4.08.2024

"i'm afraid to leave the house, because i'll hear about another death": the ongoing crises and the toll on frontline workers

The branch supervisor of the Port Hardy Library
made these, on her own initiative. We have given
away more than 50 of these "crisis keychains" so far.
Front and back pictured here.
The Port Hardy community has been besieged with a series of untimely deaths, many of young people. This has been going on for several years, but last year it escalated sharply, and this year has been even worse.

In 2023, 21 people died from non-natural causes. This year so far, there have been 13 such deaths. This in a community of about 4,400 people. 

Almost all the victims have been Indigenous people.

These deaths are caused by toxic drug poisoning, by alcohol addiction, by car accidents in which alcohol was involved. There have been a substantial number of suicides. 

Many in the community are trapped in a cycle of trauma. Among people already using substances, in lives riddled with trauma, there is no healthy way to process these fresh wounds. The connections among intergenerational trauma, personal loss and grief, mental health, and substance use are an almost seamless web. 

It is heartbreaking.

This crisis hits frontline workers very hard, and library workers are part of that. Libraries are often the only public space left for the people most impacted by these multiple crises. Many of our customers have died. We have lost people that we used to see every day. Others that we see every day have lost sons, daughters, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles, aunts. They bring their grief and trauma to us daily.  

People within the community are intimately connected through extended family and Nation ties. As one of our beloved regulars said, "I'm afraid to leave the house in the morning, because I fear I'll hear about another death."

Two of our regulars, a couple, lost a child in an alcohol-related car accident. Before this, they were working hard at rehab. They were clean and sober for the longest time they had ever managed. Then this. 

One of them is the person I performed CPR on in 2019. He uses our public computers, watching videos of his son and sobbing. Imagine processing your grief in public. 

The other constantly gets into fights, hurling her anger and grief at everyone around her.

The woman whose dog I adopted -- Cookie's first mom -- died a few months ago. I saw her at the library every single day since starting work here five years ago. That was the only funeral I have attended so far. The room was full of elders, burying one young person after the next.

Library staff is constantly exposed to this grief and at the very same moment, must cheerily assist customers with their book searches, their holds, their checkouts, their tech questions. Must give a happy and upbeat storytime. Must simply move on with their day.

For many people, trauma combined with substance use equals aggressive and menacing behaviour, so we're always dealing with that, too. We call the ambulance. We (reluctantly) call the police. We call a mental health outreach worker, but they are overtaxed and can rarely respond. 

We're trained in Naloxone. One day each week, a harm-reduction nurse is available at the library to train anyone in the community. We have drug-testing strips. 

We've had training in crisis prevention and trauma-informed practice. We've had recognition and support from First Nations elders. We've discussed and debriefed and done way too much self-care. 

Some staff respond by going into overdrive, trying to help more. Some can't think straight. Some fold into themselves. Some pretend it doesn't hurt. I'm an expert at compartmentalizing. I'm expected to take care of my staff, but the demands of my job don't allow too much time for that.

This week, staff and I are attending a two-day workshop on suicide prevention: ASIST. It's being offered jointly by Island Health and the First Nations Health Authority. Demand was so great that many people couldn't get in, and a second round is being offered a bit later this year. It's wonderful that so many people are interested. It's devastating that the need is so great.

3.22.2024

what i'm reading: operation paperclip: the secret intelligence program that brought nazi scientists to america

Many years ago, I wrote about how the label conspiracy theory is used to shut down inquiry and squelch the questioning of authority: two words, part one, two words part two. */**

Never have I been more aware of this than after reading two books about real events that could easily sound like the wacky imaginings of the tinfoil hat crew. 

Both books are impeccably researched and written.

The subjects of both books are incontrovertible fact. 

Both are about programs organized and run by members of the US government, kept secret from most people in government -- something many people believe is impossible to do. 

The first book, I wrote about here: Poisoner in Chief: Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control. The capsule summary: 

From the early 1950s to at least the mid-1970s, a tiny group of men within the CIA, led by Gottlieb, conducted research into biological and chemical weapons, experimenting on human subjects who lives were considered expendable. 

Without informed consent from their subjects, and usually without the subjects' knowledge at all, these CIA men tortured people (and to a lesser extent, animals) by feeding them LSD and applying other techniques of psychological torture. This went on for decades and involved thousands of vulnerable people -- drug users, prison inmates, psychiatric patients. Gottlieb also invented deadly new poisons and ways to secretly administer them, with the goal of assassinating foreign leaders. The program was known as MK-ULTRA.

The second book, I read earlier this year: Annie Jacobsen's Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program That Brought Nazi Scientists to America. (Unsurprisingly, these two bizarre and shameful pieces of US history intersect.)

These were not easy books to read -- the content is highly disturbing -- but I'm very glad I read both. I wish everyone would.

Here's what happened, in the briefest form possible

Immediately after the end of World War II, a small and highly classified group within the US government began to smuggle Nazi scientists out of Germany and into the United States. 

The program expanded and continued throughout the 1950s. In all, more than 1,600 Nazis were safeguarded this way.

This program was not reserved for the rank-and-file, the "we were only following orders" Nazis. Quite the opposite. Operation Paperclip gave a new lease on life to elite, high-ranking Nazi scientists, men who were part of Hitler's and Himmler's inner circle. 

Paperclip included the highest-level specialists in their fields: biological weapons, chemical weapons, and atomic weapons. They were also sadistic, amoral men who devised and carried out hideous experiments on human beings. They were war criminals. 

The American officials in charge of Operation Paperclip were not Nazis or Nazi sympathizers. They didn't give a fuck about the scientists' politics or what they had used their scientific knowledge for. They had only one, single-minded purpose.

The Nazis were miles -- light years -- ahead of the United States in the development of biological and chemical weapons, and the men of Operation Paperclip wanted their knowledge. 

Some were obsessed with keeping the scientists away from the Soviet Union. (The Soviets had a similar program and were also scooping up Nazi scientists as fast as they could.) Others were obsessed with the military implications of these weapons. All were neutral about something that should defy neutrality.

Some people within the program raised objections. Some within government, and in a position to curtail the program, raised objections. Those men were overruled and excised from decision-making positions.  

In theory, Operation Paperclip screened for war criminals and required the rescued scientists to undergo "denazification". In reality, none of that happened. War criminals were given new identities. Their families were relocated to the US. Many became US citizens. They were treated well and enjoyed comfortable, long lives. 

Content warnings, at least for me

As a child, I was inundated with Holocaust education. I remember coming home from Hebrew school after one of these lessons -- numb, nauseated, and unable to sleep. It's one thing to know this happened. It's another thing to know it would have happened to you

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was a series of highly-regarded documentaries about the Holocaust. After watching one of them, I declared myself done. I decided I would never read or watch anything Holocaust-related, ever again. I felt I had nothing left to learn that could possibly do any good, and I was done exposing myself to this personalized horror. 

(This is specifically about Hitler's Holocaust. I have learned a lot about many genocides, in the past and present, and all over the globe.)

I don't know why it didn't occur to me that reading Operation Paperclip (the book) would require me to break that vow, and in a big way. Of course, in order to understand the import and implications of Operation Paperclip (the program), it is necessary to understand what these Nazi scientists did. 

So. I learned something new about the Holocaust. New-to-me details about the system of slavery used by the Nazis that I hadn't known. This was among the worst things I've ever heard of in my life. 

For a while, I didn't think I could continue reading. The details were so hideous; it felt so traumatic. But I was very motivated to read this book, for many reasons, so I continued. I'm glad I did, but/and now I know more things I wish I didn't know. If you read this book, which I hope you do, brace yourself.

Review in a nutshell

This is an outstanding book, an absolute tour de force of investigation and narrative nonfiction. 

One final note

In both Poisoner in Chief and Operation Paperclip, there is reference to something that has never been declassified. Hidden facts that neither Stephen Kinzer nor Annie Jacobsen were able to crack. A location so secret, so deeply classified, that it is still not known what went on there. Given what has been declassified and what is known, this may be the most disturbing idea of all.

---------

* Written before I understood how to use post titles properly

** Posted only weeks before the date after which all comments are wiped out.

3.11.2024

rtod: democracy or oligarchy

 Revolutionary thought of the day:

We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941)

3.05.2024

the ballad of polly bee: in which newbie homeowners learn things they didn't want to know, but turn annoyance into opportunity

Evil!
As you may or may not recall, Allan and I are first-time homeowners. In 2019, both of us in our late 50s, we bought a home in Port Hardy, BC, on the northern tip of Vancouver Island. We were lifelong renters, and had no desire to change that. But circumstances conspired... and here we are. 

Statement of privilege

We love our home, and we were incredibly fortunate to be able to purchase it, taking advantage of a government option for first-time homebuyers who have RRSPs, a temporarily depressed housing market, low interest rates, and a gift from my mother. We bought a modest home by North American standards, and we hope to live here for the rest of our lives.

I love our home. But I can't say I love being a homeowner. Maintaining a home is incredibly expensive and time-consuming. It was a big adjustment. I'm grateful to have the privilege, but I was happier renting.  

Bethatasitmay, I'm a homeowner now. I tell you this story with full awareness of my privilege. I have a secure, middle-income job, as does my partner, and we can afford our life well enough. So as you read this story, please know: I'm not complaining. I just want to share.

First there was a bubble

On New Year's Day 2021, Allan noticed a discoloration, a bulge in the ceiling. When he poked the bulge, water leaked out. Holy moly! Move the TV, get a bucket, call a plumber. It turned out an upstairs toilet need a new seal. But... while the plumber was there, the told us our home was full of Poly-B. Read about it online, said Plumber. And so I did. 

Poly-B was an inexpensive plumbing material used in the 1980s and 90s. It was very popular in western Canada. Turns out, 10-15 years after installation, Poly-B deteriorates and disintegrates. Not might deteriorate. Does deteriorate. There are class-action lawsuits and law firms specializing in Poly-B. 

Our house was built in 1994. The horizon for plumbing failure was already visible. We realized that the smart move was to replace the plumbing now -- while we are both employed, and while the ceiling was already open. Why wait until the plumbing fails and we need everything done on an emergency basis? What if the plumbing failed while we were out of town? How could we ever be comfortable knowing that a plumbing time bomb was ticking behind our walls?

And if you do have a flood because of Poly-B, the insurance company won't look at you. In fact, if you have any homeowner's claim at all, and Poly-B is discovered, insurance won't pay, even if the issue is not water-related!

The fun begins

So. We had the plumbing replaced. One plumber did 80% of the work, then moved out of the area. 

We found another plumber, and waited for his availability. 

Then at last, all the Poly-B was out of the house.

Then there was no ceiling in the family room and there were holes throughout the house.

Eventually we found a drywaller and waited for his availability. 

He filled the ceiling, and now it had an ugly flat patch in an otherwise-textured look. 

Then he disappeared.

We found another drywaller, and waited for his availability. 

He patched the rest of the holes. (We opted not to fill the holes beneath the sinks, hidden by cabinets.)

This whole process was really difficult for me. Money that I thought would be saved for travel or retirement was being used for maintenance. Important maintenance, yes. We could afford it, yes. But still. Ouch.

So. Now the necessary work is done. The rest is cosmetic. 

We were going to paint the drywall patches ourselves, thinking the previous owners left cans of paint to match every room. But the paint was old, the colours were off, and we realized it would look crappy. The house looked beautiful when we moved in, and I wanted it to look beautiful again.

Turning annoyance into opportunity

So. I made a decision. 

The house, as purchased, was painted in shades of gray -- a light charcoal gray with a darker charcoal gray border. One room was a mustard yellow, another a very pale blue. 

I love colour. I have always loved the look of colourful walls. We've painted accent walls in rental houses, and I've spent scads of money on colourful window treatments and other colour splashes. When I see rooms on TV or online with richly colourful walls, or when we visit countries where colour is a prominent design feature, I always love how it looks. 

I also like bright white walls, and the brightness that brings to a room. Bright white + colours = exactly my look.

Here was an opportunity to bring my own aesthetic to our home. 

I found a professional painter. I started putting money aside. I looked at colours. Choosing colours was crazy! Especially if you love teal. Teal can mean dozens of different things, depending on the mix of green and blue.

Painting finished last week. I absolutely love it.








Our social/hangout/watching room has a teal accent wall,and the teal also borders the bright white kitchen, hallways and stairs. The laundry room and downstairs bathroom (not shown) are also bright white.




A wall at the top of the stairs, visible when you enter the house, is also teal.





The upstairs bathrooms are both tangerine.


We didn't have the bedrooms repainted. The walls in our bedroom are a light sage green. The two rooms we use as offices, which were previously kids' bedrooms, are a bright swimming-pool blue (mine) and the colour of a greenscreen (Allan's). We both like the colours, so we kept them. 

I'll also throw in a vid of the best part of this house, the feature that sold us, and that is very dear to my heart: the deck. The deck is roofed, so useable in all weather, but the roof is 12 feet high, and translucent, so you don't feel like you're indoors. It's my little slice of heaven.



2.17.2024

what i'm reading: a first time for everything, delightful autobiographical tween graphic

A First Time for Everything, by Dan Santat, is a perfect tween book. 

It's funny, sweet, honest, sometimes poignant but not sad. It's a gentle comfort for every kid who has ever felt awkward and different, and an incentive for everyone who is afraid to try new things. 

It's a sensitive and perceptive portrayal of how groups are formed. We often hear that kids can be cruel, and we see that in this book. But kids can be kind, too, and the book affirms that.

I read this book a while ago, and had been planning on writing a group review with some other tween graphics dealing with friendship. I read a few, flipped through a bunch more, and didn't find anything that came close to this book in quality or authenticity. I found each of them either too heavy-handed and preachy or too superficial and vapid. 

In A First Time for Everything, Dan Santat, the author of several children's books, tells the story of the class trip to Europe that he took in middle school. 

In school, Santat had some very embarrassing experiences and was bullied. Now he just wants to keep his head down and make it through middle school without further humiliations. The last thing he wants is anything involving a school group, and certainly not a group that includes some of the same girls who had bullied him. 

At first, it's as awful as he expects. But then Dan tries something new. And it makes him happy. Then he tries another new thing. And he enjoys it. He makes a new friend. He crushes on a girl, who is nice to him. A teacher encourages him. And... Dan starts to enjoy himself. He starts to feel comfortable in his own skin.

The new experiences young Dan has are very small, but they are meaningful. With each new experience, he gains a bit of confidence. And those small steps give him the confidence to try a slightly bigger steps, until he becomes a bit brave, a bit bold, and has a great time doing so.

Santat's portrayal of the beauty and power of the first crush and the first kiss are dead-on. In fact, I found all of it dead-on. 

In flashbacks, we learn more about young Dan's prior bad experiences, which deepens our understanding of his growth. Knowing that Santat wrote this about his life, his own experiences, makes the story more poignant -- and makes you cheer Dan's triumph even more.



One thing I absolutely loved about A First Time for Everything was Santat's inclusion of actual photos he took on the trip, along with a little who's who guide to the characters. 



A First Time for Everything is not so much a coming-of-age story as a journey of self-discovery. It's the best tween graphic I've read in a very long time.

2.11.2024

another insidious bit of the digital divide: access to customer service for smartphones only

We need another word for it.

The digital divide -- the gap between those with access to modern information and communication technologies and those without -- has been recognized since at least the 1990s. Attempts to narrow this gap are usually publicly funded, always operating from scarcity, or small concessions eked out of corporations. Either way, the bridges are tiny, flimsy, and often temporary. Untold numbers of people have been left behind.

Over time the digital divide has widened and deepened. The words digital divide are grossly inadequate, almost quaint. Digital canyon? Digital chasm? Right now it feels like a digital abyss.

Better living through apps -- or not

I recently stumbled on a bit of this gaping divide. I knew about this vaguely, in some abstract way, but now understand it more clearly: improved access to customer service for smartphone users. Sometimes, access to customer service only for people with smartphones.

I wasn't an early adopter of the smartphone. I like to add technology as I need it, not simply because it exists. I prefer not to fork over any more of my income to mega-corporations unless there's a demonstrable benefit in doing so. New technology should save me time or effort, or bring me joy, or why should I bother? So I do use a smartphone, but I apply this to the use of apps as well.

There are apps that simplify processes, so they're worth using. There are apps that make our lives easier. But many apps appear to be more for a company's access to me, rather than the reverse. For example, when I shop online, I prefer sitting at a computer, using full websites. It's easier to see products, read reviews, compare one company's offerings against another. Which of course is why companies want to drive us to their apps: once we're there, we're captive.

Customer service of privilege

Which brings me to what I recently learned. Perhaps I'm the last person on the haves side of the digital divide to discover this, but I've been astonished to learn what improved customer service I receive through apps.

I had a problem with a credit card, and needed to speak with someone. I called the phone number on the card and on the website. I navigated my way through the menu, went down the wrong path, and was cut off -- more than once. 

When I finally found the correct pathway, I was on hold for 50 minutes. Of course I had the call on speaker, and was doing other things while I waited, but still, I had to listen to the hold "music," and I was limited in what else I could do. 

When at last I spoke with a human, it turned out I would need another phone call to a different department. I asked the customer service rep for a more direct number, and was told: call through the app, you'll get through immediately. Now that is a reason to download and use an app. So I did. I called the bank through the app, and was speaking with a human in less than five minutes.

Some months later, I had a question about Aeroplan miles, which means calling Air Canada. Air Canada is renowned for poor customer service. The company has shred their workforce to the bone, so getting anyone to help you with anything is a nightmare. 

I tried finding the answer to my question online. Fruitless. 

Dreading the next step, I called the Aeroplan number and was on hold for two hours and never got through. I am not exaggerating: I am looking at my call history as I type this: 1 hour, 58 minutes. I gave up.

I then downloaded the Aeroplan app and had my answer in under five minutes. I didn't have to speak with anyone: the information I needed was available through the app, but not through the website.

This is terrible customer service. But beyond that, it's customer service as privilege. What happens to customers who don't have smartphones, who can't afford them, who don't know how to download an app? One would think that companies would still want those people's money, but apparently the savings in labour force outweighs the benefits of reaching potential customers.

It's disgusting. It's wrong. And it's only going to get worse. 

2.03.2024

i used to be an activist: another piece of myself has gone missing. or maybe it's on hiatus.

In my experience, the best activism begins like this.

I used to be an activist.

Not being actively involved in a grassroots movement, a part of myself is lost. It's an intentional choice, given the realities that I cannot change. It's what I need. But it's a loss. There's a part of my life that I truly miss.

My purpose and meaning

I've been an activist my entire life. 

I would usually focus on one issue, and explore what I could do within it. South Africa apartheid. Reproductive rights. Violence against women. At-risk youth. Abortion access. US war resisters in Canada. Labour. Each of these, for a time, was a central focus of my life. What gave my life meaning and purpose.

Writing was also part of this. At its best, when I could snag the opportunity, my writing was advocacy. And it certainly was my meaning and purpose. But my activism was in its own sphere. 

When I first became active, I was not a leader. I wasn't even much of a joiner! I wasn't comfortable in group settings; I hadn't found my niche. Realizing my potential as a leader, and becoming comfortable within activist spaces, were big areas of personal growth.

I quickly realized I wanted to work in the grassroots. A group of like-minded people, drawn together by a shared purpose, figuring out a way forward, planning actions, creating opportunities for others to get involved. 

My areas of focus developed organically, expressions of what was important to me, what was most on my mind. I took breaks between issues. I chose what to do next and it chose me.

Throughout most of this time, I didn't work full-time. I was more than full-time busy, but I could cycle through my writing, my various day-jobs, my friends and relationships, and my activism. 

It broke down, and I almost broke down with it

When I became a local union leader, I was also working full-time. This was a big adjustment; more than that, it was unsustainable. I have a chronic health condition, and it was -- to use the common euphemism -- extremely challenging to take care of my health while working and unioning. 

I did that for five years. I have no regrets -- I think back on that time with great pride and joy -- but it took a great toll. Before we decided to move to BC, I had already decided not to run for re-election, and to take a less intensive role in the local.

After we moved, my new local union was led by a group of super smart, talented, badass leaders. I knew I would be active, but I also wanted to put strict limits on my involvement. Now I'm a steward, and a member of my local executive. I was on the last bargaining committee, and I would like to be on the next one. Union is an important part of my life -- I love knowing and working with union people -- but it's well contained.

So here I am

My current work is very challenging and demanding. I love it, but it's full-on. When I'm not working, I very much want a quiet, focused life, and I've committed to that. Reading, writing, cooking, walking. Solo pursuits like working on a puzzle or practicing piano. Time with friends and family. When possible, some travel.  

That I can even talk about this is a sign of my great privilege. It's no accident that most people cannot be active in issues they care about. Our society -- the economic system -- is structured in a way that keeps us busy, too busy to question and work on dismantling the system itself. Full-time work, or more likely, multiple part-time jobs, leaves little enough time for the demands of family, and even basic pleasures, never mind changing the world. For millions who also live with chronic illness -- often linked to trauma -- accomplishing just the basics is a huge undertaking.

And it just gets harder all the time. As capitalism continues its death spiral, the cost of living rises, supports shrink, and life just gets harder. Food insecurity is on the rise. More seniors are living in poverty. These statistics are always lower than reality, defining poverty too low, and not measuring hidden poverty. People choosing between eating and staying warm. Parents skipping meals so their children can eat. Seniors caught shoplifting food. Tiny increases in benefits don't even approach the rising cost of living. More people starve, and freeze, or barely scrape by. 

That we can even talk about this in a nation as wealthy as Canada is a disgrace. And it is completely preventable. Meanwhile, profits soar.

What I'd be doing, if I could 

There are two issues right now that I'd like to be more active in: the movement against Israeli apartheid, and end-of-life choice. But when I think about how I might do that, it breaks down. 

I write letters, I sign petitions, I stay informed. But I'm not out there trying to get others to write letters or meet with their MPs. I'm not organizing, I'm not leading.

Recently my MP had a petition, focusing on a way to remove more harmful waste from the ocean, and an important step for coastal communities like mine. I thought I would solicit signatures in my town. I wanted to... and I never did. 

I joined Labour for Palestine and have attended a few meetings, but I couldn't follow through. 

Dying With Dignity Canada suggests many ways to get involved, but I haven't taken the first step.

I never adopted the language of spoon theory, because I had these ideas decades before the term was coined and popularized. But no matter how we visualize it, time and energy are finite. Health comes first.

It's not only health. I want a quieter, more focused life. A life with more white space on my calendar. In this sense, what I want and what I need align.

Maybe tomorrow, maybe some day

If I'm lucky enough to stay alive and healthy and mobile past retirement, perhaps I'll find my way back to activism.

I have similar thoughts on travel. I don't know if or when we will travel again, other than for family visits. Now in our early 60s, we know our priority must be putting ourselves in the best position for a semi-comfortable retirement, or at least a retirement without poverty. 

I know this, yet travel nags at me. It's not just something I love: it's who I am. Not traveling is giving up a part of myself.

The same is true for activism. My work adds value to the community. I am involved in advocacy -- for my community, and for library workers. Perhaps that is a form of activism, but I miss the grassroots. 

This is my choice, and it isn't. I'm choosing to be more mindful of my health, to not burn out. I didn't choose the conditions that make that necessary. 

Everything in life is a trade-off. Every choice brings both opportunity and loss. I'm truly happy with my life now. And these pieces of myself are left behind.

I'm not fishing for validation or approval. Just putting this out there.

---------

Some related reading:

"I used to be an activist." by Daniel Giles Helm.

My first activist step, by Nicole Bedford

I'm a "spoonie": here's what I wish more people knew about chronic illness, by Kirsten Schultz 

The original spoon theory post by Christine Miserandino

1.26.2024

capitalism won because it is better and other right-wing lies

In recent years, I see a greater awareness that capitalism -- at least in its present form -- is the root cause of so many issues that plague our society. This awareness makes sense, given how extreme the evidence has become. 

Proof is all around us

We grapple with the failures of capitalism every day, as the pressure to show "growth" (i.e., higher profits for shareholders) strains the limits of possibility.

The cycle of planned obsolescence has become so short, that if we buy the least expensive option for our needs, we're lucky if an item lasts more than one use. A more expensive choice -- something that in the past would have easily lasted 10 years or more -- might last six months.

If the price of a staple hasn't gone up, it's probably smaller. Or it very well may be smaller and more expensive. This has become so common that it's led to a new word.

Choosing between eating and keeping warm. Parents skipping meals so children can eat. Employed people supplementing their budgets with food banks. In Canada, one of the richest and most privileged societies in the world, nearly 20% of families report doing one or more of these at least monthly.

Then there's our Earth, which continues to be ravaged for profit, despite the global awareness that this has brought our species to the existential brink.

All this, and so much more, has led to a growing awareness that capitalism has been a total failure for the planet, and almost everyone and everything that lives on it. That the intersection of so many intractable horrors can be laid at its feet. 

This recognition is encouraging. Whether or not that recognition can lead to change is a different question, but this is certain: nothing can change without it.

The anti-socialist soundbites

In response to this widespread awareness, there are a few choice soundbites -- copy/paste responses people parrot without knowledge or understanding -- about the virtues of capitalism and the horrors of socialism. Myths. Lies.

One of the most common myths is that capitalism spread throughout the world because it is the natural state of humanity. That around the world, people adopted capitalism, and rejected socialism, because capitalism is a better system. That socialist governments have failed, because socialism is doomed to fail.

We could ask, did Christianity spread throughout the world because it was the best and most natural religion? In reponse, we could learn about the history of forced converstions: the Crusades, the Conquistadors, the Inquisition, Colonialism. Capitalism has a similar history.

Some facts

Here are some facts. 

In the US, socialist leaders were jailed, deported, surveilled, blacklisted, executed. Labour organizers were falsely accused of crimes, executed, beaten, blacklisted, ruined. 

Worldwide, democratically elected leaders were assassinated by the CIA.

Democratically elected governments were toppled by CIA-backed coups.

Countries were held hostage by IMF policies: drop your plans for a socialist economy, or we will ruin you.

In Latin America, leaders on the left have been murdered outright for generations, leaving new generations of socialists to start over without the knowledge and guidance of previous generations. The US, in most cases, was only slightly less brutal. 

Here's a partial list, off the top of my head. I'm not going to spend time linking, because everything is easily verified; there are dozens of good links about any and all. Skeptics can google. The Fox News crowd will close their eyes as per usual. (I googled only for spelling.)

Emma Goldman
Eugene V. Debs
Bill Haywood
The IWW
Patrice Lumumba
Salvador Allende
Jacobo Árbenz
Daniel Ortega
Queen Lili'uokalani
Mohammad Mosaddegh
José Santos Zelaya
Achmed Sukarno
Jean-Bertrand Aristide

Martin Luther King, Jr.: under constant FBI surveillance, leading to smear campaigns against advisors and associates, blackmail, and at least one FBI suggestion that King kill himself.

South Africa: when unconditional support for the apartheid state was no longer feasible, the IMF smashed the democratically constructed socialist constitution. (Don't see the connection between white supremacy and capitalism? There's a good reason to google.)

Joseph McCarthy
Taft-Hartley
The Chicago Boys
The IMF
Palmer Raids
Pinkertons
The Ludlow Massacre
Espionage and Sedition Acts
"Right to Work"

Illegal union busting, allowed to continue with impunity in the US and Canada. Legal union busting throughout Asia. In China, labour unions are illegal.

Stealth campaigns of climate change denial funded by the fossil fuel industries -- and the courts and laws that protect them.

* * * *

So yeah, sure, capitalism won by being better. 

Leftists are obsessed with self-blame. Activists are always on about "the failure of the left to..." -- [fill in the blank]. It's healthy to be self-critical -- and sectarian fighting has certainly hobbled movements. But we are not where we are because of the failure of the left. Might as well blame survivors of sexual abuse for being provocative. The ruling class recognizes people's movements as contrary to their interests, and acts accordingly.

1.20.2024

yet another post about tuna: tuna pasta salad, my current favourite way to eat tuna

You might not think that tuna is a frequent topic of this blog. But I blog about tuna more than you might think.

In 2009, after reading about the decline of tuna worldwide, I said I would stop eating tuna

This didn't last. I ended up eating tuna, but feeling guilty. Not helpful.

In 2016, I questioned whether it was less expensive to make tuna salad myself, or to buy the delicious tuna salad I loved from Whole Foods. Answer: It was less expensive, and a lot easier, to buy the WF version. 

However: shortly after that, Whole Foods sharply increased their already-expensive prices, and in 2017, we curbed our addiction to that store, and stopped shopping there altogether. Of course, now I don't have access to WF, so it's no longer an issue. 

In 2019, I learned that the tuna I eat is not the same tuna that is in decline. This was a huge relief. I'm using skipjack tuna that is (supposedly) caught without the nets that are so often fatal to so many other sea creatures. I find that skipjack tuna is not delicious enough to flake in a green salad with dressing. It needs more help. I posted my then-current tuna salad recipe: tuna, lite mayo, Dijon mustard, sweet pickle relish. 

Almost immediately after that, I changed this staple of my diet to: tuna, lite mayo, Dijon mustard, scallion, minced celery, and shredded carrot. This was decidedly more work than the earlier incarnation. I ate this for several years.

In 2022, I read the book Four Fish by Paul Greenberg (published in 2010). I learned more about the amazing and endangered bluefin tuna, and more about how the world's food supply has been poisoned and corrupted -- more about a lot of very interesting things, some of them very sad. Greenberg also confirmed my belief that personal choices about seafood do not impact ocean health or seafood health. (Although I'm sure I'd be healthier if I ingested less mercury.)

Last year, in an apparent bid to spend even more time doing food prep, I tried making tuna-pasta salad. I fell in love with it and it is now a go-to staple. It's full of lean protein, healthy fats, and raw vegetables, and the pasta substitutes for the bread or crackers I ate my old tuna salad with. I love the creaminess, and I find a small amount is very satisfying. 

How to make tuna-pasta salad

Combine:
2 cups pasta: use elbow, rotini, penne, orecchiette, or any cut pasta, cooked al dente. I use classic elbow macaroni.
3 cans skipjack tuna, packed in water: drained, flaked, and broken up so there are no chunks
3 ribs of celery, minced
3-4 scallions, green part only, minced
1/2 cup or more shredded carrot

In a separate bowl, combine:
1 cup plain yogurt: I use Greek style, 2% fat, but any plain yogurt of your choice will work
2 tablespoons lite mayo
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
These proportions are approximate. Adjust as you see fit.
Blend the above ingredients. Then whisk in:
Juice of one lemon: you can substitute red wine vinegar, but lemon is better
Fresh dill: optional

Add dressing to the tuna-pasta mix and blend well. Refrigerate for at least a few hours before eating.

1.16.2024

historic news: south korea bans dog meat trade

I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the email from HSI Canada: South Korea has banned the dog meat industry.

Humane Society International Korea, along with many other organizations and individuals, have been working on this for decades. I think everyone echoes JungAh Chae, director of HSI/Korea, who said: "This is history in the making I never thought I would see in my lifetime".

Decades ago, I saw a tiny, incredibly brief, blurry image from a dog-meat market, a millisecond in a documentary about dogs. I have never been able to get the image out of my mind. 

We contribute a small monthly donation to HSI Canada, and I follow their news -- although I often won't open their emails, for fear of what I may see. The dog-meat industry is a big focus of their work -- rescuing and rehoming dogs destined for slaughter, and campaigning locally to shut down the industry. This has already been successful in several countries, along with many regional and municipal bans on the industry.

I doubt anyone wants to argue with me about this, but just in case, here, in advance, are answers to the standard questions and objections.

No, I am not vegan. Yes, I support animal welfare initiatives in all forms. There is no contradiction in this. I can eat meat and still oppose inflicting needless suffering, abuse, or cruelty to sentient beings. 

There is no requirement to be an absolutist in our moral and ethical choices. In fact, the false construct that only absolutes are valid is often used as to justify immoral and unethical behaviour.  

Yes, I believe it's all right to eat some animals and not others. This is, in fact, an almost universal belief among humans, across all eras and all cultures. The humane treatment of animals is more important to me than anyone's personal decisions about what to eat.

I don't believe that campaigning against the dog-meat industry is imposing western values on non-western cultures. In every case, the principal campaigners -- the people driving the change -- are local. They are working to change values, then to create laws based on those values. At bottom, that's what most activism is about. 

The details of the new South Korean law, which provides compensation for workers in the dog meat industry, are incredible.

My heart is full of appreciation and admiration for everyone who has worked to make this historic win possible.

+ + + + + 

BREAKING: South Korea bans the dog meat industry with historic vote at National Assembly as animal campaigners 'overjoyed'

'This is history in the making I never thought I would see in my lifetime,' says JungAh Chae, director of HSI/Korea

SEOUL—South Korea's National Assembly has today voted through a ban on the dog meat industry in what animal campaigners at Humane Society International/Korea have called "history in the making." Up to 1 million dogs a year are factory farmed and killed for human consumption in the country. The ban, which comes into force in six months' time with a three-year phase out, will make the breeding, slaughter and sale of dogs and dog meat for human consumption illegal from 2027, with penalties of up to three years' imprisonment or a fine of up to 30 million KRW.*

This news follows considerable public and political momentum. With over 6 million pet dogs now living in Korean homes, demand for dog meat is at an all-time low. A 2023 Nielsen Korea opinion poll shows that 86% of South Koreans won't eat dog meat in the future and 57% support a ban.

JungAh Chae, executive director of Humane Society International/Korea, which has campaigned tirelessly for a ban, welcomed the news by saying: "This is history in the making. I never thought I would see in my lifetime a ban on the cruel dog meat industry in South Korea but this historic win for animals is testament to the passion and determination of our animal protection movement. We reached a tipping point where most Korean citizens reject eating dogs and want to see this suffering consigned to the history books, and today our policymakers have acted decisively to make that a reality. While my heart breaks for all the millions of dogs for whom this change has come too late, I am overjoyed that South Korea can now close this miserable chapter in our history and embrace a dog-friendly future."

Dog farmers, slaughterers and restaurant owners will be eligible to apply for compensation, and after review, government support will be offered to transition or close those businesses, similar to the Models for Change program run by HSI/Korea. Since 2015, HSI has helped 18 dog farmers across South Korea switch to growing crops such as chili plants and parsley, or water delivery and other livelihoods.

HSI/Korea urges the government to use the three-year phase out period to work with animal groups including HSI/Korea to rescue as many dogs as possible in a state-sponsored, coordinated effort.

Kitty Block and Jeff Flocken, respectively CEO and president of HSI globally, issued a joint statement, saying: "This is a truly momentous day for our campaign to end the horrors of the dog meat industry in South Korea, and one we have been hoping to see for a very long time. Having been to dog meat farms, we know only too well the suffering and deprivation these desperate animals endure in the name of an industry for whom history has now thankfully called time. This ban signals the end of dog meat farming and sales in South Korea, and we stand ready to contribute our expertise until every cage is empty."

South Korea now joins a growing list of countries and territories across Asia that have banned the dog meat trade (with varying degrees of enforcement), including Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Philippines, India, Thailand and Singapore, as well as the cities of Shenzhen and Zhuhai in mainland China, Siem Reap province in Cambodia, and 45 cities, regencies and provinces in Indonesia.

[Go to original for links.]

1.14.2024

what i'm reading: an immense world by ed yong

Long ago, I briefly observed one of our dogs do something that has always stayed with me. 

I was walking Cody in our New York City neighbourhood, and saw, in the distance, a neighbour walking a dog that Cody was in love with, called Little Bear. Cody had never interacted with Little Bear beyond passing, with both dogs on-leash, but nevertheless, Cody was smitten. When she saw Little Bear, our mild-mannered lab-shepherd mix became almost uncontrollable -- barking, whining, pulling, and generally freaking out.*

On this particular walk, I didn't have a lot of time, and needed to make it brief. Cody was unaware of the presence of Little Bear in the distance, so I slowed down, waiting until the dog and its person had turned a corner and were headed away from us.

Some minutes later, Cody and I approached where Little Bear had been. Cody sniffed the base of a tree. Her head shot up, and she frantically looked all around, her eyes wild and expectant, whining the way she only did for Little Bear, then pulled in the direction I had seen Little Bear go. From that one sniff, Cody knew not just that a dog had been there, but what individual dog had been there and in what direction they had gone.

I thought of this while reading An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us. In An Immense World, Ed Yong, a science writer at The Atlantic, takes the reader on a tour of animals' Umwelten. Umwelt, Yong tells us, is a term for the "sensory bubble" in which an animal lives. It is the world the animal perceives. That sensory bubble is perfectly adapted to the animal and what it needs from its environment, and utterly different from our own.

Umwelt: the world according to dogs. Or whales. Or rats. Or spiders.

Dolphins, dogs, hundreds of different species of insects and spiders, different species of birds -- and so on and so on -- each have their own Umwelt. These sensory bubbles are best understood by removing humans from the picture completely. It's not that the dog has better hearing or a better sense of smell than humans. They do -- but that's not what's most interesting, and not what Yong wants to show us. It's what smell and hearing do for dogs. It's the world according to dogs (spiders, rats, whales, crocodiles, elephants, etc.).

An Immense World includes so many eye-popping stories and facts -- all examples of its subtitle -- that choosing a few for a review may be the most daunting writing challenge I face this year. 

Alligators and crocodiles are covered -- head to tail -- in sensors that detect vibrations in the surface of the water. These pressure detectors are 10 times more sensitive to pressure fluctuations than human fingertips. Even with its eyes covered and its ears plugged, when a drop of water hits the surface of its tank, an alligator test subject lunges and snaps where it lands.

A spider's web is a "vibrational landscape" -- made from the spider's own body -- that tells the spider what and where its next meal will be. What's truly astonishing is that the spider can adjust its web "as if tuning a musical instrument", altering the speed and strength of the web's vibrations by changing the stiffness of the silk, the tension in the strands, and the shape of the web, depending on the type of prey that's available. And some spiders can camoflage their footsteps to encroach on another spider's web and steal their prey without being detected. 

Owls, renowned for their huge eyes and raptor-sharp eyesight, actually hunt by hearing. The disc of stiff feathers on an owl's face funnels sounds towards its ears -- which sit asymmetrically on the owl's head, enabling it to pinpoint the location of prey in both vertical and horizontal planes, as if on a radar screen. 

Many insects have ears on their legs; many butterflies hear with their wings. Rattlesnakes hear with their tongues.

Dogs can detect (by smell) a single fingerprint on a microscope slide that has been left outside, exposed to elements, for a week.  

A seal's whiskers detect vibrations in the water, and can discriminate among shapes and textures. Swimming fish leave a trail of moving water -- a "hydrodynamic wake" -- not visible to human eyes.  A harbor seal can follow a herring from almost 200 yards away. Even blindfolded and with their ears plugged, seals can follow the hydrodynamic trail of their dinner.

Rodents call to each other in frequencies too high to be audible to humans. 

Pups [of rats] that are separated from their nests make ultrasonic "isolation calls" that summon their mothers. Rats that are tickled by humans make ultrasonic chirps that have been compared to laughter. Richardson's ground squirrels produce ultrasonic alarm calls when they detect a predator . . . Male mice that sniff female hormones produce ultrasonic songs that are remarkably similar to those of birds, complete with distinctive syllables and phrases. 

The section on bird calls and whale sounds is absolutely mindblowing. If I tried to summarize it, I'd end up copying whole pages from the book. Trust me: the sonic Umwelt of birds and whales is not at all what you might think.  

Allan has more examples in his review here. He chose An Immense World as the best book he read in 2023.

An immense world, and a small language

Dogs perceive the world primarily through smell and hearing. What smell means to a dog -- the information dogs receive from smell, what they can know through smell, how they need it and use it -- is so different than our own sense of smell, that they shouldn't even be called the same thing. 

The animal sense that is perhaps most difficult to comprehend is the one that most humans rely on most heavily: vision. We imagine we are seeing the world as it is. In fact we are seeing the world as it is for humans. Rattlesnakes see infrared radiation. Birds can see ultraviolet light. Some animals see in almost total darkness. Others see fantastically long distances -- but only if they look downward.

One of the many insights this book has brought me is the paucity of the English language when it comes to describing sensory perceptions. 

We are taught that humans have five senses -- but more than that, we are taught that there are five senses. We speak of "a sixth sense" or "extrasensory perception," as something freakish or otherworldly. An Immense World has taught me that there are at least six or seven general senses, and within those broad categories, perception is wildly varied. 

An elephant, a peacock, an iguana, and a spider are all animals -- but that broad category tells us very little, and bears no hint of how completely different those four animals are. Likewise, the words touch, taste, hearing, sight, and smell mean completely different things within the Umwelten of different species.

It's great, don't be afraid

Yong's writing is so engaging and captivating, and sprinkled with gentle humour. The book is framed as a journey of discovery: the author connects with scientists who study the sensory perception of a huge array of animals. He is continually fascinated by what he finds -- and the reader comes along for the ride. This infuses An Immense World with a warmth and generous joy of discovery. 

The science of perception -- what produces vision or hearing -- is somewhat beyond me, but that's a few paragraphs sprinkled here and there, not the majority of the book.

I was hesitant to read this book because of the terrible sadness that underlies so many animal stories -- habitat destruction, pollution, slaughter for human greed, rampant cruelty and abuse. Cruelty to animals is the one place I cannot go, the thing I cannot read about or watch. Allan assured me that An Immense World was not that book. There are sentences here and there that are sad (and stay with me) but overall, it is a celebration of the wonders of animals. As Yong says, the book is about "animals as animals," an attempt to understand how animals perceive their own worlds -- to enter their Umwelt

I am actually still reading An Immense World. Every so often, I think, this is very detailed, perhaps I'll just skim this bit. Then I skim maybe one paragraph, and realize I'm missing yet another incredible example, or some gem from one of the many humourous footnotes, and I return to my close read. This book is just too good to miss any page.

-------------

* Many years later, Tala displayed this same smitten behaviour, even more vehemently, towards a beautiful Collie we referred to as The Boyfriend. Becoming aware of The Boyfriend from any distance, Tala would whine and cry and drag me over to him. She would put her face against his cheek, and close her eyes, in apparent rapture. The Boyfriend, as is often the case with dog romance, was indifferent to Tala. The Boyfriend's people, sadly, weren't amenable to any interaction. To avoid breaking Tala's heart every day, when I spotted The Boyfriend, I would quickly make a U-turn to avoid them. From a great distance, Tala would sniff the air, stare into the distance, and quietly whine. 

1.08.2024

we movie to canada: best of "what i'm watching" 2023

These are the best movies and series I watched in 2023, in no particular order.

Five stars: the best of the best

Kimi
This overlooked thriller is as taut and suspenseful as it gets. Zoë Kravitz is brilliant as the agoraphobic tech worker who must face her fear in order to bring a crime to light. But the real star is a screenplay (David Koepp) and direction (Steven Soderbergh) that doesn't waste a word or a single frame.  

Women Talking
A powerful story about women collectively liberating themselves from an oppressive, authoritarian religious community. Sarah Polley wrote and directed this film based on the Miriam Toews novel of the same name, which itself was a fictional account of documented events. Based on a true story, and true stories that are all around us. See it.

I Lost My Body (2019)
This intense, inventive animated film will haunt me for years to come. It is suffused with existential heartache: the pain of mortality, loneliness, and regret. I haven't seen anything like it since BoJack Horseman -- but this one comes without comic relief. (Interesting that these two works that I found so meaningful are both animated.) I Lost My Body is one of the very best things we saw in 2023, and/but it was almost too painful to watch.

I'm a Virgo S1
What would happen to a 13-foot-tall Black man in 21st Century America? Boots Riley, the genius behind Sorry to Bother You (2018), again finds a way to reflect and skewer our world through fantasy comedy. This series is absolutely astonishing, with layers upon layers of meaning. I can't wait to see where it goes.

I Lost My Body: the loneliness of the human condition
Descendant
In 2019, the wreckage of the ship Clotilda was found in Alabama's Mobile River: it was the last known ship to bring kidnapped, enslaved African people to America, legally. Filmmaker Margaret Brown spent four years with the community of Africatown -- where many residents are descendants from the people held captive on that ship -- exploring how the discovery impacted their lives.

Everything Everywhere All At Once
Add my voice to the chorus proclaiming the wonders of this movie. 

Shining Girls re-watch (S1, full series)
Last year, I wrote this about Shining Girls:

This genre-blending thriller/mystery/sci-fi series is mind-blowing, and features yet another insanely good performance by Elisabeth Moss. I'm planning on re-watching: now that I know the outcome, I can concentrate on clues and how it all fits together. 

I did that, and I loved the series again, possibly even more than I did the first time. 

Bicycle Thieves (1948)
Kanopy streaming service -- available free through your library -- is great for exploring classics that you haven't seen, or perhaps saw long ago. This story of a working-class man trying to eke out a living in the bleak, starving world of post-war Italy, his young son in tow, is gripping, heartbreaking, and masterful.

Hunters S1-2 (S1 re-watch + full series)
I don't know why Hunters is so under-recognized and under-rated. A conspiracy thriller with a good dose of comedy, it benefits from great acting by Al Pacino (finally doing television!), Lena Olin, and Dylan Baker, among others. Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Operation Paperclip. I gave S1 a 4 out of 5, but after seeing both seasons in succession, I moved it to the top category. Not for the violence-averse.

Chinatown (1974)
Chinatown is what all noir movies aspire to. It's one of the best movies from an era of great moviemaking. Yes, it was directed by a rapist and pedophile, but it's a great movie. If you see it, you are not condoning the director's crimes. I promise.

The Sting (1973)
The Sting is one of the all-time great con movies. Pure joy. Plus Paul Newman! This movie is so good, it almost made me like Robert Redford. (Not really, but that's how good it is.)

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
See above. When I was a kid, this was one of my favourite movies, and watching it now brought me that same kind of uncritical joy. The movie inspired a (probably bad) TV show called Alias Smith and Jones, which I also watched avidly, back in the day. 

Fitzcarraldo (1982)
Would we have thought this movie was great if we didn't know the crazy backstory, if we weren't already fascinated by Werner Herzog, if we didn't know Mick Jagger was originally cast in it, if there hadn't been a blood feud between Herzog and Klaus Kinski? That's a question with no answer, but we did thoroughly enjoy the film. We also watched My Best Fiend, Werner Herzog's ode to his relationship with Klaus Kinski, and Burden of Dreams, Les Blank's 1982 documentary about the making of Fitzcarraldo. 

Unpregnant: teenage abortion without apology
Unpregnant
Now that people are finally making honest movies about abortion, I plan to see them all. This one did everything right -- humour, honesty, authentic teen relationships, and just the right amount of political context. Thanks to the horrific US anti-abortion laws, a new subgenre is developing: the abortion road trip.

Reservation Dogs S3
Season 3 of this stellar show included more of what we might call magical realism, but what an Indigenous worldview would embrace as simply part of the web of life, some of which is unseen, and occasionally revealed. The episode dealing with the death of an elder must be the best piece of Indigenous culture ever seen by a mainstream audience. I also found the boarding school / residential school episode pretty much perfect. Through the whole series, the young actors are so good

Never Have I Ever S4
I didn't think they could do it, but Devi Vishwakumar's coming-of-age stayed brilliant through four seasons. Funny, sad, sweet, and authentic. Nearly perfect.

Triangle: Remembering the Fire
This HBO documentary is a great, concise overview of an important piece of women's/labour/New York City/American history. Even if you know all about the Triangle fire, you'll be glad you saw this. For the full story, see if you can get your hands on a copy of Triangle: The Fire That Changed America by David Von Drehle

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed
This documentary about the artist and activist Nan Goldin is notable for the brutal honesty with which Goldin bares her life -- a stark and welcome contrast to the typical sanitized biopic. Although Goldin's activism exposing the Sackler family's culpability in the opioid crisis is one of the film's central themes, the film is not about the Sacklers or the drug crisis. It's about Nan Goldin. It's fascinating, gripping, and at times a bit grueling.  

"Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown."
ER S1-5 (1994 - 1999)
Re-watching ER for the first time since it originally aired reminded me of what a great show it is -- at least for the first five seasons. I'm currently slogging through the rest of the series, as original cast members fall away and the show becomes a soap opera set in a hospital. Which is not to say it's not entertaining. 



Four stars: highly recommended

Rita S1-S5, full series
I'm so glad I went back to this. Rita is such a refreshing protagonist -- smart, sexy, iconoclastic, utterly independent, often wrong, always fierce. If her free spirit is partly a mask over the pain of early trauma, that doesn't make her any less free. A joyous and sometimes sad show that deepened with every season.

Outside In (2017)
A man gets out of prison, having served 20 years for a crime he didn't commit. The emotional fallout impacts many lives in a small Pacific Northwest town. Really well done.

Wojnarowicz: F**k You F*ggot F**ker
Art, AIDS, and activism in 1980s New York. A moving portrait of a pioneer. Coincidentally, the subject matter intersects with All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, above. 

The Old Man S1
Jeff Bridges plays a Vietnam veteran and former spy, and John Lithgow plays his former handler. Also, there are dogs. The first season was a credible and exciting thriller. We've been waiting for S2.

Shrinking S1
I really enjoyed this smart, funny, and sad show, a comedy about grief, loss, therapy, honesty, and reclaiming joy. Add another title to the list of smart adult drama-sitcoms, which for me includes Episodes, Silicon Valley, Hacks, and a few others.

Severance S1
A strange and exciting sci-fi thriller about -- at bottom -- labour and capitalism. Related to Sorry to Bother You, but without the humour. Definitely waiting for S2.

Perry Mason S1-2 (full series so far)
We were happy to see the return of this smart, stylish, retro noir, an origin story and prequel to the old Perry Mason TV show. I hope it continues.

American Experience: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
A short, factual look at the daring and charismatic outlaws who inspired the 1969 movie. American Experience documentaries are consistently excellent. I'm glad several of them have made it onto Kanopy, Prime, and occasionally Netflix.

Succession S1-4 (full series)
Although this series sometimes felt repetitive, it was utterly addictive. I've heard people question the value of a show about rich assholes. To me, interesting characters, complex relationships, good writing, and great acting are the elements of a great series. The backdrop hardly matters. Plus, any really good series will peel back the assholic behaviour to reveal the pain and trauma that drives it. 

Unknown: Cave of Bones
When Allan and I can't agree on what to watch, we can always reach for some nature, anthropology, or archeology doc. This is a fascinating look at new research on early hominids, and the likelihood that they were more advanced than previously thought.

The Killing (1956)
This early Stanley Kubrick film, which Kubrick co-wrote with the seminal hardboiled crime writer Jim Thompson, is classic noir. You know the heist is doomed to fail, but how many lives will be lost or wrecked in the process, and whether or not anyone will get away clean, are always open questions.  

C'est comme ça que je t'aime (Happily Married) S1-2 (full series)
A crime comedy by the makers of Series Noire? Say no more! This series belongs to the "what lurks beneath the quiet suburbs" tradition -- taken to an extreme. Of course, like most crime films, it requires a certain suspension of disbelief. But it's funny, insightful, and super twisty. 

Our Flag Means Death S1-2, full series so far
Love, loss, discovery, and revenge on the high seas. A fun -- and sometimes sad -- dark comedy, full of LGBTQ love. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Vjeran Tomic: The Spider-Man of Paris
A documentary, told in the first person, by the man who pulled off the greatest art heist in the history of Paris.

Lupin S1-2 rewatch + S3 (full series)
More Parisian art heists! Despite some twists that were simply not credible, even in the world of criminal fantasy, Lupin S3 was still great. The anti-racist, anti-capitalist, and literary angles add depth, and Paris adds sparkle.

The Banshees of Inisherin
This story's descent into tragic darkness somehow feels both shocking and inevitable. It's very, very sad, and more than a little strange, with an all-star Irish pedigree. 

The Sound of Metal
A drummer in a metal-punk duo is losing his hearing, and with it, his identity. What kind of future he will choose, what new self will emerge, is what he and the audience must discover. A moving exploration of disability, identity, and recovery.

Slap Shot (1977)
Paul Newman always said that Slap Shot was his favourite of his own films, and that it was the most fun to make. With George Roy Hill's light touch, and a hilarious screenplay by Nancy Dowd, this sweet comedy has a loose-jointed feel that draws you in, warm and welcoming. The following year, Dowd won the Oscar for Best Screenplay for Coming Home. With The Sting and Butch Cassidy, Slap Shot makes three George Roy Hill movies this year, and each a gem. 

Honourable mentions: worth seeing

Jospeh Campbell and the Power of Myth, with Bill Moyers
We watched this when it first aired on PBS in 1988. I bought the book and became a huge fan. All these years later -- and knowing the standard criticisms of Campbell's ideas -- I am still interested and impressed. 

Helvetica
A documentary about a font? Sure, why not? It missed a few obvious opportunities that would have greatly improved it, but solid and worth seeing.

Bill Russell: Legend
An incredible athlete, an outspoken civil rights activist, and a prickly, cantankerous man. This two-part bio-doc is not perfect, but it is excellent.

I'm Thinking of Ending Things
Charlie Kaufman's movies are always challenging to parse and invariably provoke good post-watch discussions. Which is not the same thing as saying I like them. But I do continue to see them. Sad note: in the role played by Jesse Plemons, I kept imagining Philip Seymour Hoffman. 

Previous "we move to canada" awards

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)
big life events in a year full of Big Life Changes (2012-13)
cheese (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)
2018-19: 1-5 ☮s
2019-20: 1-5 💉s
2020-21: 1-5 😷s (without the tear!)
2021: best of 2021 april to december
2022: best of 2022

1.05.2024

the secret pocket: children's books on residential schools, reading for reconciliation, and other library things

This post started as a standard "what i'm reading" post. But as I thought about it, I realized that it touches on several other themes that are important to me: history, Reconciliation, libraries, readers' advisory... and maybe some others I'm not seeing yet.

The Secret Pocket

In September, for National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, I was updating a list of children's books about residential schools, and found The Secret Pocket, by Peggy Janicki. It immediately became my favourite children's book about the residential school experience.

The Secret Pocket tells the story -- in the first person -- of a Dakelh girl who was taken away from her family when she was four years old. She is brought to a place far away from her home, where the children are always hungry and cold. The girls are forbidden to speak their own language, and are frequently punished -- often by the withholding of food.

The older girls sew hidden pockets into their clothes. They secretly gather materials and sew at night, then use the pockets to hide pieces of apples, carrots, and bread to share with the younger girls, and the girls who are hungriest.

In the Dakelh culture before contact, sewing skills were passed down through generations of women. The girls who were a bit older when they were forcibly removed from their families already had this knowledge. So not only were they helping to feed each other, they were keeping a piece of their culture alive.  

The Secret Pocket records and preserves the stories that the author's mother told her about her own experience -- a story of courageous, creative, and collective resistance. I highly recommend it to all adult readers as well as children. 

How to talk to kids about...

Canadian schools now teach about Canada's colonization of Indigenous people, and about the Residential Schools, at every grade level. It's about time! My Canadian-born friends never learned about this when they were growing up. Many of them lived right near a Residential School but never knew about the genocidal system that they represented, let alone what went on behind the prison walls. 

Many people I know are particularly upset at learning that Duncan Campbell Scott was one of the principal architects of the system that vowed to "kill the Indian in the child". (Apparently this phrase is falsely attributed to Scott. Nevertheless, he created the system that tried to make it a reality.) In school, my Canadian friends and co-workers learned about Scott as a celebrated Canadian poet. They learned about his dark legacy as adults, through Reconciliation education through their workplaces. 

(Incidentally, those three names -- Duncan, Campbell, and Scott -- are found all over Vancouver Island place-names. I hope one day those names will be expunged, and places returned to their ancestral names.)

Reconciliation education stands in stark contrast to so many school districts in the United States that are no longer teaching about slavery. This choice is truly Orwellian, even surreal. And so indicative of the progress of the fascist state.

There are ways to talk with children about difficult topics, in age-appropriate ways. I'm no student of education, so I'm not well-versed in method and curricula, but I see it taking place all around me. 

Reading for Reconciliation

For non-Canadian readers, Reconciliation is the process of educating ourselves about the historical (and ongoing) colonization and oppression of the Indigenous people who live in what is now called Canada, and finding ways to create more equity and justice. 

This work is happening in workplaces, schools, unions, churches, and other organizations, and it is also happening on a personal level. Individual Canadians are taking responsibility for learning, and to the extent that we can, for decolonizing our lives. The 94 Calls to Action created by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission provide a framework for this. 

Obviously not every Canadian cares about this, and a certain percentage of the non-Indigenous population is blatantly hostile to the idea. But evidence also shows that huge numbers of non-Indigenous Canadians care deeply about this and are finding ways to participate in acts of Reconciliation.

One of the ways that Canadians further their own Reconciliation journeys is through reading. Books written by Indigenous authors, both fiction and nonfiction, for every age group and nearly every genre, are burgeoning in sales, libraries, and book clubs. I find this especially heartening when I consider that much of the subject matter in these books is disturbing -- and many people (unfortunately, in my view) avoid reading anything with disturbing content. 

I want to note that in Indigenous Relations: Insights, Tips & Suggestions to Make Reconciliation a Reality, author Bob Joseph lists reading work by Indigenous authors as a tangible act of Reconciliation.

If you have not already done so, I highly recommend reading Joseph's 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act. It's a short, highly accessible book, and my number one pick for beginning Reconciliation awareness. Here's a very good interview with Bob Joseph in The Tyee.

We💓booklists

Many library systems, including mine, offer booklists -- lists curated by librarians, grouped by subgenre, age group, or subject matter, to highlight hidden gems and help customers choose titles.

Booklists are an important form of readers' advisory. Staffing levels -- in every library in North America -- are very low, and in many libraries, there may be no professional staff who have been trained in readers' advisory. Even if staff are available, many customers won't ask for reading recommendations, for various reasons. So most libraries offer various forms of passive readers' advisory. Booklists are a part of that. 

In our system, lists are created by any staff who have an interest. A call goes out, staff sign up for topics within an audience group (adult, youth, or children), or suggest creative list ideas. We put our annotated picks into a template, so the lists have a uniform look and feel. Our lists are always diverse and current, and many are really creative.

I love readers' advisory, and my position doesn't give me much opportunity to keep those skills alive, so when the call goes out, I always raise my hand. It's an opportunity "to librarian". Right now I'm working on two adult lists -- current travel memoirs, and memoirs and biographies. I almost always choose nonfiction lists, with one exception: I love the challenge of creating diverse lists of modern classics. I also sometimes contribute to lists of children's books, which is how I found The Secret Pocket.