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

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

Proof is all around us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The anti-socialist soundbites

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

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

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

Some facts

Here are some facts. 

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

Worldwide, democratically elected leaders were assassinated by the CIA.

Democratically elected governments were toppled by CIA-backed coups.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joseph McCarthy
The Chicago Boys
Palmer Raids
The Ludlow Massacre
Espionage and Sedition Acts
"Right to Work"

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

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

* * * *

So yeah, sure, capitalism won by being better. 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to make tuna-pasta salad

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

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

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


historic news: south korea bans dog meat trade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+ + + + + 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Go to original for links.]


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An immense world, and a small language

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

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

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

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

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

It's great, don't be afraid

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

Five stars: the best of the best

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four stars: highly recommended

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honourable mentions: worth seeing

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

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

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

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

Previous "we move to canada" awards

Canadian musicians and comedians (2006-07 and 2007-08)
my beverage of choice (2008-09)
famous people who died during the past year (2009-10)
where I'd like to be (2010-11)
vegetables (2011-12)
big life events in a year full of Big Life Changes (2012-13)
cheese (2013-14)
types of travels (2014-15)
famous people who died plus famous people who died, part 2 (2015-16)
the picket line (2016-17)
movies (2017-18)
2018-19: 1-5 ☮s
2019-20: 1-5 💉s
2020-21: 1-5 😷s (without the tear!)
2021: best of 2021 april to december
2022: best of 2022


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

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

The Secret Pocket

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

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

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

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

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

How to talk to kids about...

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

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

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

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

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

Reading for Reconciliation

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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