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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


simple but amazing experiences healing dogs from past trauma

Cookie recently had a fear reaction, and we're working on desensitization. I thought I would share our experience with changing fearful behaviour. 


Not long after we adopted Diego, we learned he had an extreme fear reaction to anything involving his ears. Neither Allan nor I can remember exactly how we learned this, whether he growled at the vet during an exam, or something else. But I distinctly remember that, when he saw a Q-tip in my hand, Diego showed his teeth for a split-second -- then instantly looked sorry and guilty. Poor guy!

The vet could see that Diego had a very severe ear infection. Not wanting to traumatize him further or cause him pain, she suggested general anesthesia, a full-on ear cleaning, then a program to desensitize him to ear-touching. 

Diego was highly food-motivated, so it was not difficult to re-program him.

First we associated the Q-tip or cotton ball with the treat -- so that he earned a treat just for seeing the Q-tip, then for smelling it on his own, then we would touch his ear very lightly, and so on. Then we moved on to very light touches to his ear, gradually increasing the interaction, using plenty of rewards and lots of happy talk and affection the whole time.

We did this over the course of a week, and it went brilliantly. Diego never had the fear-aggression reaction again, and for the rest of his life, he enjoyed being rubbed or scratched behind his ears.

Could this be why such a sweet-tempered and well-trained dog ended up in a shelter? Perhaps he growled, showed his teeth, or even snapped at someone who was trying to look into his painful ears.


It's fortunate we had this experience with Diego, so we knew what to do for Cookie.

Cookie is extremely frightened of the monthly anti-flea and tick prevention we're using. I didn't understand it until I held the vial to my face: it smells like rubbing alcohol. 

Cookie did live in a house where there was drinking, drugs, and violence, so it's not surprising that she has a negative association with the smell of alcohol.

When we used the treatment last month, Cookie was wary, but she allowed us to put it on her. After, she rolled around and acted strange -- and I later realized she was trying to run away from the smell or rub it off.

This month her reaction was much stronger. As I started unwrapping the vials, she jumped away. When I moved towards her, she showed her teeth for a split-second, and frantically moved away. So sad!

Because of our experience with Diego, I knew what to do. We put the stuff on Kai, then I held the empty vial in one hand, and put a treat in my other hand. I held my hands out, palm up, a few inches apart. 

Cookie would dart in, take the treat, and dart away. After doing that a few times, I put the empty vial and the treat in the same hand. 

She did the same thing, quickly grabbing the treat and jumping away. We did that four or five times, then stopped. That's enough for one session. 

The next day, I did the same thing -- not advancing, just repeating the same level of interaction. Cookie took the treat with relaxed body language and looked at me, asking for another.

That's where we are now. I plan to do this for a few more days before trying again to use the treatment on her.

It's important to go really slowly, never forcing the dog into contact with the stimulus that's eliciting the fear reaction. Gradually, you create a new, positive association. Hopefully Cookie will soon know the smell of rubbing alcohol means a treat is coming.


Of course, not all trauma and fear-aggression will respond to desensitization. Buster, our beautiful broken pitbull, needed medication, and special training, and still could never be safely off-leash outside. But we did use a similar idea on a regular basis.

Our lives in those days depended on having a dogwalker visit twice a day, two days each week. This meant that every once in a while, we had to introduce Buster to a new person. 

The behaviourist we worked with gave us a plan. 

It took four sessions. Buster would be on-leash and wearing his "gentle leader" -- which made him feel safe. As long as he was on-leash and a stranger didn't enter his (literal) comfort zone, Buster was fine.

The first time New Person entered our apartment, we would scatter yummy, "high value" treats on the floor. New Person would come in, sit down, hang out, talk, say Buster's name many times in the happy-lovey voice. All the while, we would continue to scatter treats on the floor and Buster would go around gobbling them up. 

Session two, we would do the same, but we would place the treats near New Person's feet -- so Buster had to be near New Person while eating the treats. New Person would sit on the couch, talking to Buster in the happy voice, saying his name often, but not trying to touch him or even putting their hand out.

Session three, New Person would offer Buster the treat, open hand, palm up, doing all the happy talk, saying Buster's name a lot. Buster would accept the treat from the person's hand, and we could see his body language was relaxed. There was no further touching, but Buster was willingly touching NP's hand every time he accepted the treat.

At session four, Buster would be relaxed and friendly. All his fear would be gone. He would spontaneously come to New Person asking for attention. New Person could put on the gentle leader, touch Buster's head. Buster would rub his head into NP's leg -- and that was it.

Once Buster gave his trust, it was total and irrevocable. But we had to do this every time, and there was no rushing it or skipping a step.

Except for one remarkable experience that we'll never forget.

Our dogwalker and his partner were coming over for dinner. We had not met Partner before, so Buster was on-leash with the gentle leader, lying down next to Allan's chair.

During dinner, Buster went under the table, and put his head on Partner's shoes. Partner reached down and stroked Buster's head, and Buster snuggled closer. Somehow, Buster understood that Partner was part of Dogwalker, and he would be safe.


rotd: love and labor in alliance

Revolutionary thought of the day:
Wherever capitalism appears, in pursuit of its mission of exploitation, there will be socialism, fertilized by misery, watered by tears, and vitalized by agitation. It will also be found unfurling its class-struggle banner, and proclaiming its mission of emancipation.

Love and labor in alliance, working together, have transforming, redeeming, and emancipating power. Under their benign power, the world can be made better and brighter.

Eugene V. Debs

"at your library" in the north island eagle: make screen time count with library e-resources for kids and teens

At Your Library: Make Screen Time Count with Library E-Resources for Kids and Teens

You know I’m always going on about the great e-resources you can access through your library. “E-resources” means e-books, digital magazines, streaming music and movies, plus ways to learn new skills, expand your small business, and so much more. But did you know that Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) has e-resources just for kids and teens?

My favourite e-resource for kids is TumbleBookLibrary. It offers picture books, graphic novels, children’s classics, early readers, and more. There are even “read-alongs” -- your child can read the book while it’s also being read to them. With TumbleBookLibrary, your kids always have fresh new books to read, and you always have a way to help build their reading skills.

OverDrive is the library’s most popular way to access eBooks and eAudiobooks – and it has a kids’ section. Download the “Libby” app and you can get started right away. Don’t worry: eBooks and audiobooks “count” as reading. They help your children develop literacy every bit as much as print.

There are great e-resources for homework and school projects, too. Explora is a kid-friendly research tool containing articles from encyclopedias and science magazines, on nearly every topic you can think of. 

The Encyclopedia of British Columbia is just what it sounds like – the definitive reference for all things B.C. There are thousands of articles, plus photographs, maps, and video clips. KnowBC is the place to go for popular school subjects like local birds, marine life, shells, and place names. 

Teens are part of the picture, too. TeenBookCloud has hundreds of eBooks and audiobooks for middle school and high school readers. You can access it online without an app. And you can find lots of YA reads on OverDrive, either through the library website or the Libby app. 

Knowledge Network is a hidden gem – a commercial-free public television network for the province of BC. Teens might be especially interested in the documentaries on far-ranging topics, by independent filmmakers, with a strong Canadian and BC slant. It’s free and easy to use. 

Teen crafters will love Creativebug. It offers thousands of video classes and demonstrations for creating art and craft of all types. There are ideas for every interest and skill level. A great idea for a social-distanced party!

These are only some of the many options for kids and teens that you can find through your library. Of course, they are all free, and available to anyone with a library card. Go to virl.bc.ca > Read, Watch, Listen to start exploring. If you need help, call 1-888-415-VIRL. Someone is available to help you every day of the week.


"at your library" in the north island eagle: columns published since re-opening, parts 2 and 3

Ancestry Library: Your Library Can Help You Discover Your Roots

As the lockdown began, I posted some "At Your Library" columns that were suddenly irrelevant, among them a column about Ancestry Library, then only available from a library branch -- and the branches were all closed.

Shortly after that, Ancestry was made available from all computers -- but the newspaper wasn't publishing. 

As it turns out, that column didn't run before the lockdown. I submitted with some changes in July, and I was able to announce that this e-resource is now available from any computer. So I'll check that off my list.

*  *  *  *

The next column feels sadly ironic. As more library services move online, we can reach more people. But the "digital divide" grows wider, and we fail our most vulnerable customers. Libraries everywhere are working on ways to address this, but it's another sad ripple effect of the pandemic.

Your Library Online: fun and safe ways to enjoy your library this summer (plus increased Takeout hours in Port Hardy and Port McNeill)

This is a tough summer for libraries. We miss our branches being a hub of activity, and having people of all ages and interests flock to our doors. Whether it’s beach reading, Summer Reading Club, or a series on audiobook, libraries have always helped make summer entertaining (and dare I say, educational). This summer – like everyone else – we are discovering new ways to connect.

The good news is that the library is still here! When you need something new to read or watch, you can use our Takeout service. Soon deliveries will resume and you’ll be able to order materials from any VIRL location. That should make many customers happy!

Although our library programs have moved online, they are still the programs you know and love – but in a different format. 

Kids up to 12 years old can “Explore Our Universe” with the 2020 Summer Reading Club. You can register your children by visiting https://bcsrc.ca/. There are lots of virtual events to explore. The easiest way to find out more is through the “Virtual SRC 2020 Explore Our Universe!” Facebook group. Families without internet at home can call 1-877-415-VIRL to register.

Readers age 12-18 can join the Teen Summer Challenge, completing tasks to win prizes. You can see the complete task list and instructions at https://virl.bc.ca/teen-summer-challenge/.

We’re now offering three virtual book clubs. All the titles for the clubs are available as eBooks with no waiting and no holds, throughout the month of July. 

     The Shared Shelf is a book club for the whole family. The focus will be on children’s chapter books, to read and talk about together. The July title is Kenneth Oppel’s Silverwing.

     The Take A Break book club reads lighter fiction and informative, enjoyable nonfiction. The July book “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared” by Jonas Jonasson is a crowd favourite.

     Books & Beyond focuses on taking action. After each title, members will have an opportunity to try a local challenge or a task to help them better understand or address topics covered in the book. The July title is “I’m Not Dying With You Tonight,” by Kim Jones and Gilly Segal.

There are also online storytimes. Check out the Storytime Corner Facebook Group at 10:30 a.m. every Monday and Friday, and Babytimes every Tuesday. Children of all ages can enjoy storytimes.

Questions? Feedback? Ideas for virtual programs? Call us at 1-877-415-VIRL (8475). 

[Sidebar with branch open hours.]

"at your library" in the north island eagle: columns published since re-opening, part 1: library takeout

Since the lockdown ended, I've been writing my column in the free local newspaper again. These columns seem very specific and not of wide interest, but since I started collecting the columns on this blog, I want the record to be complete. 

At Your Library: Your Library Is Coming Back… One Step at a Time

Welcome back! I’m so very happy to welcome you back to your local branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL). 

I hope you weathered the lockdown in relative comfort and safety, and that you and your loved ones are all healthy. It’s been such an unusual time, with so many unknowns, and for many people, a real struggle. I can speak for all library staff when I say, we missed being able to help you through it.

VIRL is taking steps towards a gradual return of library services. We’ve worked hard to design a system that protects the health of our customers and library staff, follows all the provincial health guidelines, and still provides access to your library. Quite a challenge!

Right now we are pleased to offer “Library Takeout”. During certain hours, you can visit your local branch to drop off items and pick up something new. For now, you’ll only be able to borrow books, DVDs, videogames, and magazines that are currently in the branch. We won’t be able to order anything in from other branches – for now. 

By the time you read this, Takeout hours will be running at all VIRL libraries. In Port Hardy, there will be two Takeout hours daily, Wednesdays through Saturdays. The other North Island branches – Port Alice, Port McNeill, Sointula, and Woss – will offer Takeout hours on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. To check the hours, please visit the VIRL website at virl.bc.ca/branches or go to your branch’s Facebook page.

Takeout service is built around all the necessary health and safety guidelines, to help prevent the potential spread of COVID-19 – social distancing, disinfecting, and frequent hand-washing. All library materials will be quarantined for 72 hours in between customers.

Since April, free wireless internet access has been available 24/7 outside all VIRL branches. Most of our e-resources are available from your home or workplace, including Ancestry Library (normally available in-branch only). If you need help with any library resources, you can call VIRL at 1-877-415-8475 or email info@virl.bc.ca. 

You can also call or email for any reference or research need, including suggestions for what to read or watch next. Library staff is there to help you, Monday to Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Another option is VIRL’s “One Book, One Community” online book club. Right now we’re reading Greenwood by Michael Christie. Greenwood is a multigenerational family story, linking the fates of five people on a remote island off the B.C. coast over the course of 100 years. The award-winning author, Michael Christie, lives on Galiano Island. 

You can access Greenwood as an e-book or an e-audiobook. If you need help getting started, call us at 1-877-415-8475 or email info@virl.bc.ca.

With access to physical books limited, this is a great time to become more familiar with VIRL’s many e-resources. In my next few columns, I’ll take a look at some amazing options that may surprise you. (If you missed my column on Ancestry Library, and you’re interested, email me!) If you’ve never tried an e-book or e-audiobook, why not start now? It’s free, and as always, we’re here to help.


a piece of new york is gone: pete hamill, rest in peace

A piece of New York City died this week. Pete Hamill, a legendary New York journalist and possibly the last of a breed, died yesterday at age 85. 

Obituaries describe him as a "tabloid poet" or "tabloid hero". If he hadn't existed, perhaps Raymond Chandler would have invented him. 

It seems only fitting to let the Daily News tell his story.
Legendary journalist and author Pete Hamill, a tabloid hero and teller of New York tales, dead at 85
Pete Hamill, the Brooklyn-born bard of the five boroughs and eloquent voice of his beloved hometown as both newspaper columnist and best-selling author, died Wednesday morning. Hamill, who worked at five New York newspapers and outlived three, was 85. 
Hamill, four days after a Saturday fall that fractured his right hip, died in New York-Presbyterian Hospital Brooklyn Methodist, said his brother and fellow ex-Daily News columnist Denis Hamill. Though Hamill underwent emergency surgery, his heart and kidneys ultimately failed.
“Newspaperman, novelist, mentor to so many, citizen of the world,” tweeted New York Times columnist Dan Barry of Hamill. “I once wrote that if the pavement of New York City could talk, it would sound like Pete Hamill. Now that city weeps.”
The legendary Hamill served as editor for both the Daily News and the New York Post during a newspaper career that covered the last 40 years of the 20th century — an improbable dream come true for a high school dropout, the son of Irish immigrants, raised in a hard-scrabble borough.

“One of the best days in my life is when I got my first press pass,” he once recalled fondly. “To be a newspaperman is one of the best educations in the world.”
The lifelong New Yorker brought a touch of poetry to the tabloids, a sense of grace, wit and empathy amid the daily dose of crime and corruption. He wrote 21 novels and more than 100 short stories, along with longer pieces for The New Yorker, Esquire, Rolling Stone and New York magazine.
He was working at the time of his death on a book titled “Back to the Old Country,” a reminiscence about the pervasive influence of Brooklyn on his life.
Hamill inspired generations of journalists to follow his path, one that took him across the country and around the world but always returned to New York.
“I greatly appreciate him encouraging me to write as a young person full of self-doubt,” said Jelani Cobb, a staff writer at The New Yorker. “I will also miss the fantastic breadth of his knowledge of New York City and the indelible rhythm of the sentences he pushed off the tip of his pens.”


11 (more) things on my mind about the protests in the u.s.

In April, I wrote a post called "11 things on my mind about the anti-police-violence and anti-racism protests". For reasons unknown to me, it's one of the most widely-read posts I've written in a long time. So here's an updated list.

1. When governments respond to protests with violence and intimidation, and the protests only grow, a movement has reached another landmark of growth and development. This is happening right now, and it's exciting!

2. Protest by middle-class and middle-aged citizens is so heartening to see, and possibly another milestone. The so-called Wall of Moms, and the "dads" with leaf blowers and hockey sticks, are crucial pieces. Their courage will embolden so many others. No change will happen until and unless the middle-class is onboard, so get onboard!

3. Veteran resistance is so powerful. I wonder about resistance within the active military.

From my work with the War Resisters Support Campaign in Canada, and from extensive reading about war resistance movements, I know that military resistance is always much bigger than civilians might ever imagine. Those courageous men and women are badly needed, right now.

4. I hope organizers are working on tactical nonviolence training -- not because I think protests must always be nonviolent, but because it will build movement power.

Nonviolent protests command a huge amount of attention, and focus attention on the one-sided violence against the protesters. We have a cultural memory of the power of nonviolent protests from the U.S. civil rights movement, and consciously linking the present protests with those famous scenes is strategic and powerful. I'm not inside the movement on that level, so I don't know if this is already happening, but I hope it is.

5. People are educating themselves about racism. Books like How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi and White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo are on bestseller lists and have long hold queues at public libraries. Libraries are posting antiracism reading lists. Antiracism book clubs and discussion groups are popping up. This is amazing and so beautiful.

6. A repeat from that April post: the US was founded on protest. Every important, positive change in the United States has been born of protest. Protest is as American as racism and gun violence. Which is stronger? We shall see.

7. How far will the crackdown go? How far down the spiral into a police state will the current occupant of the White House and his lackeys take the US?

8. What will Trump do when he loses the election? If enough people vote to counteract all the fraud, vote suppression, and black box voting, Trump will lose, and Biden will be elected. If that happens, will Trump leave peacefully?

9. And if he doesn't, will other countries condemn the US? Will the UK, Canada, and other countries with a long and friendly history with the US punish and sanction it? What would it take?

10. In my heart, hope wrestles with cynicism.

For so long, I have felt the situation in the US is beyond hope. Then Occupy. Then Black Lives Matter. Then the Fight for 15. Then Idle No More. Then Extinction Rebellion. People organizing. Against racism. Against a brutal economic system. Against environmental destruction. People organizing knowing that these are all connected. I feel a tiny glimmer of hope.

Then I think about what "winning" in the US would look like. For so many people, a Democrat in the White House -- hell, a sane, thinking person in the White House -- will be enough.

And I despair.

Then I see the uprisings, and I have hope.

Then I think... and I despair.

(Of course, how I feel is irrelevant.)

11. The future is unknown. No one knows what the future will be, no matter how much certainty they put in their words or their voice.

The future has not been written yet. If Trump is having this much trouble squashing resistance in Portland, what's it going to look like in Brooklyn, or Philadelphia, or Oakland, or St. Louis?

This is why it's so important to organize. And that's exactly what BLM and FF15 and all the solidarity networks have been doing.

Who knows, maybe after organizing and winning small victories, changing R to D won't be enough. Maybe people will demand more.


rotd: "systemic racism" is redundant

Revolutionary thought of the day:
"Institutional racism" and "structural racism" and "systemic racism" are redundant. Racism itself is institutional, structural, and systemic.

Ibram X. Kendi, How to be Antiracist


listening to joni: #15: turbulent indigo

Turbulent Indigo, 1994

Front Cover
Turbulent Indigo is a rich album, one that demands repeated listening. Every time I hear it, I discover new sounds and meanings, and I find that it has slyly become one of my most beloved of Joni's work.

The name of the album is itself enigmatic. Many reviewers have noted that it echoes an earlier masterpiece, since the colour indigo is a form of blue. I don't find much in common between 1972's Blue and this one. On Turbulent Indigo, the music is sparse, and the lyrics mostly look outward in social commentary, nothing like the deeply personal lyrics of Blue with resounding piano.

Given the nature of the songs, the album title seems to refer to the times we live in, the turbulence and dark colours of our contemporary world. The title may also reference the violence and inhumanity associated with indigo, the substance: it was part of the slave trade for hundreds of years. (Interesting tangent: the International Center for Indigo Culture seeks to revive the cultivation of indigo through humane and sustainable practices.)

The title track (and the album cover) evoke Vincent Van Gogh, similar to how Joni evoked Beethoven in "Judgement of the Moon and Stars (Ludwig's Tune)" (For the Roses). This Van Gogh, like Beethoven, is rough-hewn, not socially cultured, the people shuffling past his paintings blind to his wild visions. Over Joni's signature rhythm-and-percussion guitar, to a dark minor key punctuated by Wayne Shorter's lilting soprano sax, she sings:
Brash fields crude crows
In a scary sky
In a golden frame
Roped off
Tourists guided by
Tourists talking about the madhouse
Talking about the ear
The madman hangs in fancy homes
They wouldn't let him near!
He'd piss in their fireplace!
At least two songs on Turbulent Indigo are about the oppression of women. "Magdalene Laundries" was the first time I had ever heard of that particular method of repression, this one brought to you by the Catholic Church in Ireland. (Similar institutions existed in Canada and Australia, too.) The song is told through one of the captive women: Joni gives her a voice.

Hearing this song for the first time led me to seek out every scrap of information I could find about the laundries. There's a movie and a survivors' network, and there's been testimony to the United Nations. The practice is now widely acknowledged as both torture and slavery -- like something from a dystopian novel, but alas, very much of our world. The song still affects me deeply, with tremendous sadness and anger, every time I hear it.

Back Cover

These are from the inside covers.
I like how they're photographed with their frames,
a picture within a picture.
"Not To Blame" evokes the pandemic of violence against women: "The story hit the news from coast to coast, it said you hit the girl you love the most." Incredibly, more than one reviewer wondered if the song was about Jackson Browne and Daryl Hannah, an abusive relationship that was in the news at the time. Somehow I think they've missed the point.
Six hundred thousand doctors
Are putting on rubber gloves
And they're poking
At the miseries made of love
They say they're learning
How to spot
The battered wives
Among all the women
They see bleeding through their lives
Those two lines -- "Six hundred thousand doctors / Are putting on rubber gloves" -- paint an appropriately chilling, gruesome picture.

"Yvette in English," co-written with David Crosby, about a lovely woman in Paris, is so cinematic, I can visualize the whole encounter, the "wary little stray" who is "So quick to question her own worth," but who runs off. Nothing bad happens to Yvette in this song, and it's the only track that is not somber and dark.

From the lyrics booklet.
Although I avoid mapping songs onto life, here I go doing it again -- hopefully only the second time in this blog series. Just as "Solid Love" on Wild Things Run Fast was clearly inspired by Joni's relationship with "Klein," as she always calls him, "Last Chance Lost," must have been inspired by their breakup, which took place before and during this album's creation. Over the simple guitar rhythm, Joni's voice breaks out -- loud, open, holding long, clear notes, like she's sounding a siren or an alarm. The sad line "the shrew will not be tamed" echoes self-recrimination we've heard before, on "River" (Blue) and most agonizingly, in "Amelia" (Hejira). This short song is a sad and beautiful meditation on heartbreak.

On "Borderline," Joni again explores duality, but this time, rather than two aspects of her own mind, she sings about divisions that prevent us from seeing our shared humanity.
Every bristling shaft of pride
Church or nation
Team or tribe
Every notion we subscribe to
Is just a borderline
Good or bad we think we know
As if thinking makes things so!
All convictions grow along a borderline
It's hard not to see ourselves in some piece of that.

The album closes with a seven minute tour de force of the dark night of the soul, inspired by the biblical story of Job.
Let me speak let me spit out my bitterness
Born of grief and nights without sleep and festering flesh
Do you have eyes?
Can you see like mankind sees?
Why have you soured and curdled me?
Oh you tireless watcher! What have I done to you?
That you make everything I dread and everything I fear come true?
On this song, the music becomes more layered; Shorter's soprano sax is given room to run, and Joni does her own backing vocals. The lyrics and music build, darkly but with a feeling of uplift and inspiration, reminiscent of Court and Spark, especially "Down to You". The song is a masterpiece.

The album cover

This album cover is very interesting! Joni has re-imagined a self-portrait of Van Gogh as her own self-portrait, using a Van Gogh-esque style.

There are more Joni paintings inside, and on the back there's a photograph of part of her bookshelf, posted above.

In keeping with the Van Gogh theme, my promo copy of the CD came with a little metallic ear! Allan was still writing about music at the time. We got lots of free stuff, and sometimes the swag was awesome. I made the ear into an earring -- which I don't wear, for fear that it will fall off the hook and be lost forever.

In her own words

From an interview with Mary Campbell of Associated Press.
Joni Mitchell has a new record, a new record company and a new love. She kiddingly calls herself "the new and improved Joni."

"When public interest wanes in a detergent, they stick a 'new and improved' label on it. I'm the new and improved Joni. I'm going to put it on my albums," Mitchell said.

"At 50, you've worked things out. You know yourself pretty well. I saw a Leonard Cohen quote, 'After 50, the anxiety cells in your brain begin to deteriorate."'
Co-writing credit

"Yvette in English" written with David Crosby.

"How Do You Stop" written for James Brown by Dan Hartman and Charlie Midnight.

Other musicians on this album

Bass, Larry Klein
Guitar, Michael Landau, Steuart Smith
Pedal Steel Guitar, Greg Leisz
Guitorgan, Bill Dillon
Soprano Sax, Wayne Shorter
Drums, Jim Keltner, Carlos Vega
Percussion, Larry Klein
Keyboards, Larry Klein
Background Vocals, Seal, Charles Valentino, Kris Kello

john lewis and c.t. vivian, rest in power

What a sad and moving coincidence, that two great freedom fighters died on the same day.

I chose these photos as a reminder that doing the right thing may involve breaking the law. Canadians, who over-value a superficially peaceful society, frequently need reminding.

As a remembrance of these two men, I cede the floor to Black Lives Matter.

* * * *

A Requiem In Memoriam Our Great Ancestors

The Honorable John Robert Lewis
(February 21, 1940 - July 17, 2020)

The Reverend Dr. Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian
(July 30, 1924 – July 17, 2020)

Today, we celebrate two men of moral courage, ethical excellence, and relentless diligence in making Black Lives Matter in the policies and practices of this country and world: The Honorable John Lewis and The Reverend C.T. Vivian. Like many of us, C.T. Vivian and John Lewis participated in a movement -- a protest -- and it changed their lives forever. For C.T. Vivian and John Lewis, a jail cell was as familiar as a police officer's baton. For their human rights work, cops arrested these activist ministers more times than they cared to count and suffered several brutal beatings at the hands of law enforcement.

These courageous human beings, now among our greatest ancestors, disrupted the status quo -- commerce/business-as-usual -- FOR YEARS before anyone took notice. They were attacked, despised, and criticized relentlessly by mainstream society and their own people, but they persisted. Only in their latter years did they receive the honor due to them, including being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Perseverance, tenacity, and determination (among other things) in this struggle link us to them. None of us are free until all of us are free, so we commit daily to the work of making Black Lives Matter in policy and practice knowing our struggle for justice is a part of the same continuum of human rights struggle led by those before us.

Thank you, John Lewis and C.T. Vivian, for being freedom fighters. Thank you for your service to our community, country, and world. We are winning.

-- Black Lives Matter Global Network

* * * *


what i'm reading: political graphic nonfiction: this place: 150 years retold

This Place: 150 Years Retold, foreward by Alicia Elliott.

In keeping with my posts about political graphic nonfiction, here is a quote from This Place.

The book is an anthology of 10 stories by 10 or 11 writers and illustrators. Each writer prefaces their story with context, including something about their personal connection to the material. Chelsea Vowel begins her preface to "kitaskinaw 2350" like this.
Dystopian or apocalyptic writing occupies an enormous amount of space in contemporary storytelling and in our social consciousness. We are told that the end is nigh, and that the world (or at least the world as we know it) will be destroyed, and that this is a Bad Thing. We are encouraged to imagine what life could be like during and after this supposedly inevitable destruction, but are steered away from dreaming up alternatives. Indigenous peoples have been living in a post-apocalyptic world since Contact. This entire anthology deals with events post-apocalypse!
* * * *

This Place: 150 Years Retold makes an excellent illustrated companion to the Indigenous Canada MOOC. Reading it has inspired me to learn more. Perhaps you will find the same.

You know who I wish would read this book? Paul Bunner, racist speechwriter for Jason Kenney, who called residential schools "a bogus genocide story". I was impressed, but not surprised, that an Indigenous leader reached out to Bunner, determined to find common ground and exchange ideas. I cannot imagine remaining calm and clear-headed speaking with a Holocaust denier.


in which i reflect on the joys of summer in north vancouver island, especially during the pandemic

In 2015, Allan and I moved into an apartment, for the first time since leaving New York City in late 2005.

We had rented a series of houses for 10 years. Now the market had changed and it was clear there were no houses for rent in our price range that would offer long-term stability and a decent commute.

There is no way we would consider buying a house in the Toronto area, and we had no interest in buying a condo. This meant we were forced to move back to rental apartment life. We found a great apartment, as rentals go -- three bedrooms, two bathrooms -- at an affordable rent. And we adjusted.

I'm very aware of my own privilege, so I consciously found the positives and tried not to complain about the negatives. But truth be told, it was a difficult adjustment, and definitely a diminished sense of well-being and happiness. I sorely missed having private outdoor space -- a lack that had me scheming to find a way to leave NYC many years before we actually did. Having a backyard was the reason I made peace with suburban life. Living in an apartment in suburbia just made no sense.

The other negatives were doing laundry (a minor nightmare), frequent elevator breakdowns (and their impact on dog-walking), and above all, not having control over the temperature of our living space.

Both Allan and I hate hot, humid, summer weather. In NYC, we would spend the summer trapped in our apartment with the air-conditioner blasting 24/7. (I am not exaggerating.) Now we found ourselves in the same situation, but so much worse -- because we couldn't control it. Giant Corporate Landlord made tenants suffer the heat for at least a month before turning on the air-conditioning, then never turned it up high enough, then cut it off months before it cooled down outside. For months, we were always too warm and never really comfortable. (Again, I'm aware of all my privilege as I write this.)

As it turned out, this disappointing regression to apartment life was the push I needed to make the next Big Life Change. After our first trip to Vancouver and to visit our west-coast family, in the taxi home from the airport, surrounded by ugly, grey concrete and smog-choked air, I said, "Why do we even live here anymore?"  Much like "Why don't we move to Canada?" in 2003, I look back on these words as a door we consciously opened.

Fast-forward to the bizarre world of 2020. We have been incredibly fortunate, more fortunate than I can express, to ride out the pandemic in (1) BC, where Dr. Bonnie Henry has been a true leader and model, (2) a remote, sparsely populated area where infection rates are very low, and (3) a comfortable home with a great deck and a big backyard.

And now it is summer. At least that's what the calendar says. In Mississauga, temperatures in the 30s, sometimes with a "feels-like" (as the Weather Network calls it) of more than 40. (American readers: 40 C = 104 F.) To us, anything over 20 (68) is hot, and anything over 25 (high 70s) is very uncomfortable. 30 (86) is unbearable.

Here in Port Hardy, we have yet to see a day over 20 (68). This summer is unusually cool, but even during 2019's more typical summer weather, we never missed having an air-conditioner. A few times we used a fan in the bedroom, and it was easily cool enough to sleep.

I'm imagining living in that Mississauga apartment with inadequate cooling and over-crowded elevators, with the pandemic raging. I'm so sorry that so many people are suffering... and I'm so grateful to be where I am.

Mississauga, July 2020

Port Hardy, July 2020

Photo from July 10, 2020. Seriously.


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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

* Incredible live version here.


pupdate: prison break, cookie style

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

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

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

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

But she's very skinny. And very determined!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All smiles, no shame.

"This look always makes Mommy melt."

Yes, it's time for more training.


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

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

I hope you'll read it and share it.

* * * * *

What the Courage to Change History Looks Like

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

June 19, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

The year of getting more fit? No.

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

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

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

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

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

Enter Katy Bowman

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

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

A word about my lower back pain

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

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

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

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

To me, this borders on the miraculous.

Movement versus exercise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where does age fit in

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

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

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

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

Skeptical but proceeding

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

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

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


listening to joni: #14: night ride home

Night Ride Home, 1991

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The album cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other musicians on this album

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