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


11 things on my mind about the anti-police-violence and anti-racism protests

1. Most violence is not being committed by protesters.

What percentage of protesters are violent? Filter for police provocateurs, filter for white nationalists, filter for random thieves hiding under cover of mayhem. All of those exist at mass protests and have been proven to exist countless times.

What percentage of actual protesters used violence? 0.5 percent? I have been to my share of protests, and I doubt it is even that. 0.05 percent?

What percentage of media coverage is about violent protests?

2. Most violence is being committed by police.

Police, wearing military-grade riot gear, are attacking peaceful protesters, even destroying their safety supplies.

And while it's true that they were egged on by the cowardly redneck who lives in the White House, blaming him is misplaced. This problem is as old as America.

3. The media's unrelenting focus on whether or not protests are violent is almost exclusively reserved for protests by African Americans -- and in Canada, by Indigenous people.

4. If police want to show the world that the racist violence in their ranks is caused by a few bad apples, they are doing a very poor job. Right now the bad apples could fill an orchard. I would think police have a compelling self-interest in behaving honourably.

5. When the three police officers who watched Derek Chauvin murder George Floyd were arrested, and charges against Chauvin were upgraded, protests had been going on continuously for nine days.

Without visible and sustained public outrage, it never would have happened. As a friend of mine said on Facebook, we had to burn the country down to get them arrested.

6. White people who hate racism must make the leap from not being consciously racist to being consciously anti-racist. Although it is now socially unacceptable to say racist remarks in public, this has not brought large numbers of white people into the battle against racism. White people, we are needed.

7. The only reason we know George Floyd was murdered, and the only reason we know that Christian Cooper did not threaten Amy Cooper's life, is because there is cell phone footage. There is absolutely no reason to believe that police violence against African Americans is worse now than it has been historically. We just weren't able to see it.

And often, even when we are able to see it, the "justice" system does not care. The people who maintain that system do not care.

8. Canadians, get off your high-horses and do the work of dismantling this country's racist systems. The Indian Act. Residential Schools. Missing and murdered Indigenous women. Racial profiling. Carding. Two days ago, social media in Regina was warning people about a black man breaking into a car. It was his own car.

This headline from The Beaverton (Canada's answer to The Onion) sums it up. But it's not satire.

9. The strength of the protests, the pace at which they spread, the determination and persistence of the protesters, makes me incredibly proud and grateful.

10. The United States was founded on protest. All progress in the US was born from protest movements. I dare you to prove otherwise.

11. White people: you are needed. This civil rights movement must be your movement, too. Don't try to lead, don't steer, don't whitesplain. Show your face, swell the numbers, prove that African Americans are Americans. Flood the streets with your white faces alongside the brown and black ones. Prove what kind of society you want to live in.


kareem abdul-jabbar: you start to wonder if it should be all black people who wear body cams, not the cops

One of the best things I've read about the protests rocking in the US and elsewhere is an op-ed by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, in the Los Angeles Times.

In case you don't know him, Abdul-Jabbar is a basketball legend. His NBA stats are off the charts (Wikipedia). He's also a writer and a social activist. I have to say, I'm a bit in awe of him.

Here's Abdul-Jabbar's take on the protests. The piece, originally run by the L.A. Times, is also available on his website.
Don't understand the protests? What you're seeing is people pushed to the edge
By Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

May 30, 2020

What was your first reaction when you saw the video of the white cop kneeling on George Floyd's neck while Floyd croaked, "I can't breathe"?

If you're white, you probably muttered a horrified, "Oh, my God" while shaking your head at the cruel injustice. If you're black, you probably leapt to your feet, cursed, maybe threw something (certainly wanted to throw something), while shouting, "Not @#$%! again!" Then you remember the two white vigilantes accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery as he jogged through their neighborhood in February, and how if it wasn't for that video emerging a few weeks ago, they would have gotten away with it. And how those Minneapolis cops claimed Floyd was resisting arrest but a store's video showed he wasn't. And how the cop on Floyd's neck wasn't an enraged redneck stereotype, but a sworn officer who looked calm and entitled and devoid of pity: the banality of evil incarnate.

Maybe you also are thinking about the Karen in Central Park who called 911 claiming the black man who asked her to put a leash on her dog was threatening her. Or the black Yale University grad student napping in the common room of her dorm who was reported by a white student. Because you realize it's not just a supposed "black criminal" who is targeted, it's the whole spectrum of black faces from Yonkers to Yale.

You start to wonder if it should be all black people who wear body cams, not the cops.

What do you see when you see angry black protesters amassing outside police stations with raised fists? If you're white, you may be thinking, "They certainly aren't social distancing." Then you notice the black faces looting Target and you think, "Well, that just hurts their cause." Then you see the police station on fire and you wag a finger saying, "That's putting the cause backward."

You're not wrong — but you're not right, either. The black community is used to the institutional racism inherent in education, the justice system and jobs. And even though we do all the conventional things to raise public and political awareness — write articulate and insightful pieces in the Atlantic, explain the continued devastation on CNN, support candidates who promise change — the needle hardly budges.

But COVID-19 has been slamming the consequences of all that home as we die at a significantly higher rate than whites, are the first to lose our jobs, and watch helplessly as Republicans try to keep us from voting. Just as the slimy underbelly of institutional racism is being exposed, it feels like hunting season is open on blacks. If there was any doubt, President Trump's recent tweets confirm the national zeitgeist as he calls protesters "thugs" and looters fair game to be shot.

Yes, protests often are used as an excuse for some to take advantage, just as when fans celebrating a hometown sports team championship burn cars and destroy storefronts. I don't want to see stores looted or even buildings burn. But African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer and closer. Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you're choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it's everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands. But we have to stay vigilant, because it's always still in the air.

So, maybe the black community's main concern right now isn't whether protesters are standing three or six feet apart or whether a few desperate souls steal some T-shirts or even set a police station on fire, but whether their sons, husbands, brothers and fathers will be murdered by cops or wannabe cops just for going on a walk, a jog, a drive. Or whether being black means sheltering at home for the rest of their lives because the racism virus infecting the country is more deadly than COVID-19.

What you should see when you see black protesters in the age of Trump and coronavirus is people pushed to the edge, not because they want bars and nail salons open, but because they want to live. To breathe.

Worst of all, is that we are expected to justify our outraged behavior every time the cauldron bubbles over. Almost 70 years ago, Langston Hughes asked in his poem "Harlem": "What happens to a dream deferred? /… Maybe it sags / like a heavy load. / Or does it explode?"

Fifty years ago, Marvin Gaye sang in "Inner City Blues": "Make me wanna holler / The way they do my life." And today, despite the impassioned speeches of well-meaning leaders, white and black, they want to silence our voice, steal our breath.

So what you see when you see black protesters depends on whether you're living in that burning building or watching it on TV with a bowl of corn chips in your lap waiting for "NCIS" to start.

What I want to see is not a rush to judgment, but a rush to justice.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the N.B.A.'s all-time leading scorer, is the author of 16 books, including, most recently, "Mycroft & Sherlock — The Empty Birdcage" 



rip christo. there will never be another.

I was so very sad to hear that the artist Christo has died at the age of 84.

I felt so incredibly fortunate to still be living in NYC when The Gates was there. I went through the entire installation multiple times, when very few people were there -- once in the snow, and once when Christo and Jeanne-Claude were walking through. I have tons of photos... but they're all on film and in prints!

Of course Christo and Jeanne-Claude were much more than The Gates! But that is where my life intersected with their art, and I'm very grateful for it.

Christo was such a giving and expansive artist. There will never be another.

Our autographed poster from The Gates