very sad news: boomer cannot stay

My heart is heavy. My heart is broken.

Boomer cannot stay with us.

We can't even foster him while we search for his forever home.

One of our dogs is extremely stressed by Boomer's presence. It's causing some behaviours that are intolerable and potentially dangerous, and will only worsen over time.

From information from the vet, a behaviourist, and several people with multi-dog households, I've learned that this is not uncommon when a third dog is introduced to an existing pair, especially a male coming into a established female pack.

We must put the safety and well-being of Kai and Cookie first. Add this to the list of things I thought I'd never do: tomorrow morning we will take Boomer to the local shelter and surrender him. I can only hope that we have set him on a path to a warm, safe, loving home.

And we hope we can reverse and repair the problems Kai and Cookie are experiencing.

Boomer's a lovely dog -- sweet and docile, a fast learner, happy and easy-going. I hope he can stay that way until he finds his people.


in which the "no third dog rule" is happily thrown away: introducing boomer!

This handsome boy is Boomer, the newest addition to our family. I saw him a couple of times outside the library, scrounging food. He was quiet and meek, friendly but very cautious. A library regular -- the person who used to have Cookie -- told me folks have been calling him Boomer. Allan and I couldn't agree on a different name, so Boomer he is.

He's less than a year old. I'm guestimating seven to nine months; we'll know more after his first visit to the vet in a few days. It's likely that he had never been in a car or a house before today.

I checked around to make sure he was not anyone else's dog, and broached the idea at home. We've always had a strict "no third dog" rule! If one of us was melting over a pup, the other one had to be strong. (We did briefly have Diego, Kai, and Cookie, but Diego was old; we knew that was temporary.) But, as I reminded Allan, we were renters then. Finding rentals with two dogs was difficult enough. We knew we could never have three!

But now we own our own home. We have the space, and we have the means... so why not?

It's been very cold lately, and I couldn't get Boomer out of mind, knowing he was sleeping outside so nearby. This morning we drove down to the reserve, and we saw him right away, playing with another dog. We brought some food and fed bits to both of them. 

A woman came out of her house, wanting to know what we were doing. The second dog was hers, and she was concerned. There is often suspicion between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people here, until introductions are made and intentions are established. (Very understandable!) 

I told her we were a friend of [Cookie's former person], and this dog had been in town, and we are hoping to take it in. She said again that one dog was hers, and brought it inside, and said she doesn't know the other dog (Boomer), but she has seen him on his own many times. She and her partner both wished us luck and we all exchanged friendly goodbyes.

With the other dog gone, we continued feeding Boomer bits of sardines, petting him, and calling him by name. He was shy and cautious, moving away when we tried to put a collar on him, and not wanting to put a paw in the car, even to retrieve food.

Allan had the brilliant idea to try walking him on the leash -- and lo and behold, Boomer really seemed to like that! Allan and Boomer walked down the street, and I drove slowly beside them -- and that made all the difference. Allan took Boomer in the back seat, and we drove home!

We took Boomer in the backyard, and Kai and Cookie came barrelling out, full tilt. Naturally Boomer ran for the hills -- just as Cookie did when she first met Diego and Kai. But in a few moments, they were sniffing each other, then came the play bows, and within 30 seconds of meeting, they were all playing together. Cookie seemed overjoyed, repeatedly leaping up on me and Allan, which is very unusual.
They ran and played for a while, then we took Boomer -- who was quite fragrant -- for a bath at the nearby dog wash. (It's so weird, what this town has and doesn't have!) Allan walked there with Mister Boomer on the leash, and I drove over. Boomer was pretty freaked out about the bath, but he accepted it, then we drove home with man and dog together in the back seat.

I can already see that Allan is Boomer's special guy. In my experience, dogs develop a very deep bond with the first person in on the rescue. That was the case with me and Buster, to an extreme degree, since he was near death on the street when I found him, and it is certainly the case with me and Cookie. I can see Boomer is already a bit more attached to Allan than to me.


listening to joni: #17 and final: shine

Shine, 2007

Shine is Joni's most recent, and likely final, studio album. She came out of retirement in 2007 to release the album, nine years after her previous Taming the Tiger.

Shine, which was also re-issued on vinyl in 2020, is a themed collection: the lyrics focus on environmental destruction and endless war. Joni composed some of the tracks for The Fiddle and the Drum, a collaboration with the Alberta Ballet Company, for which Joni served as artistic director.
At the time of the album's release, most critics interpreted the lyrics as references to Hurricane Katrina and the US's invasion of Iraq. Today, not tethered to specific recent events, the songs ache with heartbreak, frustration, and anger at how we humans have destroyed our planet. 
The album opens with an instrumental, "One Week Last Summer". When I first heard it, I thought it was a bit "Joni by the numbers," that Joni was musically repeating herself or relying too much on old patterns. But the more I've listened, the more the song has revealed itself to me. It's gentle but very powerful. It welcomes you, enfolds you, ushers you into the feel and tone of what follows. You can hear some Court and Spark in it, and some Blue, and some distinctly Joni arranging. She's not quoting herself so much as being herself.
In the lyrics booklet, Joni explains the song's title and the importance of that week, in which she experienced an inner peace and contentment, and a musical re-awakening.
I stepped outside of my little house and stood barefoot on a rock. The pacific ocean rolled towards me. Across the bay, a family of seals sprawled on the kelp uncovered by the low tide. A blue heron honked overhead. All around the house the wild roses were blooming. The air smelled sweet and salty and loud with crows and bees. My house was clean. I had food in the fridge for a week. I sat outside 'til the sun went down.

That night the piano beckoned for the first time in ten years. My fingers found these patterns which express what words could not. This song poured out while a brown bear rummaged through my garbage cans.

The song has seven verses constructed for the days of that happy week. On Thursday the bear arrives.

I love this statement, and I'm grateful that Joni included it. I can easily relate -- and I hope you can, too -- to the simple feeling of contentment, and how that freed her mind and her creative impulses. I also love that she ended the statement with some classic Joni humour.

The lyrics on Shine sometimes sound a little clunky and prosaic, as often happens with topical songs. But I have to add that they are a bit clunky for Joni. Even Joni's most strained lyrics are above-average. The songs mourn the paradise that's been paved into a parking lot, despair at what remains, and yearn, wish, and hope for "the genius to save this place," (from "This Place"), hoping when you have no hope: "if I had a heart, I'd cry" (from "If I Had a Heart").

"Strong and Wrong" is the most powerful and direct anti-war song Joni has ever written. Unlike many familiar anti-war songs, this is neither anthem nor folk song. It's a slow jazz meditation, the beautiful, rich piano chords accented by quiet drum and pedal steel. A lyric references another powerful anti-war song from another era: "Where have all the songbirds gone? Gone!" and then turn to a Joni reference: All I hear are crows in flight, Singing might is right, Might is Right! At the time this was thought to be about the US invasion of Iraq, and although those events may have inspired the song, it applies to all wars at all times, and to humankind's apparent inability to stop making war.

War -- its futility, its waste, its madness -- was certainly on Joni's mind. The title of the Ballet, The Fiddle and the Drum, is also one of Joni's earliest songs, which she famously sang on the Dick Cavett show, immediately following Woodstock. (You can see it here.)

My two favourite songs on Shine are the title track and "If," an adaptation of the famous Rudyard Kipling poem, with added verses. 

"Shine" (the song) is a litany of horrors, some global, some more specific.

Shine on the fishermen
With nothing in their nets
Shine on rising oceans and evaporating seas
. . . .
Shine on the Catholic Church
And the prison that it owns
. . . .
Shine on lousy leadership
Licensed to kill
Shine on dying soldiers
In patriotic pain
Shine on mass destruction
In some God's name!

But although the list of horrors is long, Joni implores us: shine. I hear this as having many meanings. 

Shine a light to expose evil. 

Let your inner light shine. 

A reference to the gospel classic, "This Little Light of Mine," in heavy use during the US civil rights movement.

"Earthshine," captured in the most famous environmental photo of all time, "Earthrise". 

As Joni sings "shine on... shine on," I also hear echoes of the Pink Floyd classic, "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" -- now referring to each of us, and to all of humanity.

The lyrics of "If" are straight out of the Kipling poem, with some masterful tweaks and a few new lines inserted. Comparing the poem and the song line by line, I was surprised that some lyrics I assumed were Joni's were actually from the poem. Of course Joni has removed the sexist and macho ending, and instead sings to perhaps her daughter, her grandson, or to us.

You'll be alright
You'll be alright.
Cause you've got the fight
You've got the insight.
I stumbled on "If" as a teenager and copied the words into my quote book. Even before knowing that Kipling was a racist colonialist, I hated the ending: I used a different colour pen and shaded over those last two lines. But the poem itself is powerful, and shouldn't be forgotten because the poet also wrote -- and is associated with -- a lot of offensive, racist work.

Shine also includes a remix of one of Joni's most famous songs, "Big Yellow Taxi (2007)". Its inclusion highlights how humanity has utterly failed since that song's debut. It serves as a barometer of our destruction. Paving paradise for a parking lot now seems a quaint notion, with more species on the brink of extinction and the very survival of the planet in question.

Throughout, Joni's voice sounds tired, strained, breathy. Her range is more limited, nowhere near the power and range she could harness in her earlier music. Of course that's to be expected in any older artist, especially a lifelong smoker, but it's still a bit sad when that vocal instrument was once so masterful.

Hear Music label
Shine was released by Hear Music, a label owned by Starbucks. Its music was featured on Starbucks' in-store playlist, and the CD was available for sale in Starbucks cafes. 
Many critics disapproved of this, some quite harshly. I don't get that. It's not as if the lyrics plug the coffee chain or the CD cover is emblazoned with the company logo. Working with Hear Music was an opportunity to reach a demographic that knows Joni's work -- and even more importantly -- still buys CDs. She clearly retained all creative control; do we dream this woman would ever do otherwise? 
I see this as a smart marketing decision. Joni's usual label, The Warner Group, is owned by WarnerMedia, a multinational entertainment behemoth. What's the difference?

The album cover

The album cover package is a simple and austere white font on black background, with striking images from the ballet.

Joni designed the cover and package, but for the first time, she neither painted a self-portrait for the album nor used her own paintings in the cover. Of course, she collaborated with a choreographer and dancers on the dance itself.

In her own words

In this interview from 2007, Joni talks about the tremendous creativity that she was able to express, as musician, artistic director, and visual artist through the Shine project. She says that Starbucks was "instrumental in this album being born at all", and also specifically mentions the Kipling poem, and the dancers' reaction to it.

She also confirms my impression from the lyrics: "Rationally I have no hope, irrationally I believe in miracles."

It's seven minutes long and worth a watch.

Other musicians on this album
Most of Shine is Joni working alone, playing multiple instruments and doing all the vocal tracks. However, a few other musicians did contribute.
Alto Sax, Bob Sheppard
Pedal Steel, Greg Leisz
Soprano Sax, Bob Sheppard
Drums, Brian Blade
Bass, Larry Klein
Percussion, Paulinho Da Costa
Acoustic Guitar, James Taylor 
Final "listening to joni" post

With this post, I have completed the "listening to joni" project on wmtc. 

Re-listening to Joni's music in chronological order brought me new musical insights, and re-connected me with my deep and abiding love of her music. It was sometimes a very emotional experience, both for personal memories and feelings I associate with the music, and the profound meaning I invest in many songs. 

This was also a very challenging writing experience, as I struggled to describe what I heard and offer some analysis. I'm not indulging in false modesty when I say I really never succeeded to my satisfaction. But that matters little. Writing this series was a great experience, because it brought me closer to the heart of the genius that is Joni Mitchell. 

I'm grateful to Les Irvin for including these posts in the JoniMitchell.com library, and proud to see my words incorporated there.


what i'm reading: the bridge by bill konigsberg -- important, powerful, essential teen fiction

The Bridge, by Bill Konigsberg, is the best YA novel I've read since Eleanor & Park in 2012.

Unfortunately, I know that many readers won't go near this book, because of its subject matter: teen suicide. This would be a terrible missed opportunity. It's a great book that both teens and adults -- especially adults who have contact with teenagers -- should read. Yes, it's sad, but it's also hopeful, and it's powerful, and it's necessary.

Konigsberg, author of several excellent YA books, approaches the subject with a brilliant twist that makes the whole book work. Two teenagers stand on New York City's George Washington Bridge, feeling suicidal. They don't know each other; their presence on the bridge at the same moment is a coincidence, a quirk of fate, if you will.

The story unfolds four times. She jumps, he doesn't. He jumps, she doesn't. They both jump. Neither jumps. Each timeline explores the ripple effect of each choice.

Through this device, Konigsberg avoids many pitfalls that other books about teenage suicide have suffered from, accused of either glorifying suicide, or over-simplifying it, or blaming others, or making it situational, without examining mental health.

This is also just a really good book. The writing is brilliant, the characters are fully realized -- including the adults, which is rare for this genre. The sadness is leavened with humour and with hope. The story takes place in New York City, in a privileged world which, in reality, is not an easy world for children.

The book is also notable for what it's not. It's not glib or facile. There are no quick fixes. But there are pathways that may lead to better mental health. There are options.

I find it sad and frustrating that so many people will not read The Bridge. They'll say: "It's too sad." "I don't want to think about that." "I read for enjoyment, and that's not an enjoyable topic."

I've heard this about many books that explore painful and upsetting themes. It's a shame, because a book like The Bridge is an opportunity to understand others more deeply, to see people and their choices in a more nuanced way, even to think about how we can try to help.

I probably should have more empathy for people's reading choices, but... I don't. If you read this book, will parts be sad and painful? Obviously, yes. Will you cry? Probably. And what of it? You'll feel something. You won't melt. You won't break.

Millions of lives have been touched by suicide. Mine has been; yours probably has been, too. The ripple effect explored in The Bridge is happening all the time. For me, a book like this is a way to understand this better, perhaps to bear witness, from a respectful distance.

For some people, the topic of the book will be too close. It reflects their own reality, and they may not be in a place where they can absorb the story. I get that. But to people who insist that every read be sunny and cheerful, perhaps try moving outside your comfort zone. It's worth it.

* * * *

Reading The Bridge made me remember -- many times -- one of my favourite monologues from the series "The Blacklist", spoken (of course) by the character Raymond Reddington (James Spader).

Have you ever seen the aftermath of a suicide bombing? I have. June 29th, 2003. I was meeting two associates at the Marauch restaurant in Tel Aviv. As my car was pulling up, a 20 year-old Palestinian named Ghazi Safar detonated a vest wired with C4.

The shock wave knocked me flat, blew out my eardrums. The smoke…it was like being underwater. I went inside. A nightmare. Blood, parts of people. You could tell where Safar was standing when the vest blew. It was like a perfect circle of death. There was almost nothing left of the people closest to him. 17 dead, 45 injured. Blown to pieces. The closer they were to the bomber, the more horrific the effect.

That's every suicide.

Every single one.

An act of terror perpetrated against everyone who's ever known you. Everyone who's ever loved you. The people closest to you are the ones who suffer the most pain, the most damage. Why would you do that? Why would you do that to the people who love you?


what i'm reading: ghosts of gold mountain, the epic story of the chinese who built the transcontinental railroad

Ever since reading, in 2006, The National Dream and The Golden Spike, Pierre Berton's books about the building of the Canadian railroad, I've been interested in the Chinese railroad workers. Two details stuck in my memory: Chinese workers retaining their food traditions (and the racism and abuse they encountered over this) and that they went on strike. I was excited to know that these underpaid, undervalued, and abused workers organized themselves to fight back.

So when I saw a very positive review of The Ghosts of Gold Mountain: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad, I immediately requested it from my library. Gordon Chang, one of the preeminent historians of the Chinese experience in North America, writes from an American context, but the story applies to Canada and other countries, as Chinese labour built railroads all over the world.

Outsized labour under outsized conditions

To say that the Railroad Chinese (as they are called) toiled under difficult conditions would be a monumental understatement. Whatever one can say about those conditions, no matter how hyperbolic it might sound -- it was worse. 

Avalanches, snowslides, mudslides, blizzards, extreme cold, extreme heat. Smoke, fumes, choking dust, unrelenting sun. Explosions, cave-ins, falling trees. All manner of hazards, often at the same time. The men laboured by hand, with picks, shovels, gun powder, and worst of all, nitroglycerine, without the benefit of any steam-powered tools or safety equipment. 

Food, water, tents, and any other needs were hauled on sleds and by pack animals, and the costs were deducted from their pay. 

(Here's a note about gun powder, then called "black powder," that I enjoyed.

Many of the Railroad Chinese, however, were probably familiar with black powder, which their ancestors had invented in the 9th Century and was commonly used in fireworks, guns, and cannons back in their home region of China.)

Besides the complete absence of safety regulations and safety equipment, there was a total lack of concern for, and interest in, their lives on the part of their employer. Both the Central Pacific Railroad Company (CPRR) in the west and the Union Pacific in the east earned coveted government funds based on how many miles of track they laid, with large incentive bonuses for the company that laid more track. And because everyone grossly underestimated the time and phenomenal effort needed to build the western leg of the railroad, the pressure to work quickly was enormous. 

Why Chinese labour?

Naturally Chinese workers were paid less than white workers -- but that isn't why the western part of the transcontinental railroad was built almost exclusively by Chinese workers. 

White Americans didn't want these jobs. When a call for labour went out, a few hundred white men might show up, but at the first rumour of a gold strike, they'd be gone. Using Chinese workers was suggested, but the CPRR was reluctant, purely for racist reasons. They considered bringing in large numbers of Mexican workers. They recruited some "freedmen" -- Black people who had recently been enslaved. They even considered using former Confederate soldiers who were still in prison. Finally, they turned to China, and the experiment paid off, beyond anything company leadership could have imagined.

Besides lower wages, using Chinese labour had other advantages for the company. Bringing equipment and labour from the eastern US meant a long, slow, dangerous journey by boat, down the east coast, around the tip of South America, and up the west coast. It was actually easier and cheaper to bring workers to California from China. 

Chinese men were recruited by the thousands and tens of thousands. They weren't typical immigrants: they didn't necessarily come from extreme poverty, nor were they escaping war or persecution. This was an opportunity to earn more money than they could at home, so they answered the call. They came alone -- sometimes with people from their region, or with male relatives, but never with wives and families.

They were also the best railroad workers the company had ever seen. Using many techniques they imported from China -- such as building monumental retaining walls without the use of mortar -- the Railroad Chinese worked harder, faster, and more efficiently than their white counterparts anywhere. Even the most hardcore racist CPRR men came to admire their both their work ethic and their products of their labours.

But you can't eat admiration or send it home to your family.

The strike

Chinese workers weren't only paid less than their white counterparts. They also had no opportunity to advance into higher-paying positions, no matter what their skills or experience. They lived outside or in tents that they procured and paid for, while their white supervisors lived in converted train cars, with kitchens, beds, and other comforts. Their jobs were the most dangerous by far on the project, so they assumed the greatest risk, were paid the least, and endured the worst working conditions.

Unfortunately, despite all this, the Chinese workers earned significantly more than they could in their home province. So they persevered. But not passively.

On June 24, at the height of the construction season, precisely when the company most hoped to make rapid progress, 3,000 Railroad Chinese, in a fully coordinated and informed effort, put down their tools and refused to work. From Cisco to Truckee, almost thirty miles, Chinese at scores of sites and in hundreds of teams stopped working in unison. One news report called it "the greatest strike ever known in the country."

In this bold act of resistance, the strikers may have been inspired by a smaller labor stoppage by fellow Chinese railroad workers in California nearly a decade prior. It was said that in 1859, an unscrupulous Chinese contractor withheld the wages due 150 Chinese who were working on a rail line near Sacramento before the CPRR. They rebelled, attacked the contractor's assistant, and threatened him with violence. The frightened clerk took refuge in the station house and was saved only by the arrival of the local authorities. Through the years, Chinese workers, long after the incident had passed, likely told and retold this story of strength through collective action.

After eight days without work, the workers' food supplies had dwindled, and the CPRR wasn't allowing their suppliers through. Most -- but not all -- workers returned to work. Chang writes:

Though the company did not concede to the strikers' demands, it would be a mistake to conclude, as most historical accounts do, that the Chinese "lost". The workers, in a well-coordinated effort involving thousands, spread over miles of the train line, had defied the company, and it is clear from internal records that the Chinese collective action had deeply shaken the principals. They had also gotten bad press. The company leadership would not forget the confrontation and realized that the workers could never be taken for granted. What is more, it appears that the company also quietly improved pay following the strike, at least for skilled and experienced Chinese workers, over the subsequent months. Wages for them went above $35 a month. Three years earlier, when Chinese first began working on the CPRR, their pay had been $26 a month. For some, it jumped 50 percent higher. . . . 

. . . The strike might be understood as being as much, or even more, a clash of cultural logics rather than an incident seen in standard Western labor-management terms. Collective action could be seen as an important expression of will, a matter of achieving "face" and self-respect. The specific outcome was less significant that the act of defiance itself. . . . The self-discipline and organization of the striking Chinese did in fact favorably impress the railroad leadership.

Their wages did increase. And after this, strikes and stoppages by Chinese railroad workers took place on many lines and construction projects in California. That's winning.

What might have been

There was a moment in time when things looked hopeful for Chinese immigrants in their new country. 

There was great curiosity among the public about the Chinese workers, and the press reported on it often. The overwhelming majority of these stories were very positive -- writers hailed the workers' skills, their bravery, and their incredible work ethic. Of course most of the reporting was laced with bigoted language and stereotypes, as was the custom of the times, but the public formed a very favourable impression of the Chinese work force. There was a growing movement for changing laws so that Chinese people could become American citizens. 

It looked hopeful... until it didn't. Economic downturn and xenophobia led to scapegoating, expulsion, and horrific violence, including lynchings and the burning of Chinese-owned businesses.

This pattern echoes so much American history. There were hopeful moments when the Pilgrims landed. There were hopeful moments after the Civil War, especially in multicultural metropolises such as New Orleans and New York. But the forces of bigotry and hatred were organized, violent, and usually had the weight of government behind them.

Outsized research, too

Gordon Chang and his team of researchers at the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project, out of Stanford University (where he is a humanities and history professor) have uncovered an astonishing amount of material, despite the daunting challenge of having no first-hand accounts from workers themselves. Tens of thousands of letters were exchanged between railroad workers and their families in China, but not a single letter or diary has survived, or at least none have been found.

Despite this, the Stanford researchers have uncovered a trove of material from a huge array of sources. Chang uses what is known, plus his informed imagination, to create a vibrant tale of struggle and triumph.

The stories of the Railroad Chinese have been forgotten, omitted, and expunged from American history. This book goes a long way towards changing that.


fact: you cannot wave the confederate flag or the swastika flag and rightly call yourself a patriotic american

This post has been half-written and sitting in drafts for many months. Days after an armed mob tried to violently subvert the results of an election seems like a good time to finish it.

* * * *

Here's a statement that should be completely obvious.

You cannot wave the Confederate flag or the Nazi flag and also be a patriotic American.

History Lesson #1

In 1861, a group of terrorists attacked the United States. This was an act of war, by a group who would soon be known as the Confederate Army. 

Representing a self-declared country, the Confederate Army fought against the United States in a prolonged act of treason that lasted four years. 620,000 people died in this conflict, at a time when the population of the country (excluding Indigenous people) was about 31 million.

Until 58,000 Americans lost their lives in the Vietnam War, more Americans were killed in the Civil War than in all foreign wars combined.

Thus someone who waves the Confederate flag aligns themselves with treason and with enemies of the United States.

History Lesson #2

From September 1939 until May 1945, the United States was engaged in World War II, often said to be a righteous and "good" war. Along with the Allied nations, the United States fought the Third Reich, also called Nazi Germany. More than 400,000 Americans died in the "European theatre".

I include only American deaths here, as I assume the people who carry Nazi flags are not concerned with the deaths of British, French, German, Italian, Polish, or other people, be they civilians or soldiers.

The Nazi flag was the symbol of an enemy -- a fascist government, an occupying power, and a creator of one of the most horrific genocides in world history. Waving this flag can be construed an act of treason or sedition.

A note about "enemies"

As a person who opposes war in almost all scenarios, I hesitate to use the expression "the enemy". Working-class and poor people were killed, maimed, and suffered devastating losses during these two wars, whether they were from Alabama, Pennsylvania, or Bavaria. Elite Nazis were allowed to retire in comfort in South America, while Nazi scientists were recruited by the US government and lived out their lives under assumed identities. The real enemy is war itself, and the ruling class that profits by it.  

But these flags were symbols of governments. Although ordinary people may have adopted the flags and the propaganda that went with them, the flags themselves were symbols of governments and philosophies. Both the Confederacy and the Nazis were the enemies of the United States. They were also the enemies of the stated values and vision of the United States. 

Yet some percentage of Americans carry these flags and claim to be patriots. 

Although these people have become much more visible in the last five years, their movements are not new, nor are their beliefs.

Do the white nationalists who wave those flags understand this? I'm quite sure movement leaders do. But the rank-and-file militia members, the yobs who were incited by Donald Trump, are not known for their intelligence or their grasp of current events or world history. They live in an alternate version of reality, where Barack Obama was not born in the United States, Hillary Clinton runs a pedophile ring out of a pizza restaurant, Joe Biden is a Communist, and Trump won the recent election in a landslide, among other fantasies.

We know that, to these people, the Nazi and Confederate flags symbolize white nationalism, white supremacy, bigotry, and hatred. This is what drove our abject horror and revulsion at a POTUS declaring "very fine people on both sides" after the violent demonstration in Charlottesville in 2017.

But these flags are also symbols of an imagined past, where women were submissive and servile, Black people were (at best) kept segregated, LGBT people did not exist, and the white "workingman" got a fair deal and had a better life. Immigration was limited to their own ancestors, who (they believe) came to North America legally, spoke English, and quickly assimilated. (PS: not only is that not true, many of their ancestors weren't even considered white at the time!)

So while these flags have come to symbolize extreme racism and a kind of generic hatred for the modern world, we should never forget their original meanings. 

You cannot wave the Confederate flag or the Nazi flag and also be a patriot.


a reading plan for 2021: big stacks of nonfiction, plus some fiction, and series for mind breaks

2018: Titles and reading projects that were languishing on my List.

2019: The year of the biography. The first time I created a reading plan for the year.

2020: I liked having the 2019 plan, and created a new plan for 2020.

In each case, I read many titles from the plan, and many off-plan -- enough that I feel I've accomplished part of a goal, but not so much that the goal became a chore. 

For 2021, I consulted The List, and selected sub-lists of nonfiction, fiction, and YA. Add to that the authors I want to read or read more of (from the 2018 list), plus the long-term goals that may or may not advance. 

Recently I made a brilliant discovery: I enjoy reading on the treadmill! I use a treadmill for exercise in bad weather or if for some other reason I don't want to outside. In the past I've always listened to music while walking to nowhere. A few weeks ago I tried reading, just as an experiment, and found that I love it. This new habit has made it possible to increase time spent on two of my life goals at the same time. Amazing!


Ghosts of Gold Mountain: the Epic Story of the Chinese Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad, Gordon Chang (reading now)

Sometimes You Have to Lie: The Life and Times of Louise Fitzhugh, Renegade Author of Harriet the Spy, Leslie Brody (A surprise gift from Allan.)

The Sword and the Shield: the Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., Peniel E. Joseph

Janis: Her Life and Her Music, Holly George-Warren (I read biographies of Janis Joplin as a teenager; this new book sounds fantastic.)

Poisoner In Chief: Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control, Stephen Kinzer (Ever since reading Kinzer's Overthrow, I am interested in almost anything he writes.)

A Mind Spread Out on the Ground, Alicia Elliott

Mad at the World: A Life of John Steinbeck, William Souder

Men Explain Things to Me, Rebecca Solnit (Working my way through these amazing essays.) 

The Skin We're In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power, Desmond Cole

The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present, David Treuer

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, David Wallace-Wells

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, Cal Newport


Charlie Savage, Roddy Doyle (One I've missed by a favourite author.)

Gilead, Marilynne Robinson (Author I've been meaning to read; first of a trilogy.)

The Cold Millions: A Novel, Jess Walter

There There, Tommy Orange

The Resisters, Gish Jen

True Story: A Novel, Kate Reed Perry

Blacktop Wasteland: A Novel, S. A. Cosby

Girl, Woman, Other, Bernardine Evaristo

The Stone Angel, Margaret Laurence (I will try again to read this Canadian classic.)


The Bridge, Bill Konigsberg

Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything, Raquel Vasquez Gilliland

A List of Things That Will Not Change, Rebecca Stead

Continuing to read more by:

Frans de Waal

Carl Safina

Robert Sapolsky

Giving my brain a break between nonfictions:

Martin Beck, Per Wahlöö and Maj Sjöwall

Parker, Donald Westlake as Richard Stark

Long-term goals

Orwell still to read: three titles

Dickens still to read: four titles

Re-start weekly chapters of Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 and Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919. (Project started in 2018 but abandoned later that year.)