core of federalism, on which all agree.''

''Were the other members of this court as mindful as they generally are of our system of dual sovereignty,'' Justice Ginsburg concluded, ''they would affirm the judgment of the Florida Supreme Court.''

But while colleagues wrote they dissented "respectfully," as Ginsburg typically does, she said only: "I dissent."

* * * *

The deep mourning and existential fear that Ginsburg's death has triggered speak how even the thinnest veneer of democracy is hanging by the flimsiest of threads. 

She was a powerhouse, a model of truth-telling and integrity, a brilliant, forceful, and fearless mind. But the death of one elderly woman, no matter how beloved, should not strike such profound fear in the hearts of so many millions. 

And I've already seen an onslaught of posts blaming that fear on supporters of Bernie Sanders.

9.17.2020

in which i implore the goddess of antihistamines to smile upon me

I am so grateful to be home, and to have several more days off before returning to work. All four of us are happy to be back. What a joy and a privilege to have a home that I love! 

Seeing the dermatologist in Campbell River on the day we were driving through town was an even bigger stroke of luck than we knew: it was the last day before the doctor's vacation! I would have had to wait another two weeks, in addition to another six hours of driving.

Dermatologist:

1. Ordered a whole whack of blood tests to make sure there's no underlying issue causing the urticaria. It's likely the hives are idiopathic -- "CIU" -- but I'm glad he's checking.

2. Prescribed a new-generation antihistamine in three or four times the normal dosage to try to bring the reaction under control. I had it filled immediately.

3. Said if the antihistamines don't work, we'll do a course of oral steroids. I have no problem with that, but I'm also glad he's not starting there.

4. Was unimpressed that I had stopped all my medication, and strongly suggested I reverse course. My joints, especially my knees, have been painful, and my blood pressure is up, so yeah, time to do that. The doctor felt that if I haven't changed medications, they are unlikely to the cause. Also, he said that I'm not taking any of the classic hives-causing meds.

I'm going to continue dairy-free, because I've now had two ridiculous flare-ups coincide with eating dairy products. Whether or not I've actually developed an allergy to dairy, or if this is a secondary reaction, I need to eliminate it from my diet for now.

9.16.2020

cpmvfsgu days 8 and 9: monday and tuesday on salt spring island; whether or not to leave a negative review for an airbnb

I've spent the last two days reading, blogging, scratching, and occasionally eating and sleeping. There were other things to do on Salt Spring Island, but I was too uncomfortable to do anything. It was very nice to have uninterrupted time to read and write.

Tomorrow we'll take an early ferry to Crofton, drive up to Campbell River, take care of our appointments, then head back home. 

* * * *

I've had a long running argument by email with the host of this cottage. I'd like to leave a negative review, but I've read that bad reviews can seriously damage a host's standing with Airbnb. Also, I don't have many reviews on Airbnb and I don't want to be reviewed as a bad guest. I wish the cottage was listed on TripAdvisor, as I have a more substantial body of reviews there.

I've also read that a guest's review is not published until the host reviews the guest -- so if the host wants to suppress a negative review, they can simply decline to leave feedback on the guest. I haven't been able to confirm this.

Despite these issues, I feel uncomfortable not leaving a more fulsome and truthful review. To me that's how things are supposed to work. 

Here's the deal. The listing for the cottage said "self-clean". I interpreted that to mean that no one services the property while you are there -- that you're on your own. As it turns out, the host expects guests to clean the home for the next guests! 

We would never leave dirty dishes or a mess. But we are not going to vacuum, scrub the bathroom, wash the inside of the fridge, and so on. This host expects us to do that, or to leave $100 in cash -- a fee that was not mentioned in advance. We are doing neither.

The host does say that she has a cleaner coming in to provide the "second, covid cleaning".

She left us two towels, and no extras, and claims that guests bring their own. There is no washer/dryer in the house, and no laundromat on the island. It's damp here and towels don't dry. In our experience, there is usually a closet full of towels. The host claims that would substantially increase her costs.

I have been traveling a long time and have stayed in many different kinds of places. No owner of any vacation property has ever expected me to clean their house. Who goes on holidays expecting to clean?

Again, to be very clear: dishes washed, dried, and put away; all garbage and recycling taken outside; nothing messy or out of place; bed stripped as requested. And that ought to be enough.

To review or not to review?

9.15.2020

"fine. biden. but this is bullshit."

 

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Donald Trump is the single greatest gift the Democratic Party could ever hope to receive. 

The Democrats have finally achieved their most sought-after position: every thinking person must now vote Democrat, no matter what. They can now run whoever they want with whatever consequences that will have, because the alternative is an existential threat to the country itself. Both parties, of course, have always been an existential threat to other countries, but this time every person living in the Empire is up against it.

And this will be the gift that keeps on giving for as long as the party exists. All hope of organizing and building an alternative has ended, certainly for as long as can be forecast. 

All the Democrats have to do is overcome the vote suppression, election fraud, threats of violence, actual violence, and the Electoral College, and they're safe from democracy and progressive thought forever. It's no small task, but this time, at least, they appear motivated to try.

I thought Trump would never get the Republican nomination. 

Then I thought Trump would never win.

And now, a third thing I thought I'd never see: Joe Biden can become the next POTUS and we'll all be happy and relieved.

* * * *

When it comes to choosing not to vote for either of the ruling parties, I understand most perspectives, because I've stood at all of them at different times.

I was raised in a very progressive household, where the accepted wisdom was to vote for the most progressive Democrat in the primaries, then hold your nose and vote for whoever got the nomination. My father -- the prime political influence of my youth (yeah, the same crap dad you've heard about had great politics, as long as he didn't have to live by them) -- believed that the "democracy in the streets" at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago is ultimately what brought us Nixon, the escalation of the war in southeast Asia, and everything else that came with it.

In my early 20s, I was still arguing that "a vote for x is a vote for x" -- as in, a vote for the third party candidate ultimately helps the Republican get elected.

After Bill Clinton fucked us over, I started seeing the differences between the Democrats and the Republicans as window-dressing, started caring more about building a movement for a new party as more important than enabling the second-worst corporate shills, and voting for the military industrial complex.

Besides, the Electoral College made my vote moot anyway. Voting in New York State, I didn't influence the election, so I could choose a protest vote while working to help elect the Democrat candidate in Pennsylvania and Ohio, the nearest swing states. 

* * * *

And I don't buy, and will never buy, the simplistic myth that support for Ralph Nader brought us Bush, and even more will I never buy that support for Bernie Sanders brought us Trump. 

The blame for Trump lies in many things -- vote suppression, fraud, the Electoral College -- but above all, the blame lies with the hubris, arrogance, and essential antidemocratic orientation of the DNC, which nominated one of the most hated people in modern American political history. 

We can argue all day about why people hate Hillary Clinton and whether or not its deserved (I personally think she's the American Margaret Thatcher), but the fact is that she is hated and was hated, and she couldn't possibly have won. But the DNC was more concerned with itself and its own existence than with -- well, with anything else.

And then progressives are blamed! Supporters of Bernie Sanders! That is rich. Rather than listen to the clamour of, you know, the voters, ignore them, then blame them.

* * * *

Donald Trump is the single greatest gift the DNC has ever had. 

I've seen nothing to dissuade me from this belief, and everything I observe every day confirms and re-confirms it. Because now there truly is no choice. Everyone who doesn't support fascism must vote for Joe Biden.

Joe Fucking Biden! For crissakes! Joe Biden is everything that's wrong with the Democrats all rolled up into one doddering idiot. He was a ghost through all the primaries, then one day, out of nowhere, he's the man to beat and can't be beat and Bernie who, Elizabeth who? Whatever, the Dems and the media fixed it up and now we want everyone to vote for him, yay!

The one good thing I can come up with about him is that he's preparing to fight for the vote. Thank fucking christ someone is prepared to do that, after fucking Al Gore (who supposedly would be saving us from climate change right now, if not for Ralph Nader -- people actually believe that!) and fucking John Kerry rolled over like two sacks of corporate-funded jellyfish.

And then we will all be so happy and grateful and relieved that Trump is (eventually) out of the White House and we'll be so happy that a Democrat is in the White House and everything will go back to normal. 

Normal invasions and occupations. 

Normal infinitesimally small economic improvements. 

The normal liberal social fiddling and window dressing that bring a few well-placed victories to continue the appearance of progress. Sure, equal marriage is very important, but that heralds a more just society to the same extent that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 did.

* * * *

And if we all continue to repeat the lie that progressives and third-party voters brought us Trump, we will never have to worry about the threat of Sanders or anyone like him again. (Sanders, a Democrat, by the way! Not even trying to pretend otherwise, yet we are still so threatened by him?) And I'm told that AOC and The Squad prove that it's not business as usual in the Democratic Party! Say what? Howard Dean says hi. Greetings from Paul Wellstone. From Tom Harkin. From whoever, they've always been there, the left-leaning Democrats, bringing the left-leaning voters into the fold, serving their powerless purpose. 

I don't doubt their sincerity, and their belief that they can create change. And perhaps something entirely new will happen. If I turn out to be wrong, I'll be thrilled to admit it.

* * * *

In case you're not reading carefully, I'm not suggesting that anyone who votes in the US should do anything except vote for Biden. I personally have not voted in the US since 2004 and I never will again. But those of you who do, this time there is literally no choice.

Fine. Biden. But this is bullshit.

9.14.2020

cpmvfsgu day 7: salt spring island (sunday)

Today's big news is that the GP Dermatologist in Campbell River will see me on the day we are driving through that town, on our way home. Which is two days from now! I'm so relieved I could cry.

I called and pleaded my case -- to be honest, just a simple explanation, I didn't need to exaggerate! -- and also explained we would be passing through town in a couple of days. The scary part was waiting to see if they actually had the referral. I suppose if they hadn't, I could have corrected that with more phone calls. 

The best thing is once the doctor sees me, I'll be able to follow up by phone, without a huge amount of waiting.

* * * *

There was also some conditional good news from Oregon, as my brother and sister-in-law, nephew, grand-niece, etc., are back in their homes, and have power for the first time in nearly a week. They live on a hillside; those in the valley below have lost everything. Last we spoke, SIL was looking into how they could volunteer and/or donate to help the community. I can't even imagine what people are going through.

* * * *

Yesterday was uneventful, thank goddess. 

We had delicious lamb burgers for lunch at the Burger Bar, sitting outside on the water. It's overcast and chilly, which is lovely. 

We went to Country Grocer, which, as it turns out, is a very nice store, but not the Greatest Supermarket Ever. This is mildly amusing, as Allan normally believes I am exaggerating.

We had Zoom drinks with friends, who also happen to be a nephew and niece-in-law. 

And we read.

And that was it! Which was perfect.

There are several things I want to blog about, but can't get past lying on the couch reading.

9.13.2020

cpmvfsgu day 6: salt spring island (saturday)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times? Perhaps not as dramatic as all that, but yesterday was a tale of two days, for sure.

We had a leisurely morning -- well, when you barely sleep, all mornings seem long -- and drove the dogs over to Salty Dog, the local daycare and boarding spot. When I made the arrangements, Jaime was the opposite of every doggie daycare place I've spoken with in any city. She was so totally laid back. Whatever day, whatever hour, just come on by. She didn't ask for vaccination certificates or do an aggression test. She does boarding as needed, grooming if you want it, she raises Husky puppies, and she's open 24/7 to accept rescues, which she tries to rehome, but will keep if need be. 

We followed signs up a rutted mountain road -- perhaps this is why she does pick-up and drop-off? -- until the sound of barking told us we were in the right place. There was a large collection of outdoor kennels -- clearly homemade, irregularly shaped, some projects with lumber and tools where more are being built -- lots of lovely large dogs barking, some by themselves, some two or three together, and one kennel with a few adults and a bunch of puppies, an extended Husky family, little pudgy guys playing and staring.

Jaime is very friendly, and I felt she has the perfect attitude about the dogs -- assured and professional, but relaxed. 

I had made a mental note to myself to tell Jaime that one dog (ahem) is an escape artist, but the first question she asked was, "Do they escape?" I had to laugh. I told her about Cookie, and she moved some dogs around to give our two an escape-proof kennel. 

She has miles of wooded trails on her property, and took them off for a walk in the woods, and we made our getaway. 

* * * *

We went off to the Saturday Market, which is set up in the village of Ganges. Ganges is a mix of regular stores that island residents need, restaurants, and touristy boutiques. Touristy, but not schlocky -- everything is local and handmade, and to my eyes, not extremely expensive. The Market is nice, full of local craftspeople and artists, many with the usual stuff, and several with more unusual and unique offerings.

I instantly fell in love with some inventive carved art that would look amazing on our deck. I assumed pieces would be more than $1,000, and I would admire and move on. I was amazed to see the one I liked best with a relatively modest $300 price tag. Not that we can drop $300 at a craft fair without thinking -- hardly -- but when we travel on "big" trips, we do usually come home with one special item, rather than a lot of little things, like our papyrus painting from Egypt or a gorgeous vase from Ireland. We haven't bought anything new for our first and much-beloved home, and the deck is the best part of the house. 

We chatted with the artist for a while, then I thought we'd make a whole circuit and see how we felt when we came around again. 

Amazingly, I did not buy one set of earrings, not one piece of pottery. The only thing I saw that really appealed was some interesting bead work made entirely out of rose petals -- an ancient technique, and we are told, where the word rosary comes from. (Early Christians got it from Muslims, who learned it from ancient Hindus on the subcontinent.) The rose-petal beads are black, and the artist accents them with freshwater pearls, or brightly coloured beads. I was thinking of buying something for my mother -- she would love them -- but they were really out of my price range.

So we wandered through, looked at many things, ate a few things, briefly considered buying a few things but did not, and made our way back to Lorne Tippett. We looked at all the pieces he had displayed -- and had different favourites! Oh no! We discussed and compared and negotiated... we went back and forth... but in the end, home things are my domain. I couldn't bring Allan around, so I overruled him. Hey, he did the same to me with the house itself! I was just absolutely sure that this was the design we needed for our deck. 

I'll post a photo of it later on. It's the kind of art I would have drooled over when I was younger, wishing I could afford such a thing. I felt really happy to be able to indulge this, and one should never feel guilty about supporting artists.

We also bought a funny, funky change-purse for our grand-niece Sophia (who started kindergarten this week by Zoom... and also helped pack up for fire evacuation...). The artist makes bags (purses, totes, luggage) out of discarded tweed jackets, then makes change purses from the scraps, accenting the dark tweed colours with brightly-coloured zippers for mouths and funny buttons for mismatched eyes. Each change purse has a name, and we bought "Maude" for Sophia. (Pics to follow.)

* * * *

So that is perhaps too much detail about this little market, but the day would soon take a sharp turn. Allan wanted to check out the bookstore (shocking, I know), but I thought we would have some gelato first. I considered choosing sorbetto -- I have been supposedly avoiding dairy in case the hives are a dairy allergy. But I did not. I ordered gelato.

I sat and ate the gelato. 

And then I was instantly overcome by the worst itching I have ever experienced. Hundreds of welts appeared on my hands and arms, and I could feel them popping up from my scalp to my toes. I convinced Allan to move along without me, and I went to the car, and just attacked myself. Blood was running down my legs and my arms. I was crying from the intense itching. 

I was also having some trouble breathing. Not need-to-call-911 trouble, not anaphylaxis, but I could feel inflammation in my bronchial tubes and needed my inhaler. 

When Allan came back, I convinced him to take me back to the cottage and go out without me. I'd much rather he enjoy himself alone than feel I was keeping him from something. I couldn't convince him to go to winery or ciderey without me, but I urged him to go back to the bookstore and to pick up the dogs when he was done. 

We talked about whether or not this was dairy-related. That may sound ridiculous given what I've just described, but hives do ebb and flow in intensity. But we realized we hadn't seen anything like this -- so sudden, and so intense -- since they started. We also realized that I have not been completely dairy-free for the past week. I've had little or no appetite, and have been  working my way through two giant bags of my favourite junk food -- white-cheddar popcorn and Cheetos. There's enough dairy in those things that I need Lactaids. So it's possible I've been keeping the hives alive...! 

Anyway, by the time we got back to the cottage, I was crying. Allan brought me ice packs and I drank as much water as I could stand, which is really important with any allergy attack. I was coughing, and felt feverish, and the itching was just mind-boggling.

* * * *

Allan came back later with the dogs and a lot of books. The dogs were happy, but Allan was disappointed that they had been in a kennel enclosure by themselves -- together, but without other dogs to play with. I kind of expected that, and honestly, I think it's fine. They were outdoors, in a really large enclosure, like a big yard -- and they had each other. Which is how they spend most of their days! Plus they could look at and bark at other dogs, which was probably fun. But it made their daddy sad.

The cottage has a large clawfoot soaker tub, so I took advantage of it with an oatmeal bath, the first I've had in quite a while. I had stopped the daily oatmeal soaks because hot water exacerbates hives, and a tepid bath is very unappealing. But now I see that just a slight reduction in temperature is enough. 

Allan picked up dinner from a seafood restaurant down the street, and I had a bite or two of real food. I did the oatmeal soak and used some oatmeal balm, and took a lot of allergy meds, and after all that, was able to read and relax, and eventually got some sleep. 

This morning, Sunday morning, the hives are still much worse than they were pre-gelato. 

I'm going to call the dermatologist, and see if I can get triaged up, as I'm in such distress. 

* * * *

The area where my mother, brother, sister-in-law, nephew, grand-niece, and nephew's partner live has been devastated by wildfire. Whole towns and communities have been reduced to ash. The air quality is dangerous. My mother has COPD; if the retirement community where she lives has to evacuate, she won't be able to breathe. 

Other nephews, nieces, and friends are not far off, in areas of California where the sky is orange with fires and heavy with ash.

Given everything else that's going on in the US, this is cruel.

9.12.2020

cpmvfsgu day 5: victoria to salt spring island

I am having the surreal experience of looking through photographs of the wildfire devastation in Washington State, Oregon, and California, and seeing the names of towns where much of my family live. They are all personally safe, and as of right now their homes are intact. It's very scary, both in the immediate and the larger pictures.

My own personal surreality continues, my skin covered in red welts, scabs, and bruises. (Bruises from scratching; my skin bruises easily.) I've learned that chronic hives are a roller coaster. Two or three times a day they appear to be clearing up, only to come back with a vengeance. I am worn down from the trifecta of not sleeping, not taking any of my medications, and not getting any exercise (activity inflames the damn stuff). It's warm here, but I won't wear shorts out of the house -- which is ridiculous, really, but the skin on my legs is wrecked.

OK, enough complaining!

Something I forgot to mention yesterday, on our last night in Victoria I joined part of a Zoom meeting with our MLA (provincial representative) Claire Trevena. Our provincial government is NDP, and I strongly support them. There were only 10 or 12 people on the call, but I knew two of them through the community, which amused me. 

In the morning, after packing up and checking out, we had few errands to take care of. I had packed very light (in terms of clothes -- you can never really pack light when traveling with dogs), as I thought there would be washer/dryer in the cottage. Somehow I remembered to double-check the listing -- and there was not. I also learned there is no laundromat on Salt Spring Island! I was very pleased with myself for learning this ahead of time, as I'm feeling none too organized right now.

I found Scrubby's online, about a 15-minute drive from downtown Victoria, and did a quick load while we ate breakfast and I had my toenails done. Not a pedicure, that's unthinkable with my skin in its present state, but hey, at least my toes look better. The good people at Scrubby's are wonderful, including when Kai ran inside to find me. 

I forgot to do an errand I needed at a drugstore, and was concerned that there might not be an opportunity on Salt Spring Island. This turns out to be very amusing.

We drove the length of the Saanich peninsula, from Victoria to the ferry at Swartz Bay, and took the 1:00 ferry to Fulford Harbour, one of three ferries you can take to Salt Spring Island. (You can also go from Vancouver and from Crofton, in the Cowichan area.)

From there, we drove the length of the island, which is maybe a half-hour drive on a lovely winding road, past signs for farm stands, wineries, and artist studios. We drove through Ganges, the island's larger village -- it was very busy, packed with cars -- then the smaller village of Vesuvius, before driving around in a big circle before finding the cottage, very near the Vesuvius Cafe. We are staying here: The Cottage on Bayview.

Allan set up "the corkscrew" in the front yard -- the tie-out we use when we travel -- and I helped Cookie and Kai settle in while he went out to the store. Allan actually called from the store, not because he had questions, but to tell me how great the store was. If you knew how Allan hates using the phone, and thinks I exaggerate about great supermarkets, you would find this very amusing!

When we lived in New York, I always had supermarket envy when we traveled, and living in Port Hardy, that has re-emerged. Our local Save On Foods actually has everything we need, and often has the specialty items I'm searching for, hidden somewhere. But it's old-looking, crowded, and could use a face lift. When I go into Save Ons or Thrifty Foods down-island, I am envious. But apparently the Country Grocer in Vesuvius is The Greatest! Allan came back raving about it. I told him that if the roles had been reversed, if I were raving about a store to this extent, he would assume I was exaggerating. He agreed! 

I was unhooking the dogs from their tether while Allan was on his way in with the packages. There's a kind of covered walkway on the side of the house -- which, from where I was standing, seemed walled-off. Meaning, I expected the dogs to run down the walkway and into the house. And then they were gone! Just past the door, the wall gives way to a railing... and off went Cookie and Kai.

Moments later Cookie showed up in the neighbouring yard with a huge soup-bone in her mouth, clearly laughing at me. The cottage is on a very quiet street, but all of a sudden, there was traffic, and Cookie is zooming around the neighbourhood. 

Kai heard it was dinner time, and came straight back to eat. I tried to make a lot of noise filling her food bowl, but food is no match for Cookie's love of prancing around, free.

But... she came back. She didn't turn on a dime and come sprinting, but on the other hand, we didn't have to drive around looking for her, as we've done at home. All told, she was loose for less than five minutes, and returned under her own volition. An improvement!

We spent the evening drinking prosecco and raspberry lemonade. I made a little garlicky pasta for dinner, but ate only cookies and chips. 

Today is the famed Saturday Market. I love markets and this weekly market on Salt Spring Island is supposed to be great. I'm hoping that it won't be overly crowded, as it's past Labour Day. Naturally we will mask up, but I'm hoping for distance, too.

Dogs are not allowed at the market, so Cookie and Kai are going to day camp again, which is not a bad thing.

9.10.2020

cpmvfsgu day 4: victoria

I slept more last night than I have since the hives started, and this morning felt halfway human for the first time in months. 

I took Cookie and Kai for an early-morning walk on the harbour. There are few things I love more than a paved, accessible, waterfront walk. (On our first trip to Vancouver Island in April 2018, I was in love with a very special such walkway in Sidney, not far from here, that is also studded with public art.) 

The Victoria harbour is beautiful, and/but full of expensive-looking marinas, hotels, and condos, plus party-coloured float houses. (Some or maybe most must be vacation rental properties). It would all be an exclusive private manse if not for the beautiful public, accessible, walkpath. And since it's Victoria, it's ringed with well-tended plantings and gardens. A lovely way to start the day.

In the late-ish morning we dropped the dogs off at Whisker's Urban Ranch, and headed to Jam Cafe for breakfast. Besides having removed many tables, this restaurant has installed plexiglass barriers between tables, a smart move. We had a truly outstanding breakfast, including mimosas -- grapefruit-juice for me, and pineapple-black currant for Allan -- both doubles. I can't remember the last time we had a delicious, indulgent, alcohol-laced brunch.

From there we went to Russell Books. All of this -- doggie daycare, brunch, books -- is in Victoria's small downtown. On that earlier trip, the one on which Allan discovered Russell Books, we had also visited the Central Branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library, as I was planning on looking for jobs in both systems. Seems so long ago... and yet, on the calendar, not at all.

I quickly found a big pile of books by various nonfiction authors on My List, and really didn't have too much more left in me. I left Allan there and drove back to the room, and itched/scratched/napped until Allan called from Munro's Books.

Then back to the room, and back out again to get the dogs. Each of these trips is less than 10 minutes, including getting the car from the parking garage. The dogs were happy, tired, and content, as dogs should be after daycare. The staff said: "They behaved beautifully! They were a bit shy, but who isn't?" I can imagine it was a bit intimidating for Cookie and Kai! They're not usually in the company of a large group of dogs. 

Several other dog-parents were also picking up. It's so wonderful to see people using doggie daycare. It can be the difference in a dog finding their forever home.

Our plan was to have dinner on the wharf from Red Fish Blue Fish, which we fell in love with on our first trip here, thanks to a tip from a friend. But we hadn't banked on brunch being so extravagant. (Plus the silver lining of urticaria seems to be a marked reduction in my appetite.) We couldn't even think about food until RFBF was almost closing. The huge lineups there have been replaced by online ordering, a covid-related change. So I put in the order, and Allan went and picked it up. It was still wonderful, but would have been better if I were hungry!

After dinner, the four of us took a sunset walk on the harbour walk, which was now quite busy with people and dogs. 

We are a short ferry ride away from Washington State, and right now Washington and Oregon (where much of my family is) are being devastated by wildfires. We read that earlier this week the air quality in Victoria was very bad. In the Bay Area (where another bunch of my family lives) the sky has been orange, and folks need their lights on all day. 

Tomorrow we get the ferry to Salt Spring Island, which was meant to be our short getaway, before Campbell River and Victoria got tacked on.

9.09.2020

cpmvfsgu day 3: campbell river to victoria

We had another good breakfast at Popsey's, then hit the road to Victoria. Campbell River is halfway between Port Hardy, the northernmost town on the Island, and Victoria, at the southern tip. We really felt the change in climate, from the north and west coast cool, temperate barely-summer weather, to the rest of the island's hot dry summer.

We had a good drive down, and went straight to the doggie daycare place where the pups will be tomorrow, for their "meet and greet". Cookie and Kai have never been anywhere like this! Diego (and for a time, Tala) were old pros at daycare. Diego especially loved it. These pups, though, are with us constantly! The few times we've been away, a teenage dogsitter hung out with them. So this is an entirely new experience, and I think it's good for them.

Whisker's Urban Ranch is a small, mom-and-pop operation. There were lots of dogs in an indoor playroom, and staff takes them for on-leash walks at intervals. The owner introduced C and K to various dogs one at a time (we could hear but we couldn't see), and all went well. We know ours are not aggressive at all, but it will be interesting to hear if they interact much with others. They normally don't bother.

If we had taken our trip in April, we were going to leave them at doggie daycare places while we went to a ballgame in Oakland, and while exploring Powell's in Portland. Such a great option that you can find in any decent-sized city now.

After the daycare stop, we found the hotel -- and it's awesome. The Coast Bastion, my home-away-from-home in Nanaimo, is lovely. But the Coast in Victoria is even nicer. We have a corner room, with harbour views on two sides. An extra bonus: one night is free from Coast Rewards. Sweet!

There's a very good restaurant here, but we can't really go and leave the dogs in the room, and they're not doing room service. But they are doing takeout! And everything packed in paper and cardboard, too -- which seems to be the norm on the Island.

* * * *

Here's an amazing thing. For the second time in the last few weeks, Cookie slipped her lead in an unknown environment and came when called. Could it be our hard work and patience is paying off? Is Cookie becoming a bit more domesticated? And perhaps Allan now believes me that his method of walking them is not secure enough. But this recall is new and it is amazing.

* * * *

A few words about tourism in the time of COVID in BC. 

The restaurants have all removed a good portion of tables to create distancing. I'm not sure how they are managing to stay in business with half their tables gone, but everywhere we've been, there is a lot more space and ventilation. Tables are limited to six people.

Frontline staff in restaurants and hotels are all wearing masks, which serves as a good reminder for customers, I think. 

In hotels, many things have been removed from rooms, and you can ask for what you need at the front desk -- things like coffee makers, wine glasses, the ubiquitous ironing board, extra pillows. Hotel staff, including cleaners, are not entering guest rooms while the rooms are occupied -- so no cleaning while you're there, but lots of cleaning in between guests.

* * * *

Tomorrow... Russell Books. Allan's eighth wonder of the world. The Great Pyramid at Giza, Machu Picchu, Russell Books.

9.08.2020

consolation-prize mini-vacation featuring special guest urticaria: days 1 and 2: business in campbell river

This is the time when wmtc turns into a travel journal, which I write almost entirely for myself, for a record of my travels.

First of all, we were supposed to travel in April, an ultimate road trip that would take in everything I could want in a vacation, from beloved friends and family -- many of whom we had not seen in many years, and who I really miss -- to gorgeous scenic drives, and, of course, baseball. And with our dogs, too! That is truly my little heaven. 

Even before the lockdown, we realized we had to cancel. When the border closed, at least it confirmed our decision.

So yeah, that's all behind us, and when so many people have died, and so many others are near starvation, it seems the height of privilege to complain about cancelling a vacation. But I miss my family, and I don't know when I'll see any of them again, including my 89-year-old mother. Perspective or not, it still hurts.

Back in the present moment, I am struggling with uncontrolled, chronic urticaria. My skin looks like something out of a horror movie. The only thing that brings relief is ice. I spend the night on the couch, moving ice packs from one inflamed area to another.

If that's not enough, in an effort to remove possible causes of this insane itching, I've gone cold-turkey off all medication and supplements. You can develop an allergy to medication at any time, including -- or especially -- substances you've used for many years. When I looked up possible allergic reactions, for almost everything, the #1 symptom is usually hives. So I stopped everything.

Which means, besides itching, I feel like crap.

OK then!

With that out of the way, here we are in Campbell River.

Campbell River, about three hours south of Port Hardy, is the largest town in the north end of Vancouver Island. It's a mix of scenic coastline, fishing charters, vacation homes, and urban blight. It's where residents of Port Hardy and our other North Island communities go for big-box shopping and medical appointments. In our neck of the woods, "I have a medical appointment in Campbell" is standard fare. (Port Hardy does have a small hospital and a primary-care health centre, but anything more than an x-ray requires a road trip.)

So as it happens, I got a call for a procedure I needed, scheduled for September 8. A quick in-patient thing, I would be finished by 9:00 a.m. And the first night of our little mini-trip was September 9.

So yesterday -- Monday, Labour Day -- we packed up the pups and drove "down island". Last night we stayed in the Coast Discovery. It's by far the worst Coast Hotel I've seen, but it's good enough, and it buys me more Coast Rewards. I was so uncomfortable and unhappy from itching that I didn't even leave the room.

This morning, Tuesday, we hustled over to the Campbell River Hospital. I've had quite a few medical tests and procedures lately, and without fail, the hospital staff has been so caring, and kind, and professional. They really made it as pleasant -- or as least unpleasant -- as humanly possible. Everything was wrapped up by 9 a.m.

Today, alas, Ideal Cafe was closed, so we went with runner-up Popsey's, and had a great breakfast. My Port Hardy haircutter/stylist/friend has a home salon in Campbell River, so Allan and I both got haircuts, and Cookie and Kai had fun exploring a new yard.

In the afternoon I managed to stop scratching long enough to admire the beautiful coastline on a sparkling clear day. I thought I couldn't deal with going out for dinner, but a bloody mary brought me around.

Now the pups are cuddled up together (we brought their blankets), and tomorrow the actual trip starts. I'm dying for some exploring and a change of scenery. I hope my skin lets me enjoy it.

Allan's blog has a little map of where we're headed. 


9.07.2020

for labour day: the unsung heroes of our movement

I thought about choosing a few memorable heroes of the labour movement throughout history, writing some short profiles. There's no shortage of fascinating information about the likes of Eugene V. Debs, A. Philip Randolph, Dolores Huerta, Mary Harris Jones, Joe Hill... and so on.

My own experience has shown me that the heroes of any movement are people whose names are known only to those around them. The people who are the labour movement on its most granular level. The real labour behind the movement.

The shop steward who listens patiently, and says, If you decide to go forward with this, your union will support you. I am here for you.

The colleague who raises their hand at a staff meeting, and says, I'm concerned that we are all very stressed by the volume of work we're dealing with.

The worker who knocks on their supervisor's door to discuss an ongoing harassment issue she has witnessed.

The mom who brings her kids to a local picket line, saying, "These people are helping families have better lives. Let's see how we can help them, too."

The man who hears his colleagues badmouthing striking sanitation workers and says, "It's not that simple. They have good cause," and offers a different point of view.

The fast-food worker who finishes her shift, takes care of her family, then does social media for Fight For 15 while her kids are asleep.

The nonunion office worker who shares the terms of her employment with her co-workers to encourage them to ask for a higher wage.

The health-and-safety reps.

The stewards.

The guy who says, "Are you kidding me? Unions are so necessary. Unions are what built the middle class." (I can still picture him saying this, a university buddy of mine, pushing back against the rising tide of Reaganism.)

My colleague who never said a word about the union, never attended a single meeting, then was the most reliable, most stalwart, loudest man on the picket line, every single day.

Neighbours who bring water to a picket line in the baking heat, scarves and mittens in the bitter cold.

Everyone who's ever said: "Anyone need a ride to the meeting tonight?"

9.06.2020

current musical obsession: electric president: safe and sound

It's been a very long time since I've posted a musical obsession. 

I'm watching The Blacklist and I cannot tear myself away from this song.


frame>

"at your library" in the north island eagle: kids bogo at the library

Kids BOGO At the Library

September is Literacy Month in BC, and your library will be celebrating in a big way. During the month of September, we are offering "Kids BOGO". BOGO usually means "Buy One, Get [Another] One", but this BOGO is "Borrow One, Get One". When you borrow a children's book, your child will receive another book – to keep. Both books are free!

The Vancouver Island Regional Library, the Mt. Waddington Family Literacy Society, and The Book Nook, Port Hardy's bookstore, have teamed up to offer this special, month-long event. Kids BOGO will take place at your libraries in Port Alice, Port Hardy, Port McNeill, Sointula, and Woss.

We have a nice stack of shiny new books to give away, including some hot titles that kids always ask for. We want as many children as possible to receive books, so there is a limit of one free book per child. Supplies are limited, so come to your library branch as soon as you can to claim your child's free book.

The Library and the Literacy Society are very grateful for the generous support of PacificCARE Family Enrichment Society. PacificCARE has helped fund some wonderful projects, such as last year's "Let's Make Soup in a Jar!" and all the books we donated recently to the RCMP's toy drive. PacificCARE's generous support of the toy drive made it possible for us to put more books in children's hands through this exciting BOGO program.

September 6 is Read a Book Day. Read a Book Day encourages everyone to read a book, either to themselves or to someone else. According to a 2019 study, 27% of adults have not read a book in the last year. That number makes me happy, because it means 73% of adults have been reading! How many leisure activities can boast such a solid participation?

Why read? So many reasons!

Reading improves memory and concentration.

Reading reduces stress, by taking our minds away from our daily lives.

Reading helps strengthen our brains, and slows the cognitive decline that happens as we age.

Reading builds empathy. When we read, we enter the thoughts, hopes, and dreams of other people, who are often from very different backgrounds and circumstances.

Through reading, we travel through time and to distant countries and different worlds.

And thanks to your library, you can do all this for free. Visit your library on Read a Book Day – or any day – and well help you find your next great read. 

Give yourself the gift of finding time to read.

it's national read a book day: let's play the page 56 game

 

In honour of National Read A Book Day, grab the book you are currently reading or the last book you read. 

Open to page 56, and find the sixth sentence on the page. 

Type the line in comments, plus the title and author of the book.

I'll start:

-- What?

Roddy Doyle, Love (2020)

When we last played this game on wmtc in 2008, we had one of the longest threads ever on this blog... now wiped out. I continue to hope. Perhaps foolishly, but I can't live with the thought of thousands of comments being lost.

9.05.2020

what i'm reading: a new plan

As I've mentioned many times, I keep a running List of books. The List dates back to the mid-1980s. 

It's not a complete list of books I've read. I wish I kept track of every book I read, but because I didn't start this at the Beginning of Time, I can never start it. 

The List is also not a to-read list. If it were, I would be too overwhelmed to read a single word. 

The List is all the books I hear of or read about that sound interesting and attractive to me. The List is the universe of books that I turn to when looking for what to read next. 

Books from the List comprise about half my reading -- meaning, I read many books that aren't on the List. This bothers me in ways I cannot begin to explain. I work hard to free myself from All Or Nothing thinking, but it pops up in all areas of my life. 

[Strangely, for someone whose default setting is All Or Nothing, I don't care about reading series. I often read the first book in a series, and then, whether I liked it or not, don't go any further. I can explain this... but it would make this silly, boring post even sillier and more boring.]

Recently I've been pulling smaller reading plans out of The List. I'm enjoying having a reading plan, albeit a flexible one where I also read many books that are not part of the plan. I'm obsessed with crossing things off lists, and since the massive List is too long to approach that way, these plans give me a sense of accomplishment. 

I'm aware that is all a bit ridiculous. It's just how my mind works.

I've done pretty well on this subset of The List, from this 2017 post.

Three biographies I want to read
Jackie Robinson: A Biography -- Arnold Rampersad (review)
Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder -- Caroline Fraser (review)
Helen Keller: A Life -- Dorothy Herrmann (not reviewing)

Three people I want to read biographies of but don't know which one to read
Muhammad Ali (review)
Bob Dylan
Galileo (not reviewing)

Now I'm going to turn my attention to this bit.

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 write nonfiction, three write fiction. I'm aiming for a minimum of two books per author, although not consecutively. 

But first, new Roddy Doyle, and more labour history and organizing.

9.02.2020

laura and the angry itch: recent experiences with both sides of the medical divide

As my Facebook friends know all too well, I have been struggling with severe urticaria -- hives -- for two months. I have been going out of my mind with unrelenting itching. My skin is on fire.

For six weeks, I had no idea what had caused the urticaria, and nothing known to me relieved the itching.

At the end of a day of itching and burning, Aveeno soothing baths and a thick eczema balm help calm things down.* Ice packs offer some relief. 

Antihistamines do nothing, although I continue to take them, fearing it will be worse if I don't.

I've seen a doctor twice, which was almost useless, although he did refer me to a dermatologist. There can sometimes be very long wait-times for specialists, and apparently dermatology is one of those. I don't expect to see a specialist for months. I've heard allergists are even worse.

A friend recommended a naturopath who practices in a few different towns, including ours, and I thought, why not. I had a very thorough consultation; she thinks I may have developed an allergy to dairy. At this point, I will try anything. 

It's day four of dairy-free. Apparently it will take two or three weeks to know for sure. 

The naturopath also pointed out (and I have confirmed) that a medication I'm taking is not meant to be used long-term, and some other issues (not itch-related) I've been experiencing could be side effects from that. 

The M.D. asked me the standard allergy questions -- are you using a new soap or shampoo or laundry detergent, are you eating anything different, and so on. He suggested Benadryl, which I knew, but he advised me to take higher doses, and more frequently.

The naturopath looked at everything. Her intake form was 10 pages long, and her initial consultation ran over two hours. No M.D. could possibly take the time she did. The system is simply not designed that way.

* * * * 

Some people hate standard, so-called western medicine. They don't trust it and will do almost anything to avoid it.

Reasons to distrust western medicine include a lack of focus on prevention, an over-reliance on pharmaceuticals (and the very justified distrust of Big Pharma), pathologizing anything outside a narrow norm, and a problem-oriented, atomistic approach. 

Add in racism, misogyny, and victim-blaming -- plus, in the US, the profit motive -- and you've got a very ugly picture.

I can't really disagree with any of that. Western medicine can be all of those things.

Some people hate and distrust alternative or complimentary medicine. They dismiss it as snake oil and woo-woo. They cite a lack of scientific studies, and claim that anecdotal or experiential evidence is invalid.

* * * * 

Unlike most things I think and write about, on this, I take a middle ground. 

I've had good and bad experiences with both western and alternative medicine. 

From the western medicine side, I've seen sexism, and arrogance, and a rush to the prescription pad and to the scalpel. 

I've also seen lives saved, possibilities opened, quality of life improved. I've seen doctors who listen and apply a dogged, creative determination to rule out every possibility.

From the alternative side, I've also seen a deeper understanding of things like micronutrients and trace minerals, a wider range of options, and more honesty and disclosure about potential side effects. And perhaps most importantly, a holistic approach that looks at the social determinants of health.

I've also seen impossible claims, an over-reliance on too-gentle remedies, and an obsessive belief that everything can be fixed by changes in nutrition. (Nutrition is extremely important. But not everything can be cured by a change of diet.)

Some practitioners on one side fear and distrust the other side. To me the best practitioners are willing to look at a wide range of options. 

I had an excellent doctor in New York who encouraged me to try natural and alternative supplements. If I took supplement X, and made no other changes, and there was a positive effect, she was willing to say, although we can't prove that there is cause and effect, we can trust our own experiences, so let's go with it.

Meanwhile, the itch goes on.


* I learned about "Aveeno bath," as it is called, when I had chicken pox at age 25 -- the sickest I had ever been. Aveeno makes a full line of fragrance-free products made with colloidal oatmeal. Highly recommended.

9.01.2020

another blog, for anyone who is interested

I've decided to have bariatric surgery. I made the decision towards the end of last year, and I started a separate blog so I could write about it.

Initially I wanted to keep this very private. I just wasn't ready to share it. But there's a lot of stigma around weight-loss surgery, and I like to poke holes in stigma whenever I can. 

I'm taking steps to improve my health. There should be no shame in that. If some people are judgmental or feel superior, that's not my problem.

If you want to come along, I'll be writing about this at 85 percent thinking

8.27.2020

which side are you on: the unprecedented strike by nba players is a watershed moment for justice

First of all, it's not a boycott. It's a strike. And a wildcat strike to boot.

When the players on the Milwaukee Bucks chose not to play in the NBA playoffs -- joined by their baseball counterparts, the Brewers, with other teams quickly following -- they became part of a tradition that reaches back to Tommie Smith and John Carlos, to Muhammad Ali, to Carlos Delgado, all the way to the present, to Maya Moore and Colin Kaepernick. 

The striking NBA players are part of Black Lives Matter. They are part of the present-day civil rights movement. But they are part of something else, too. They are part of the labour movement.

Professional athletes are workers. 

They may be wealthy -- though all are not as wealthy as the top earners -- but their working life is perilously short, and throughout history, has been awash in exploitation. If some earn huge salaries today, that's because so many people are profiting from their labour. 

Strike vs boycott

So why is this action a strike and not a boycott? 

If NBA fans refused to buy tickets to games, or watch the games on TV, that would be a boycott. 

If fans refused to buy the products advertised during the broadcast of NBA games, that would be a boycott.

When workers refuse to work, that is a strike. 

And when they do so without the direction of their union, when they are not "in a legal strike position," as it is called, that, my friends, is a wildcat strike. 

And if we all did this -- if we joined them -- that would be a general strike.

Why it matters

I've been surprised to see some progressive people shrug off the NBA strike as mere display. It is anything but. 

When people who command media attention are vocal about justice, it is noticed. That is powerful. 

When those same people withhold their labour -- when they "down tools" and walk off the job -- it is exponentially more powerful. 

Everyone is rocked by this action: the NBA, their sponsors, the media, the fans, even people who never watch basketball. It is news. It draws the focus of the entire country -- and a huge portion of the entire world -- to why this action was taken. 

Professional and college athletes' support of the Black Lives Matter movement has been, continues to be, important. Athletes have spoken out, they have worn the t-shirts, they have knelt or been absent during the national anthem. All this matters. 

But with this step -- a strike -- they put their bodies on the line. 

As the shooting of Jacob Blake stunned us, left our hearts sore and broken, the very fact of this strike has made my heart soar with hope.

For important context, you'll want to read Dave Zirin's most recent column: The Milwaukee Bucks and Brewers Strike for Racial Justice.

This op-ed by Kurt Streeter in the New York Times is also good: With Walkouts, a New High Bar for Protests in Sports Is Set.

Zirin, speaking with Democracy Now, calls the players' protest "a challenge to the labor movement as a whole". He writes:

They are posing the question that all great strikes pose—to political people who hate sports and sports fans who hate politics, and to white fans who love them on the court but are oblivious to Black lives when the final whistle is blown—“Which side are you on?”

8.22.2020

missing nyc: spontaneous political street art in bloom

This story in The New York Times made me miss New York City more than anything has in a very long time. 

All over the city, artists have created murals protest racism and police abuse. This critic surveys the murals, and compares them to the Neolithic cave art in the caves of France and Spain.

We saw cave art in Spain (stories here and here, but no pictures), something that I had longed to do ever since I first knew they existed. It was a peak travel experience for me. I love street art, and I love New York, and I love that someone links these things together.



8.20.2020

the deadliest organized-crime and terrorist enterprise in the history of humanity: the catholic church

In the entire history of human beings on this planet, has there ever been a criminal enterprise more devastating -- to as many people, over as long a period of time -- as the Catholic Church?

The largest empires of the world -- Roman, Spanish, Dutch, British, American -- lasted 500 years at most. The Catholic Church has been at it for thousands of years.

If it was fiction, no one would believe it -- an organized crime network so vast, and so evil, that virtually no aspect of human civilization has been untouched by its rabid influence.

Persecution, torture, and execution of scientists, philosophers, independent thinkers and non-Catholics.

Wars intended to slaughter adherents of other religions. 

Profit from slavery. 

Support for murderous dictatorships all over the world.

The slaughter and forced conversion of Indigenous people all over the world.

Forcing untold numbers of families into poverty, children to starvation and death, women into death from desperation, by prohibiting contraceptives and abortion -- while its aristocracy lives in splendor, by its own rules (including rape, sex, and abortion).

Child sexual abuse on an unimaginable scale, truly a massive child-sex ring, from procurement to cover-up, for more than 1,000 years. 

The perpetuation of murderous anti-Semitism, inciting the terrorism known as pogroms.

The perpetuation of murderous homophobia, and shaming of sexual and gender expression.

All this, and I've probably missed a few crimes. Individual spiritual practices aside, the institutional Roman Catholic Church is a terrorist and organized-crime operation. 

This outburst was brought on by Galileo: Watcher of the Skies. Review to follow.

8.14.2020

wmtc "what i'm reading" posts to celebrate black august 2020


I thought Black August was something newly created by Black Lives Matter, but it turns out it has existed since the 1970s. I'm sorry I haven't heard about it sooner, and I thank the Movement for Black Lives for bringing it to my attention.
Black August commemorates the rich history of Black resistance. Revolutionary moments such as the Watts Uprising, Haitian Revolution, Nat Turner Rebellion, Fugitive Slave Law Convention, and March on Washington all happened in August. Also, many of our revolutionaries, such as Marcus Garvey and Fred Hampton, were born in August. Black August was started in California prisons in the 1970s by Black freedom fighters who wanted to honor the lives and struggle of Black political prisoners killed by the state. Fifty years later, groups like Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and New Afrikan Independence Movement continue the Black August legacy of celebrations by amplifying our history of resistance and creating spaces for Black people to come together in community to recharge the revolution. 
To celebrate Black August on this blog, I'm posting links to my "what i'm reading" posts that celebrate Black lives, Black history, and the Black struggle for freedom, and books by Black authors.

(Not included: quotes and random fangirl posts about Colson Whitehead. There are several!)
How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi (August 2020)

Muhammad Ali: A Life (December 2019)

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (September 2019)

Hunger by Roxane Gay (January 2019)

required reading for revolutionaries: jane mcalevey and micah white (January 2018)

Words on the Move (June 2017)

Swing Time by Zadie Smith (April 2017)

Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin (April 2017)

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (October 2016)

NW by Zadie Smith (November 2013)

John Henry Days by Colson Whitehead (September 2012)

Zone One by Colson Whitehead (July 2012)

Apex Hides the Hurt by Colson Whitehead (December 2010)

A Mercy by Toni Morrison (January 2010)

The Known World by Edward P. Jones (November 2006)

The Sweeter the Juice by Shirlee Taylor Haizlip (March 2005)

8.12.2020

what i'm reading: how to be an antiracist by ibram x. kendi

How To Be An Antiracist is an important, powerful, thought-provoking book. With unflinching precision, Ibram X. Kendi defines the roots of racism and explains how we can work to eliminate it.

The structure of the book is disarming: the explanatory chapters are interwoven with the story of Kendi's personal journey from racist thinking to antiracist thinking.

Yes, the author is Black, and he has had racist thoughts, and has engaged in racist behaviours. 

He spares no mercy for himself as he looks back, cringing at his beliefs -- although understanding the tradition that they grew from. I hope Kendi's openness and his willingness to publicly criticize himself helps more readers approach his ideas with an open mind and less defensiveness.

Kendi believes that our typical conception of racism as a product of fear and ignorance is wrong, and he makes a very strong case for that belief. He shows that racist policies are made by racist people in order to further their own interests. Racism can be unmade, therefore, by antiracists creating and getting others to create antiracist policies.

In Kendi's view, it's a mistake to conceive of racism as a permanent descriptive term, an on/off, either/or state -- "He is a racist" -- as it lulls us into a false belief that we are not racist. He writes:
"Racist" and "antiracist" are like peelable name tags that are placed and replaced based on what someone is doing or not doing, supporting or expressing, in each moment. These are not permanent tattoos. No one becomes a racist or antiracist. We can only strive to be one or the other. We can unknowingly strive to be a racist. Or we can knowingly strive to be an antiracist. Like fighting an addiction, being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.
Here are a few things I loved about How To Be An Antiracist.

-- Kendi does a great job unspooling intersectionality, the idea that the overlapping of various identities or membership in certain social groups leads to combined privileges or disadvantages. (I strongly dislike the word "intersectionality" and I wish we called this something else, but the concept is very important.) For example, the forced and coerced sterilization of poor Black women is racist, sexist, and classist. It can't properly be seen unless all three factors are acknowledged.

Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, prejudice against skin-colour, anti-semitism, Islamophobia, class prejudice -- all of these can intersect and overlap, and when that happens, the effects cannot be separated. Kendi takes the reader through each group or identity and shows that to be antiracist, one must work on all the other biases as well. Put simply:
To truly be antiracist is to be feminist. To truly be feminist is to be antiracist. 
-- Kendi frames racism as inextricable with capitalism. He's writing about modern capitalism as it is now conceived. The selling and trading of goods in a marketplace is as old as humanity. Our present-day capitalism bears little resemblance to that benign and extremely human activity.
Capitalism is essentially racist and racism is essentially capitalist. They were birthed together from the same unnatural causes, and they shall one die day together from unnatural causes. Or racial capitalism will live together into another epoch of theft and rapacious inequity, especially if activists naively fight the conjoined twins independently, as if they are not the same.
Calling capitalism and racism "conjoined twins", Kendi echoes Martin Luther King, Jr.:
It means ultimately coming to see that the problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. These are the triple evils that are interrelated.
-- I love that Kendi demonstrates that the fraud and theft of the 2000 and 2004 US elections were essentially racist. He calls the actions of Kenneth Blackwell, the Republican Chief Elections Officer in Ohio, "the most egregious Black on Black crime in modern US history". Many readers may not be fully aware of what happened in these elections, and Kendi's brief summary will be very eye-opening.

-- Kendi demonstrates the inherent racism and classism embedded in standardized testing. Very interesting!

-- Kendi demonstrates how antiracist policies and an equitable society would benefit everyone, including most white supremacists.
Of course, ordinary white people benefit from racist policies, but not nearly as much as racist power, and not nearly as much as they could from an equitable society, one where the average white voter has as much power as superrich White men to decide elections and shape policy. Where their kids' business-class schools could resemble the first-class prep schools of today's superrich. Where high quality universal health care could save millions of White lives. Where they could no longer face the cronies of racism that attack them: sexism, ethnocentrism, homophobia, and exploitation.
I'm highlighting what I loved about this book, but I'm purposely not trying to recreate Kendi's arguments. I feel that anything I write will be oversimplified and, because of that, too easily dismissed. I want Kendi to make the argument for you. Read this book.

Kendi's previous book was Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, winner of the 2016 National Book Award for Nonfiction. I have not read that yet, but I gather that How To Be An Antiracist is much more accessible. This book is nothing to be afraid of. It's something to read, and re-read, and ultimately embrace.