trulocal.ca for healthy, local meat and seafood delivered to your home or workplace

Tl;dr version: TruLocal delivers a wide variety of local meat, poultry, and seafood from family farms to your door. They serve Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia. And they're great!

* * * *

When we lived in Ontario, we often ordered meat from Beretta Farms. Beretta distributes products from small, local farms, as well as from their own, located in King City, Ontario. (Here's an old post about them.)

Distribution is often the missing link between consumers and healthy, local, non-factory-farmed meat, as the large supermarket chains buy in huge volumes that, by definition, excludes these producers.

I personally am not opposed to humans eating animal products, and I quite love them myself. But the horrors of the factory farm are legion -- for animals, for the environment, for human health, for climate change. So I would try to buy meat and poultry either from Beretta, or from Whole Foods, where I could see the local origin.

Now that we live in a small town in a remote area, I assumed those choices would no longer be available. There is one supermarket, and naturally it has to cater to the majority of the community. So I was surprised and pleased to find a small frozen case with a smattering of meat, pork, and chicken from small and organic producers. Prices are high and selection is low, but I'm very glad this option exists.

Finding TruLocal has resolved this issue for me.

TruLocal is set up like a meal-kit delivery service. You subscribe to a box (there are two sizes), which you can have delivered weekly, biweekly or monthly. The price of the box is a flat rate, and you choose what to fill your box with, using a clever point system. A pound of ground beef may be 1 point, while a half-pound of smoked sockeye salmon will be 4 points. A small box for $125 is filled with 9 points worth of food, while a regular-sized box for $249 is filled by 20 points.

The box is delivered to your home or workplace, with the contents packed in dry ice. Based on your postal code, the website tells you what day(s) of the week they ship to your area, then you receive auto-emails with updates. Delivery is free, that is, part of the price.

I appreciate that there wasn't an extra charge for a rural or remote delivery. In fact, I appreciate that they service our area at all! I emailed to ask, and received a very speedy, friendly reply.

So far everything about TruLocal has been great: the order was correct, the delivery was reliable, customer service is great, and most importantly, the products are very high quality.

My only (minor) gripe is that if you don't want a subscription -- if you want to order less frequently or sporadically -- you have to cancel your subscription and start a new one each time. (You don't have to cancel your account, just the subscription.) I'm hoping that enough customers will want this option that TruLocal will soon offer it.

Here's how it works, and here's an FAQ. If you're an omnivore like me and can afford it, perhaps you will give it a try.


this year, day of mourning carries great urgency and great sadness

Each year on April 28, we recognize and remember workers who have died, been injured, and become ill through their work.

In 2020, the year of the coronavirus pandemic, this day carries profound and urgent meaning.

Health care workers, emergency workers, supermarket workers, and others put their health at risk and their lives on the line daily.

Most poignantly, health care workers risk illness and must isolate from their own families in order to save the lives of others.

Low-wage workers like supermarket cashiers and couriers, already working physically demanding and monotonous jobs, suddenly find themselves in potentially life-threatening danger.

* * * *

The canary is a potent symbol and a powerful reminder. Not so long ago, this small, fragile bird was the only thing that stood between miners and a suffocating death. The world over, workers are little more than canaries in their own workplaces.

No worker should ever be killed or injured because of work, yet it happens on a regular basis. In our current climate of precarious work, it is happening more frequently.

When workers do not have guaranteed work, or don’t get enough hours, or earn too little to survive, they are much less likely to speak up about unsafe working conditions. Employers know this. In the precarious workplace, all too often there is scant attention given to health and safety standards.

Privatization of services also causes workplace injuries and death, as companies -- with no public oversight -- cut corners to squeeze more profit out of services that should not be generating profit.

Under-staffing also causes injuries and deaths, as workers are required to do work previously assigned to two or more workers.

Working alone has become commonplace in many fields, including mine. Working alone means there is no one to administer CPR, to help if an accident happens, to call for help if there is a violent confrontation.

Injury and death on the job are not facts of life that just happen. All too often, they are the result of precarious work, austerity measures, and privatization. All too often, worker deaths are preventable deaths.

On April 28, the Day of Mourning for Workers Killed or Injured on the Job, while we pause to mourn our losses, we must renew our commitment to ending these tragedies.


what i'm reading: political graphic nonfiction: wobblies, studs terkel's working, people's history of american empire

Continuing the series, started here. I've decided not to review these books, but instead to post a cover image and a quote.

It was difficult to choose quotes for these books, since they are books about ideas and events, with hundreds of different people quoted and referenced. After flipping through the books and seeing quote after beautiful, stirring, inspiring, infuriating quote, I decided to pull the lens back to more general thoughts from introductions and prefaces.

Wobblies!: A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World, edited by Paul Buhle and Nicole Schulman (many contributors)
The world of the Wobs was made up of immigrant workers without steady employment, health plans, social security or drug benefits (like the future that Republicans and many a Democrat envision), without any responsibility on the part of the filthy rich for the growing class of poor -- so much like the society around us today. The world of the Wobblies was one realized in its best moments by solidarity across race, ethnic, gender, and nationality lines. The Wobbly world and promise was wrecked, finally by the eager collaboration of corporate business and the military, liberals and conservatives, all of them committee firmly to Empire. Will the same thing or something like it happen, as the empire slides into crisis again/ Only time will tell. But what the Wobs did was to hold up an alternative, the alternative we need now more than ever. (2005, from the introduction)

Studs Terkel's Working: A Graphic Adaptation, adapted by Harvey Pekar, edited by Paul Buhle
This book, being about work, is, by its very nature, about violence -- to the spirit as well as to the body. It is about ulcers as well as accidents, about shouting matches as well as fistfights, about nervous breakdowns as well as kicking the dog around. It is, above all (or beneath all), about daily humiliations. To survive the day is triumph enough for the walking wounded among the great many of us. . . . .

It is about a search, too, for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor, in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying. . . .

During my three years of prospecting, I may have, on more occasions than I had imagined, struck gold. I was constantly astonished by the extraordinary dreams of ordinary people. (1974, from the original introduction by Studs Terkel)
Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do, originally published in 1974, is a compilation of interviews with hundreds of working people by the late great Studs Terkel, an oral historian and radio broadcaster. It is a classic text of sociology, labour relations, and humanity. Terkel published an updated edition in 1997.

The cover art of the graphic adaptation reflects the very famous original cover, shown here.

A People's History of American Empire: A Graphic Adaptation, Howard Zinn, Mike Konopacki, Paul Buhle
The history of the United States was written for many generations as a heroic conquest of land and its original inhabitants, and as the steady spread of democracy from border to border and sea to sea. It culminated in the current nation being uniquely suited by history, perhaps by divine destiny, to make the rules for the planet and carry them out when necessary. Every sacrifice made, by Americans and others, was justified by that end. Even when, by 1950, atomic and finally thermonuclear war threatened to wipe out civilization, the sense of rectitude remained firmly in place. Americans had sought to make the world a better place, a nearly perfect place, even if they had been thwarted in the task.

The Vietnam War changed the perceptions of a generation. Some few earlier dissenting historians, such as W.E.B. DuBois, had pointed toward a markedly darker national saga, but they had been not much heard. Then, an evident crisis in empire brought into view past crises of empire, internal as well as external, and the high price that had been paid for those crises. Another story began to be told, not of America as a wicked place or Americans as wicked people but of the trouble in the soul of an imperial nation.

Beginning in the 1960s, scholars of various kinds started to write widely about Indians, African Americans, working people, and women, of struggles for reform won and lost, of wealth gained at vast public expense in squandered dollars and lives. This was the saga of the internal empire, precursor in many ways to the transcontinental empire to follow. None of the scholars charting this empire epitomized the truth teller and political visionary better than the then young professor Howard Zinn. None reached as many readers, a decade after the decline of the social movements of the 1960s, as an older Zinn. A People's History of the United States (first published in 1980), its pages afire with lucidity, set a new standard for the retelling of the nation's story, this time linked closely to other peoples everywhere, and likewise to a distant human past and a hoped for future. (2008, from the foreword)


ayoubs.ca for the best nuts and dried fruit shipped to your door

Isn't this beautiful?
I had an instant flashback to stores we visited in Amman.
For a healthy snack, you can't beat nuts. They're packed with protein, healthy oils, vitamins, and minerals. They're high in fibre, they have antioxidant properties, and they contain almost nothing of what you want to avoid eating. (They are also vegan and gluten-free, for people who want those.)

All kinds of health claims are associated with nuts, but whether or not those are true, nuts are the perfect between-meal snack. They are what I call self-limiting, as opposed to, say, potato chips. I eat a small amount of nuts and feel satisfied, likely because of the protein and fibre.

Unfortunately, here in our remote area of Vancouver Island, I discovered I cannot buy fresh nuts locally. The selection is poor, and more importantly, the nuts are not fresh. I guess they don't get enough turnover -- which is a shame, as more people should eat nuts! Also unfortunate as it causes people who do eat them to shop elsewhere. And "elsewhere" for us means online.

Kernel Mix
I love the lime and saffron flavour.
I surveyed all the online nut-buying choices. Nuts.com has a great selection and the prices are good, but they're based in the US. Shipping could take a long time, especially to remote areas. Bulk Barn delivers nuts from store locations via Instacart -- not an option for us, plus Bulk Barn creeps me out.

Going Nuts looks like a great family-owned business, based in Alberta. They seem like a company you'd see at farmer's markets (their schedule is here), specializing in handmade granolas, nut butters, candies, and such. I'm sure their products are delicious, and they were in the running -- until I found Ayoub's.

Ayoub's Dried Fruit and Nuts has six stores in the Vancouver area, and they also ship throughout Canada and worldwide. Here's why I love Ayoub's.

Selection. They offer a huge selection both of the variety of nuts and how they are prepared -- raw, roasted, unsalted, salted, and lightly salted. (Lightly salted -- how smart!) In a supermarket, even a really good supermarket, I seldom find exactly what I want. For example, I like almonds raw, but cashews roasted. Pistachios salted, but not so salty that your face caves in. And so on. Ayoub's gives you the full range.

Freshness. Ayoub's nuts are roasted in-store. The most popular nuts, such as cashews, are roasted several times throughout the day -- and they are incredible. Everything is always so fresh. The flavours pop.

Mixed nuts. Their "kernel mix" includes almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, and shelled pistachios. I buy the lime and saffron mix (see below) and eat them literally one nut at a time, slowly, savouring the taste. I chronically eat way too fast and these nuts actually slow me down.

Flavoured nuts. Ayoub's carries nuts that are tossed in their own flavouring blends. I love the lime and saffron flavour, and there is also lime and pepper, and a spicy mix. These are such a treat.

Dried fruit and nut mixes. You can't really call this trail mix -- it's just too good. There are several different kinds, and unlike most supermarket trail mixes, you know exactly what you're getting and each fruit or nut is high quality.
Persian Dried Plums
Soooo delicious!

Dried fruit! I love dried fruit. Unfortunately I also find it addictive and decidedly not self-limiting, so I eat it only as a treat. Ayoub's has an incredible selection of dried fruit. With each of my orders, I buy one dried fruit mix and try to make it last.

Except for every-day dried fruit: Ayoub's sells these amazing green raisins, made from green seedless grapes. They are larger than ordinary raisins and so delicious. I also buy dates to make this super delicious healthy snack. I had been using dried, packaged dates from the baking section of the supermarket. This is a huge improvement.

Price. I compared Ayoub's prices to our local supermarket, and they were the same or less -- for much higher quality.

Free shipping -- maybe. If you live in western Canada or in the US, the free shipping threshold is a bit high, but well worth it. Unfortunately for Eastern Canada and the North, the shipping costs are probably prohibitive, unless you have a big family, or perhaps are splitting an order with friends. I don't know why it costs less to ship to the US than to Newfoundland; it must be a Canada Post thing.

Another reason I love Ayoub's is a personal preference. On my way to a union education retreat, I visited an Ayoub's store in Vancouver. It was an instant flashback to stores we enjoyed in Cairo and especially Amman. A North American version, but a very similar vibe -- warm and welcoming, attentive, knowledgeable, proud of their quality goods. I have found this to be true in Middle Eastern stores in any city I've been in.

Right now Ayoub's has a promotion called "Binge Watch Essentials". For $99, it includes 10 1-pound bags of a variety of goodies, including baked vegetable chips and chocolate-covered almonds. I always prefer to choose my own variety, but this is a great deal -- and very clever marketing for the lockdown.

They must be swamped with orders, as the service is a bit slower than usual, or it might be Canada Post's slower service during the pandemic, or perhaps a bit of both. My most recent order took a few days longer than usual, but really, who cares. When it arrived, it was correct, fresh, and so delicious.

In conclusion, eat nuts! Try Ayoub's and let me know what you think!

Disclaimer: None needed, ever. No "affiliates" or stealth marketing here. Just a rave review.


11 things you should know about u.s. presidential elections

Here are some facts about US elections.

There are mountains of evidence to support each of these. If you have doubts, do some homework. This is merely a summary of facts.

1. The Electoral College. Up to 50% of votes in any state are wiped out. Canada has first-past-the-post voting based on ridings (Parliamentary seats), but imagine if all of Ontario was one riding -- 51% and winner take all.

2. Partisan oversight. Elections are governed on the state level, and the person in charge of them represents a political party. There is no equivalent of Elections Canada. Imagine, for example, if Jason Kenney's party ran elections in Alberta, and oversaw vote-counting and potential recounts.

3. Voter suppression. This takes place on a dozen different fronts. In many states, registration is complex and very limited. There are onerous ID requirements. Voters can be and are disqualified based on any number of arcane laws. Voter list are "purged" -- hundreds of thousands of voters dropped from the record. In many Republican-controlled states, voters are purged if the first and last names of two voters match. Middle names are not considered.

Various schemes to reduce barriers to voting are regularly proposed and killed.

At the same time, the one fraudulent voting scheme that Republicans care about -- voter impersonation (undocumented immigrants attempting to vote) -- barely exists.

4. Mass incarceration. Approximately 2,300,000 people in the US are incarcerated. The pre-incarceration income of the prison population is 40% lower than non-incarcerated people of the same age, and "incarcerated people are dramatically concentrated at the lowest ends of the national income distribution". Meaning: poor people are locked up. None of them can vote. (See the Prison Policy Initiative.)

5. Felony disenfranchisement. US states vary concerning the voting rights of former inmates. In some states, former felons regain voting rights after release; in others, the citizen must submit petitions to regain their right to vote (not a straightforward process); and in other states, it depends on circumstance of the crime. Conviction for a felony may result in permanent disenfranchisement.

No other country in the world makes the right to vote so conditional on past convictions. At any given time, approximately 6,000,000 Americans are denied the right to vote because of prior felony convictions. (PS: who is charged and convicted with felonies is not exactly evenly distributed either!)

6. Black-box voting. Nearly one-third of the US states use electronic voting machines that produce no receipt and for which there is no record of verification -- because the system is proprietary, and corporate rights are more important than fair elections. There is widespread and irrefutable evidence that these devices are both highly inaccurate and easily manipulated remotely.

7. Recent and historical stolen elections. The outcomes of both the 2000 and 2004 elections were illegitimate. This was proven beyond all doubt. It was shown to be statistically impossible for so many "mistakes" to all favour one party. After these elections, nothing was changed. This means we have no way of knowing if the 2008, 2012, 2016, and 2020 elections were or will be fair or fraudulent. There's no reason to assume that a Democrat in the White House is proof of fair elections. (Of course this is not a modern phenomena. One famously stolen election occurred in 1876, for example.)

There are other ways to manipulate elections, too. In 1980, Ronald Reagan's campaign illegally conspired with the Islamic Republic of Iran to delay the release of 66 American hostages, who had been held for nearly a year, until after the election, to ruin Jimmy Carter's re-election chances. Iran agreed, Carter lost the election, and the hostages were released 20 minutes after Reagan finished his inaugural speech in January 1981. And of course, there's Richard M. Nixon.

8. Disinformation campaigns. Trump Inc has taken this to new depths, but simple disinformation campaigns are not new. People may be told that Republicans vote on one day, and Democrats on another. Guess which date is post-election. You can read about the the massive Trump re-selection disinformation campaign in The Atlantic.

9. Party conventions. Both major parties nominate presidential candidates based on the votes of delegates at conventions. The process is neither straightforward nor transparent. Hillary Clinton was the beneficiary of this in 2016, and the world pays for that mistake every day, while understandably angry Americans misdirect their anger at Sanders supporters.

10. Corporate money. It is incredibly expensive to even attempt to be nominated for a presidential campaign. There are no limits to how much corporations can fund candidates. Money is never given freely. There are expectations.

11. Campaign lies and media distortions. In Ontario, potential voters told me that if NDP Leader Andrea Horwath was elected, the price of gas would increase by 15 cents per litre. Where did they get this information? From Doug Ford's TV ads. When it comes to campaign ads, anything goes.

In the US, the media long ago stopped reporting on issues and instead focuses on campaign strategies, ad time, campaign spending, voter perception, and the like. As if campaigns are themselves the issues.

*  *  *  *

And then, after all this and more, a POTUS is selected.

And people around the world wonder how Americans could have done this. They say, Well, they voted for him! They get what they deserve!

And supporters of Anyone-But-The-Evil-Republican blame supporters of More Progressive Candidate.

And the DNC is again confirmed in its unshakable faith that American liberals will vote for anyone with a D after their name, no matter how loathsome their policies.

And millions of Americans don't bother to vote, in a state of frustration or learned helplessness or justifiable cynicism.

*  *  *  *

Many Canadians say that US elections can't be fixed because there are "too many people". This statement defies all logic. Fix a few swing states, rig a few thousand voting machines, boom, you've got yourself an election. What does the size of the population have to do with it?

Scientific American asked, What does a crooked election look like? Writer David Noonan spoke with Peter Klimek, an election forensic researcher.
An even more basic challenge faces researchers who want to use forensic tool kits to analyze U.S. elections — getting the data. "The way elections take place and are administered in the U.S. is not really up to the quality standards in other countries," says Klimek, who tried and failed to apply some of his methods to the 2008 election. "The data quality was not good enough." In most states, access to voter registration data is restricted mainly to the political parties, the candidates and some companies that work with them, Mebane says.

After a 2016 presidential election marred by allegations of foreign meddling, the midterm contest looms amid concerns about voter suppression in Georgia and other states as well as unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud by undocumented aliens. The most unexpected takeaway from electoral forensics may be that it is easier to analyze Russian elections than those in the U.S. "It's really not much work to do this kind of analysis once you've got the data," Klimek says. "With the algorithms we are talking about, it can be done in a couple of hours."
*  *  *  *

Americans interested in working on this essential issue should join (or at least follow) the National Election Defense Coalition. Because, as I used to write regularly in this blog, without fair elections, how can a country be a democracy?


current favourite instapot recipe: orange beef and rice (adapted from the instant pot bible)

It doesn't look anything like this.
When I mentioned on Facebook that I was making this, many people were interested in the recipe. So here it is, adapted from the awesome Instant Pot Bible. (My review of the cookbook is here.)

This dish, as the authors say, crosses a retro rice casserole with the taste of classic Chinese takeout. The rice will be sticky.

The original recipe is here. Below, the recipe the way I make it. What's different:

- I double everything. I have an 8-quart Instapot (yes, I know), and I always double recipes and freeze half or more.

- I find the IPB recipes to be overly cautious with seasonings. I don't eat spicy food, but I do like a lot of flavour, so I add much more herbs and spices to whatever they call for.

- The only exception to the above is salt and anything that adds salt, such as soy sauce. I use all reduced-salt products and when I'm doubling the recipe, I do not double the salt or salty things.

- This recipe has a strong orange flavour, with a little bitterness from the zest. If you like a milder flavour, reduce the amount of zest you use.

The recipe mentions that using brown rice prevents you from having a double process, first the meat, then the rice. It gives the meat enough time to get tender without overcooking the rice. I wouldn't substitute with a different kind of rice unless you know what you're doing.

They also mention that you can substitute boneless chicken thighs for the beef, also cut in ¼-inch strips.


Some vegetable oil

6-8 scallions, green part only, minced

A healthy chunk of ginger (maybe 2 inches), peeled and minced

Zest of a whole orange, minced (If you don't own a zester, this is a great opportunity to get one.)

The juice of that orange and maybe some of a second orange, so you have about 4 ounces

½ cup sodium-reduced soy sauce

2 big tablespoons hoisin sauce

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or rice vinegar

2 lbs (approx 1 kg) flank steak, cut in half lengthwise, then into ¼-inch-thick strips

2 cups brown rice

2½ cups of broth of any type

1. Put some oil in the pot, and heat it with the saute function. (Personally, I can't use saute on high -- the oil gets too hot and splatters. I use the medium setting.)

2. Add the scallions, ginger, and zest. Cook for a minute or so.

3. Add the beef and cook for a couple of minutes, just until it loses the raw colour.

4. Add the rice and stir well to coat.

5. Turn off the saute function. Pour in the broth, and scrape any bits that are stuck to the bottom.

6. Stir in the soy sauce, orange juice, hoisin sauce, and vinegar, and blend well.

7. Lock the lid and cook on the pressure cook setting for 20 minutes. (If you have an Instant Pot Max, you can use 17 minutes on max.)

8. When it's done, use the quick-release method to release the pressure, but don't open the cooker. Let it sit with the lid latched for another 10 minutes. Then stir and you're good to go.

Let me know what you think -- including if you dislike it. I'm interested.


listening to joni: #13: chalk mark in a rainstorm

Chalk Mark In a Rainstorm, 1988

After writing my first negative review in this series, I was half-dreading listening to the album. Happily, I ended up pleased and relieved. Chalk Mark In a Rainstorm is a solid album with some lovely and memorable songs. There are choices that don't work for me, and one truly awful song, but overall the album is a great improvement over the previous Dog Eat Dog.

On Chalk Mark, Joni's writing is strongest when she's at her most topical. "Tea Leaf Prophecy," quotes the old spiritual and anti-war song "Down by the Riverside," using one of my most cherished lines, "study war no more". The song tells an unlikely love story of two people who met during the Second World War -- inspired by Joni's own parents. With the song's rhythmic refrain "study war no more" and "lay down your arms," not only have the lovers chosen love over war, but we are asked to do the same.

In "The Beat of Black Wings," the narrator meets a "young soldier" in a bar. The war had no meaning -- "propaganda piss on 'em" -- and has left him damaged.
There's a war zone inside me
I can feel things exploding
I can't even hear the fucking music playing
For the beat of the beat of black wings
I am reminded of the black crow on Hejira, but these black wings are far more sinister.
They want you they need you
They train you to kill
To be a pin on some map. . .
The old pick the wars
We die in 'em
To the beat of the beat of black wings
"Lakota" is a lament for Indigenous people, not only for the distant past, but for the present, where their land is being stolen again, for mining "the deadly ore". (In "Chinese Cafe," on Wild Things Run Fast, Joni also refers to this deadly ore: "Uranium money is booming in the old home town now".)

"Lakota" features a Native American chant, sung by Iron Eyes Cody. Cody was the "crying Indian" featured in PSAs many of us grew up with -- before his actual heritage was revealed. (His original name was Espera Oscar de Corti; he was born in Sicily.) No doubt Joni would be accused of cultural appropriation now, but this was not known at the time. (I do wonder if it had been known, if she would have cared.)

Back Cover

"Cool Water" -- written by Bob Nolan, with revised lyrics by Joni, and featuring some vocals by Willie Nelson -- and "A Bird That Whistles" -- an arrangement of the traditional song "Corinna, Corinna" -- have a similar earthy feel as the songs rejecting war and the destruction of the earth.

In "The Reoccurring Dream," Joni taps a familiar theme -- the dead-end of consumer culture -- using some samples of advertising-speak. I have mixed feelings about this. Sometimes I feel it interrupts the song and is too obvious, other times I like the inventiveness of the sound collage and the cumulative effect of the repetition.

"My Secret Place" has a synth-pop feel and the sound of a deliberate attempt at a radio track or single, as they were once called. It features prominent vocals by Peter Gabriel, although not quite a duet. It's not a bad song, and I like the imagery of the "secret place" that we go with a lover. It just feels facile and simple.

"Snakes and Ladders" combines two Joni themes -- materialism, and the ups and downs of a love affair. I hear it as an update on "Harry's House" from Hissing of Summer Lawns, the man trapped on the hamster wheel to keep his trophy wife satisfied. It's a duet with Don Henley, and it's a bit of a mess.

And then there's "Dancin' Clown", possibly the worst song and production Joni has ever written. This is "fool for love," upbeat edition. Bizarre vocal appearances by Billy Idol and Tom Petty push the song from a silly throwaway to just awful. Ah well. She's human.

The album cover

Joni designed the cover art, using photographs taken by Larry Klein, her partner at the time. The front features a portrait of Joni with her face partially obscured by a blanket with a Native American design and a hat. Inside, she is lying on the ground covered by the blanket, wearing jeans and sneakers, the hat beside her head. A snake is coiled at the opposite corner of the frame.

In her own words

The relentless sexism and condescension that featured so prominently in early reviews of Joni's music seems to have abated. So instead of "bad critic comment of the album," I'll use quotes from a feature story or interview that accompanied the album release.
I have to keep my spirit high. And to keep my creativity flowing, I've learned not to be afraid of failing -- because out of the ashes of failure may come a great idea.
-- Quoted in Portrait of an Artist in Her Prime, Nicholas Jennings, Maclean's magazine, April 4, 1988
Guest vocals

This album is notable for the many guest appearances by other singers -- five musicians on four different songs, plus background vocals by some name artists. I don't know if this was something Joni wanted to try, or if it was a bid for a more commercial sound. It really stands out as unnecessary.

Other musicians on this album

Drums, percussion, Manu Katché; Larry Klein; Thomas Dolby
Bass, Larry Klein
Guitar, Michael Landau, Steve Stevens
Saxophone, Wayne Shorter
Organ, Steven Lindsay
Vocals, Manu Katche, Larry Klein, Benjamin Orr, Don Henley, Iron Eyes Cody, Lisa Coleman, Wendy Melvoin, Julie Last, Willie Nelson, Billy Idol, Tom Petty


streaming follow-up: we need a universal watchlist app: updated!

On my recent post about streaming -- five reasons streaming is still better than cable and etc. -- I alluded to something towards the end of the post that I want to spotlight here.

We need a universal watchlist app. Perhaps several universal watchlist apps, so we can choose the one that suits us best.

This app would combine all your watchlists, from all the different streaming services you use, into one list. I wouldn't have to look through Netflix, Crave, Prime, and Britbox - not to mention some free services that once in a while have something good.

I wouldn't have to wonder, Where did I see that show? Was that Netflix or Prime or Crave? Didn't we see something good on Tubi? Or was Hoopla?

All my watchlists across all services would be combined.

Reelgood and JustWatch may do this, but it's unclear. I'll try them both and report back.

One thing right off the top: Reelgood doesn't include Crave, even on their Canada site. Crave is where Canadians can legally watch HBO, Showtime, and Starz movies and series, so it's important. I did email Reelgood to ask if they can pick up Crave. JustWatch has Crave, so it's possible to do.

More info when I have it.

Important update below.

*  *  *  *

I've been searching for this for a while, but I didn't know quite what to call it. I was coming up with services like Cinetrack, Seriesguide, and TVTime -- there's a list here. This would tell you where you could stream a particular movie or series, and you could track what you've watched. But they are more streaming search engines than feed aggregators.

Plex has the idea -- all your media streaming through one app -- but it works with media you've purchased or downloaded, not streaming.

I just had no idea what to call this thing I was dreaming of, until I recently saw this post: Forget universal search; give me a universal watch list. That's when the light bulb went off.

Now I've found two services that sound like they can do this. The strange thing is, they are both referred to as streaming search engines. Yet both services claim you can create a master watchlist and click through to the service through this.

Even comparisons of Reelgood and JustWatch calls them streaming search apps.

Maybe that's what the universal watchlist will be called?

I'm going to try both and report back.

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Update. Reelgood or JustWatch? Neither.

Neither service works properly. Choosing your streaming apps and adding shows to a watchlist is simple enough. But neither Reelgood or JustWatch functions as a streaming hub or universal watchlist on either Roku or AppleTV.

Reelgood has more streaming services -- but not Crave, which Canadian viewers need.

JustWatch has Crave, but is missing Kanopy and dozens of free services. Part of the beauty of the universal watchlist would be the ability to access the bits of decent content on each of the free apps.

But more importantly, neither of them works properly on a TV. They might function properly for people who watch everything on their computer or phone. But the quest for a universal watchlist app continues.


what i'm reading: political graphic nonfiction: biographies of emma goldman, muhammad ali, and eugene v. debs

I have been collecting graphic nonfiction with leftist political themes. I just love these books and am indulging myself in buying them.

I was planning to review them, but I've decided to simply post images of the covers, the names of the books and the creators, and a quote from the person, group, or idea the book is about.

Dangerous Woman: A Graphic Biography of Emma Goldman, written and illustrated by Sharon Rudahl, edited by Paul Buhle
The greatest bulwark of capitalism is militarism. The very moment the latter is undermined, capitalism will totter. True, we have no conscription; that is, men are not usually forced to enlist in the army, but we have developed a far more exacting and rigid force--necessity. Is it not a fact that during industrial depressions there is a tremendous increase in the number of enlistments? The trade of militarism may not be either lucrative or honorable, but it is better than tramping the country in search of work, standing in the bread line, or sleeping in municipal lodging houses. (1908)

Muhammad Ali, written by Sybille Titeux de la Croix, illustrated by Amazing Améziane
If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years. (1968)

Eugene V. Debs: A Graphic Biography, written by Paul Buhle and Steve Max, illustrated by Noah Van Sciver
Foolish and vain indeed is the workingman who makes the color of his skin the stepping-stone to his imaginary superiority. The trouble is with his head, and if he can get that right he will find that what ails him is not superiority but inferiority, and that he, as well as the Negro he despises, is the victim of wage-slavery, which robs him of what he produces and keeps both him and the Negro tied down to the dead level of ignorance and degradation.

The man who seeks to arouse prejudice among workingmen is not their friend. He who advises the white wage-worker to look down upon the black wage-worker is the enemy of both. (1904)


five reasons streaming is still better than cable, even if the price tag is the same (plus a long story mostly for myself)

If you stream movies and TV series, you know that the proliferation of streaming channels has had mixed results for consumers.

Many shows that were formerly on Netflix have been pulled by their media parents, and are now found on different streaming apps. At the same time, Netflix's monthly price has increased -- so you're paying more for less.

Those who still want access to the shows no longer on Netflix need to subscribe to an additional streaming service; Disney (which has all the Marvel properties) and Britbox are two big culprits.

Two other very popular streaming services, Crave (owned by Bell Media) and Prime (owned by Amazon), have exclusive rights to many enticing shows, including all the HBO and Showtime series. Recently Bell Media made an annoying cash-grab by offering a first season of a given show on Crave, then requiring an additional subscription to Movies+HBO or Starz to watch the rest.

Many people have observed that if you want a few of these services, the price tag will rival the cost of cable.

I recently decided to subscribe to whatever streaming apps I want. Previously I was holding it to Netflix and Crave. But we spend next to nothing on entertainment now, and watching movies and series is a principal form of relaxation for me. I'm fortunate that I can afford it now.

So I added a bunch of channels/apps/services/whatever (what are we calling these now?), and the combined price does rival our former cable bill.

However, I still find streaming far superior to cable. Here's why.

1. NO ADS. Paying for TV and still having every show stuffed with commercials is an indignity and should be considered theft. The paid streaming services are ad-free.

2. Streaming lets you purchase only the channels you want. Pay for what you use, don't pay for what you never use. When we had cable, I found 95% of it completely useless.

3. The low monthly prices for most streaming services give you flexibility. You can get an app for a month or two to watch a specific show, then easily unsubscribe.

4. Which leads to the next reason: there are no installation fees or other rip-off costs.

5. Which leads to reason #5: you don't have to deal with telcos at all. All you need is internet.

In conclusion, streaming > cable.

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I was looking back through some of my early posts about cable, access to baseball, Netflix, Roku, and etc. I had forgotten about some of the twists and turns I went through. I want to document it all here. Totally boring stuff, but I want to have it in one place.

1. In New York, we subscribed to Netflix, back when it was only a DVD-by-mail service. Netflix was a huge game-changer for us, as renting quality movies in our neighbourhood was always problematic. We subscribed to Netflix for DVDs for several years.

2. When we emigrated to Canada, I knew there was no Netflix (at the time), but I heard there was a Netflix-type service called Zip.ca.

3. I subscribed to Zip, but there were issues. One, they sent you movies in random order. Netflix didn't guarantee you would receive movies in the exact order of your queue, but you got something close to it. Since we don't watch blockbuster movies, we almost always received our top three choices. With Zip, it was totally random. The next baseball season would roll around, and I hadn't seen my priority movies. I did find a workaround, but it was limited.

4. At the same time, we were spending a lot of money to see our out-of-town team's baseball games. We had to subscribe to cable at a high level, then add the MLB package, plus we subscribed to MLB online, so Allan could watch games while at work (which was at least half the games for the week, sometimes more). But we couldn't watch MLB only online, because Rogers capped our internet usage!

5. In 2006 I lost my job and was unemployed or very under-employed for many years. Spending less was a priority, one that we often failed to achieve.

6. In 2010, Netflix came to Canada as a streaming-only service. There wasn't much on it.

7. In 2011, my workaround with Zip -- which depended on a willing and creative customer service person -- ended. (Soon after that, Zip was purchased by Rogers and became a standard pay-per-view service.) I subscribed to a different DVD-by-mail service, called Cinemail. It sucked and I quickly cancelled it.

8. In 2012, two extraordinary things happened at that same time: my friend M@ told me about Teksavvy, and I learned we could watch MLB through a Roku streaming device. Minds were blown, worlds were rocked.

I'll let an old post tell this part of the story.
In February, I asked for help with my movie-season problem. We had been getting special treatment from Zip, but once that ended, Zip became useless again. I knew there had to be a better way. It's the 21st Century, for crissakes. Why can't we get on-demand baseball, movies, and whatever else we want to watch? First world problems? Absolutely! But that's where I live.

In the past, no suggestions really worked for us. We couldn't get rid of cable TV, because we needed it to watch baseball. We couldn't watch baseball online, because we had a cap on our bandwidth usage. (And because of our work schedules, we had to subscribe to baseball through cable and internet!) I didn't want to watch movies via Netflix only on computer. I didn't want to buy a gaming system just to watch movies. Nothing was quite right.

And then, everything came together.

M@ started it all by identifying the root of the problem: the first step was to get rid of Rogers and their ridiculous bandwidth cap. Switching to TekSavvy was fast and easy. We save money, we get more, and suddenly... we have choices.

Next, we bought two Roku devices, one for each TV. Allan drove to Buffalo to make sure we were set up for the baseball season, but they may now be shipping to Canada.

Next, Roku began to support Netflix Canada.

And next, Netflix Canada has hugely improved since I first checked it out. It has even improved in the last two weeks, growing by leaps and bounds.

I thought that getting rid of cable would be slightly inconvenient, but I'd adjust. That's because I didn't know what awaited me through streaming, via Roku.

Baseball without commercials! (At least the ones between innings.)

Movies! And lots of them. No more waiting to see what we receive in the mail - but without having to watch on a computer, or having to hook up a computer to the TV.

And not just movies. The small amount of TV I care about is suddenly now available on demand. Without commercials. . . . .

From the earliest days of Netflix DVDs-by-mail and cable Pay-Per-View, I used to wonder when we'd be able to watch any movie or any TV show, anytime we wanted, in our own homes. I just moved one giant step closer to that.

9. We learned how to create a wireless VPN, so we would have two IP addresses, one in Canada and one in the US, so we were able to access both versions of Netflix, plus baseball without blackouts.

10. In 2016, Netflix cracked down on VPNs. You could still watch US Netflix on a computer, but I could no longer get it wirelessly through Roku. (VPN providers still claim that you can, but really... no.) Fortunately by this time, Netflix Canada had improved significantly.

11. Also in 2016, Amazon's streaming service, then called Amazon Instant Video, finally was available in Canada.

12. In 2018, we purchased an AppleTV, which has exclusive rights to Crave -- which has all the HBO and Showtime shows. Turns out it gives much better access to MLB than Roku. Nice!

13. In 2019, I gave myself permission to add any streaming service I want, to have maximum options. I am pretty happy about this.

14. One last bit. I am dreaming of an app that would let viewers track their watchlists across different services. Not a media server, because I won't have the shows downloaded. And not quite one of these, as they are all limited in different ways. I want a master watchlist that can click through to the show on the appropriate streaming service.


what i'm reading: graphic adaptation of anne frank's diary

Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank, is many things to many people.

It's the most widely read and recognizable Holocaust narrative.

It's one of the most common ways to teach young people about the Holocaust specifically and genocidal in general.

It's a book for all ages. I read it as a child, as a teen, and as an adult, and I understood it on different levels at different times of my life -- and that's probably a common experience. If you haven't re-read the Diary as an adult, I highly recommend it.

The Diary has been translated into 70 languages and more than 25 million copies have been printed worldwide. It continues to be read in schools all over the world. This is partly because the first-person account personalizes the experience, makes it relatable, in a way that conventional histories cannot. But I believe the impact of the Diary endures because Anne was such a talented writer.

This fact is often overlooked in discussions of the Diary, overshadowed by the experiences Anne wrote about and the extremity of her living situation. You will often see reviewers mention "Anne's voice" -- and there's no doubt that Anne's appealing personality adds to the compelling nature of the Diary. But the girl who was hiding in that Amsterdam attic was a talented writer, and I believe that fact, more than anything else, has made the Diary transcend culture, time, and place, and is the central reason it endures.

Anne was a writer. Proof of that is in the Diary itself: the more she wrote, the better her writing became. She was becoming a writer, as all writers are, always. It's obvious that at some point, Anne realized her diary might be shared with the outside world, and she upped her game. Anne dreamed of becoming a famous writer -- a dream that came true, without her.

The graphic adaptation of the Diary does many things well, but also strains against the limits of the form. To expand on this, I'm doing something here that I rarely do: quoting from other reviews.

What I really liked

David Polonsky's illustrations are gorgeous -- lavish, rich in detail, suffused with emotion. Ari Folman uses the graphic novel form to its utmost advantage.

It's disappointing when graphic novel creators use illustrations as they would be used in a conventional novel -- illustrating what's already in the text -- rather than as an integral part of the story itself, moving the story forward in time and meaning.

As Ruth Franklin wrote in this New York Times review,
As Folman acknowledges in an adapter’s note, the text, preserved in its entirety, would have resulted in a graphic novel of 3,500 pages. At times he reproduces whole entries verbatim, but more often he diverges freely from the original, collapsing multiple entries onto a single page and replacing Anne’s droll commentary with more accessible (and often more dramatic) language. Polonsky’s illustrations, richly detailed and sensitively rendered, work marvelously to fill in the gaps, allowing an image or a facial expression to stand in for the missing text and also providing context about Anne’s historical circumstances that is, for obvious reasons, absent from the original. The tightly packed panels that result, in which a line or two adapted from the “Diary” might be juxtaposed with a bit of invented dialogue between the Annex inhabitants or a dream vision of Anne’s, do wonders at fitting complex emotions and ideas into a tiny space — a metaphor for the Secret Annex itself.
Here are a few examples of the skillful and inventive artwork.

Anne imagines her future.

The graphic adaptation beautifully captures Anne's personality and her voice -- not just her longing and frustration, which is more widely known, but her sarcasm and her sardonic wit. Parts of the Diary are funny, because Anne was funny. We shouldn't be afraid of that humour. Laughing with Anne is not laughing at the Holocaust. If anything, the humour only deepens our understanding of her tragedy, because it makes more real to us.

What didn't work for me

In The Atlantic, Stav Ziv notes that "the shortcomings of the adaptation are illuminating in their way, and underscore what makes the original so potent". I have to agree.
The difference between the two versions, however, is that by this point in the diary, you've been in her head for so long that her extinguished voice and sudden disappearance crush you with the weight of the world. You can imagine heavy boots on the stairs, pounding on the bookcase, and cruel orders spewed at the shocked residents. This scene isn't described in detail in either version. In fact, the afterwords are virtually identical. But the diary itself sets the reader up to fill in the horrifying blanks in a way the adaptation does not. They weren't coming for an unknowable character in hiding. They were coming for Frank.

It's not that Folman and Polonsky haven't added a valuable interpretation. They have. The volume contains some stunning and poetic drawings, such as a two-page spread that visualizes a passage in which the diarist describes "the eight of us in the Annex as if we were a patch of blue sky surrounded by menacing black clouds" and "in our desperate search for a way out we keep bumping into each other." But those images are poignant complements to Frank's words, not sufficient replacements. To this point, Folman wrote in the adapter's note that he had "grave reservations" editing "while still being faithful to the entire work." On the whole, the story becomes shorter, neater, and more naive. That might make sense if the adaptation were a primer geared toward children who aren't ready to tackle the diary yet, but the inclusion of entries on sex and Frank's lesson on the female anatomy indicates otherwise.

The point is also not that illustrations or graphic novels are less suited to tell stories of the Holocaust. Those mediums and so many others, including artificial intelligence and virtual reality, offer opportunities to experiment with new ways to share narratives that humanize and resonate—all the more crucial as we get further from the history and those who lived it. But the format should be tailored to the story, and in the case of a story that power lies squarely in the quality of the writing and the vividness of a teenager's thoughts, the diary provides depth that is hard to replicate in other versions.

The movies, plays, and graphic adaptations that Frank's diary inspired are entry points, thought provokers, or conversation starters, not substitutes. The most promising way to keep her story in the forefront of our mind is to keep reading her diary, but also to continue allowing the original source to spark a broad range of retellings and interpretive works of art that might highlight different aspects and reach new audiences. All together, they foster discussion and remind readers of the smart, vivacious, and complicated girl who went into hiding at 13 and died at 15.

The graphic adaptation does contain long sections of Frank's last entries—the ones that make it so distressing to see her account end as abruptly as it does. But the omissions leading up to them soften the blow. More than any particular fact or event, the graphic version is missing the sense of familiarity that slowly builds, more strongly and deeply than you realize, until the moment that this friend, this stand-in for you, confronts the thing she'd feared for so long: the moment that stole her fantasies of her life "after the war" out from under her. The last pages of the adaptation feel like the end of a story, not the end of a life.
For me, it comes down to this: I loved reading this book, and I hope it moves readers to search out and read the original. If this was to be a reader's only contact with The Diary of Anne Frank, I would be both relieved and disappointed. I recommend this version without hesitation -- but I hope you will re-read the original, too.