Cultureguru's Weblog

Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


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Democracy then and now

Saturday we went to a fundraiser for the Cambridge Fashion History Museum. They were holding a Tango Tea, and type of event popular in the 1910s. This was a high tea at which people would do the popular dances of the day—including, but hardly limited to, the tango. They encouraged us to dress in outfits reminiscent of that time. I didn’t have exactly that, but wore a tango dress with a fashion hat—I looked at pictures, and everyone wore hats then.

Me with a Givenchy that was part of the exhibits

Jean wore a fetching pinstripe suit and his Dad’s fedora; unfortunately, the person we got to take Jean’s picture didn’t press the camera button all the way down, so his outfit is lost to the mist.

Another friend took a picture!

They brought in a Stanford professor who specializes in dance history. He did a few classes in the morning that we didn’t attend, but during the tea also did some demos and shorter lessons on the basics of the one-step, the grizzly dance, and other popular dances of the time. Our ballroom dance instructor wouldn’t have approved of the techniques (or lack thereof), but it was fun learning and seeing these dances that did evolve into today’s waltz, tango, quickstep, foxtrot, and samba.

The Sufragettes were active in the 1910s, and through some educational (but fun!) games, we learned more about them. We were also invited to join the movement.

The two ladies in the centre made these dresses themselves

In Canada, most women earned the right to vote in federal and Ontario elections in 1917. Asian women were excluded until after the Second World War, and Native women earned the right only in 1960.

In 2018, Canada has a feminist Prime Minister who insists on a gender-balanced cabinet (though parliament remains far from balanced). In Ontario, we have a ridiculous, unqualified Premier who beat several far more qualified women on the way to power.

So, the fight’s not really over.

Premier Ford is currently pretty busy throwing Toronto’s municipal election into chaos for no reason while trying take away their right to free speech as quickly as possible, so when Greenpeace added to his pile of lawsuits for not doing the legally mandated consulting before cancelling cap and trade, he capitulated (to some degree) and opened a one-month opportunity to comment online. You can find it here: https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/013-3738. Just click Submit a comment.

Not sure what to say? Well, in case it helps, this is what I submitted. (And no, I don’t think it will make a difference, but at least I’ll be able to say I tried.)

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BlacKkKlansman

This new Spike Lee film is based on a true story. In the early 1970s, Colorado Springs’ first African-American police detective, Ron Stallworth, inadvertently begins an undercover operation into the KKK when his request for documents leads to regular phone calls with the organization. When it comes time to actually meet with members of the group, a white detective is conscripted to pretend to be him.

I went in knowing generally that Spike Lee had “dramatized” the real-life story somewhat, but no details. I looked that up afterward. I couldn’t quibble with his additions, as they did make for a more engaging story—and allowed for more interesting roles for women. But what’s particularly interesting is that some of the more outlandish scenes actually did happen.

The movie is as humorous as the trailer suggests, but it’s not flippant. There are moments when the horror of white supremacy is made very real. And while the movie has a very 70s look and feel, the references to today are overt. The final scenes, jumping ahead to Charlottesville, left the whole theatre dead silent.

This is a movie worth seeing.


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Sometimes political art

Concerts, plays, stand-up, and movies are sometimes an escape from current events, sometimes a reflection of it.

Beethoven 9 / Mijidwewinan

The two final concerts of the KW Symphony’s season, featuring new conductor, Andrei Feher, were both sellouts. The draw, besides Feher himself, was the performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor, a choral piece better known as the Ode to Joy. It’s always a worry, when facing a 65-minute symphonic live performance: Will my pop-music brain be able to stay focused for that long?

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But Beethoven’s skill as a composer made that pretty easy, actually. And the lively conducting didn’t hurt, either.

The concert began, though, with an original piece by a native Canadian composer, Barbara Croall. It was a musical interpretation of a mystical, visionary ceremony in which Anishinaabe get in touch with nature—and humankind’s damaging effects on it. Croall performed as a singer in the piece, which takes us on a day’s journey from dark to light and back to dark.

It was very different from Beethoven, as you might imagine. But equally engaging and moving. Made for a very satisfying overall concert experience.

Jeans’n’Classics: Bowie & Prince

Jeans’n’Classics perform orchestrated versions of popular pop and rock songs. We used to go to all of their shows, but had stopped more recently, when they stopped performing with the KW Symphony (in favor of a smaller, and therefore cheaper, group of classical musicians). But, I really wanted to hear orchestrated Prince.

They played two sets, with an intermission. Both featured first Bowie songs, then Prince ones, each section handled by a different singer (understandably). The Bowie parts were fine; the man wrote some excellent songs. But the energy in the place would just go through the roof whenever the Prince would kick in. Just so much more funky! And very ably handled by Gavin Hope, taking a break from his usual gig with The Nylons, along with singers Kalalin Kiss and Andrea Koziol, who each got featured in a duet.

To me, much as I like Bowie music, this show could have been all Prince. But then, these orchestrations don’t write themselves, and maybe it was a challenge getting enough Prince songs ready. (Bowie has been in their repertoire longer.)

Prince covering David Bowie’s “Heroes” (mixed with “Dolphins”)

Set list:

Rebel Rebel
Let’s Dance
Blue Jean
Ashes To Ashes
1999
Little Red Corvette
Diamonds And Pearls
When Doves Cry
I Would Die For You

Space Oddity
Starman
Changes
All The Young Dudes
China Girl
Baby I’m A Star
Raspberry Beret
Nothing Compares To You
Let’s Go Crazy

Purple Rain
Suffragette City

Kathy Griffin: Laugh your head off!

Kathy Griffin put this show, and tour, together in response to the trouble she got into about a year ago after a photo of her holding a ketchup-dipped mask of Donald Trump was published on TMZ. There was an outcry that went to the highest levels of government. She was fired from various TV jobs, her live shows were cancelled, and she found herself under FBI investigation.

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Much of what happened to her isn’t all that funny, so her almost-three-hour long (yes!) show touches on many other subjects, such as the fun of living next door to Kanye and Kim Kardashian, the weirdness of doing a show for Donald Trump with Liza Minelli (before all that happened, obviously), what Wayne Gretzky is really like (a bit of a hoser), and life with her alcoholic but loving mom. In fact, Griffin switches subjects so rapidly ,and goes on so many tangents, that Jean had trouble keeping up.

It was an impressive performance. So much energy! And the crowd at Centre in the Square (she informed us that the people in Toronto thought it was hilarious she was going to Kitchener of all places) was very different from the symphony! Younger, gayer (as a percentage), livelier, and very warm. It was, mostly, very funny. She manages to bring humour even into (most of) the darker topics—the abusive and threatening messages she and her family received, the loss of support from people she thought were her friends, the interrogation itself, being on the no-fly list, the effect on her livelihood…

It’s great that she’s found a way back, even though she had to take a pay cut to do it.

Come from Away

This was a family outing in Toronto. We bought tickets months ago. But we saw it just days after the US administration imposed punitive tariffs on Canada and followed it up by insulting the Prime Minister, backing out of the G7 statement, and offering Canadians a “special place in hell”.

So it was bittersweet watching this musical about the residents of the small Canadian town of Gander doing everything they could to accommodate the thousands of mostly American travelers who ended up stuck there when US airspace on 9/11. (Aside: This was the musical that Justin Trudeau escorted Ivanka Trump to in happier (?) times.)

How do you make a story of an event like that? By focusing in on a small number of the thousands of travelers, people of different races, religions, and sexual orientations, and following their experiences in that small town (population 7000, doubled overnight). And interspersing that with the logistics that the Gander residents had to deal with: Where will they all sleep? (Among other things, people put them up in their houses.) How do we keep all this extra food fresh? (Re-purpose that hockey rink.) What about the animals on those planes? (Send out the SPCA lady!)

It really is a heart-warming story, even as it doesn’t shy away from some of the darker aspects (such as the prejudice against Muslims). It’s often very often. And it has great fiddle music, which, my Dad pointed, really moves the story forward.

Come From Away Quotes {Taken out of Context}

Source: Come From Away Fan Blog

  • I’ll write S.T.F.D. Slow the fuck down!
  • For the love of God! Stop bringing toilet paper to the Lion’s Club!
  • And my boyfriend Kevin. We’re both named Kevin. It was cute for a while.
  • Excuse me, would you like some Xanax? Because you are freaking out and it is freaking me out and we are all freaking the f*ck out!
  • We ran through every movie we had: Legally Blonde, Doctor Doolittle 2, and…Titanic.
  • Oh my god, this is just so remote.
  • Now there’s the reason I drive slow. That there in the middle of the road? Yah. That’s a moose. She’ll move when she’s good and ready.
  • Safe and sound here on the ground in Iceland.
    No, Newfoundland!
  • I woke up from a dream that we were stuck in some backwater Canadian town and that my air mattress deflated.
  • I wanted to burn my socks.
  • Kevin puts on this plaid – thing. He says he’s “incognito”, and that he’s “going to blend in with the natives”, but he just looks like a gay lumberjack.
  • “We ended up in the gayest town in Canada.”

After a series of sold-out shows, it’s been extended in Toronto, again. I would recommend it.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

The Rotten Tomatoes reviews almost scared us away from watching this Netflix movie, but then we were like, hey, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter got even worse Rotten Tomatoes reviews, and we liked that, so what the heck?

I don’t know what all the complaining is about. This movie is exactly what the title suggests: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Only, with zombies. You like the story of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy? You like seeing kickass women (and men, but mostly women) take out the undead? (These are basically the evil undead, not the nice “they’re just people with a problem” undead of iZombie / Santa Clarita Diet.) If yes, then you’ll like this movie!

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Nobody puts Elizabeth Bennet in a corner

Really. We enjoyed it. It was fun. (I thought maybe the bad guy had a point about the zombies and the placating them with pig’s brains, given that they reproduce so much faster than people, and that the good guys dismissed that idea a little quickly, but still. Overall, this is a non-guilty guilty pleasure.)


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Twitter break

We’d boarded, so I set my phone and tablet to airplane mode, and kept myself entertained with a novel. On the drive home from the airport, I decided: No more Twitter.

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Going cold turkey

I made no announcements (who would care?), did not delete my account, didn’t even uninstall the app or turn off the notifications. I just… stopped going to Twitter.

What struck me at first was that… I felt like I had so much time. To read other stuff. To get chores done. To talk to people (in person). To arrive places on time. Woah.

What surprised me next was that, I didn’t miss reading Twitter at all. But I did miss tweeting out links to interesting stuff.

A few times, I just broke down and did that, the tweeting. (Alysha Brilla liked one of them. That was cool.) But I stayed away from the reading of the timeline.

The reason was nothing so dramatic as online harassment, thank God. It was just the stress of it, the anxiety.

Twitter was just Freaking Me Out.


Ontario was about to elect an incompetent populist as Premier. Canada was getting into a trade war with the US. Immigrant children were being separated from their parents. And reading about this (and more!) on Twitter, I worried about all of it.

Yet, it’s not like a took a news break here. While not on Twitter, I was still reading and hearing about all of this (and other bad stuff going on). It just seemed so much easier to manage the information in the form of news articles, editorials, and TV reports than in the hot takes, inflammatory opinions, alarming speculation, and emotional responses on Twitter.

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Twitter never warns you. (Source: Pearls Before Swine)

Twitter is a social media, and there can be some comfort in knowing that others are worried about the same things you are. But only to a point. The point where you start out seeking validation about one issue only to find yourself, an hour later, in a tizzy about ten other issues, three of which might just be inventions or misunderstandings.

So, I stopped. The generalized anxiety didn’t immediately disappear. Initially, it transferred onto other targets (Inner monologue: “Is the cats’ ear infection back?” “How do you get a skunk out from under the deck?” “Wait, is this just a mosquito bite, or…?”), like the angst needed somewhere else to go now that it didn’t have Twitter to feed it. But with time that diminished also.

On election day, I was able to view the bad (but expected) results without getting overly emotional, and I managed have a decent night’s sleep afterward. Sure, it was mostly an infuriating result, but my candidate won (easily), and she’s a qualified, experienced women. And Ontario did elect its first Green MPP, a just reward for the party that had the best platform on offer.


Today, after about a week off, I dipped a toe back into the Twitter. For all its flaws, it is a good way for me to find out about things that I care about, that simply don’t make the headline news. (Queen and Adam Lambert have done a live version of “Lucy”! Rainbow Rowell is writing a sequel to Carry On!)

And all that G7 crazy-ness was pretty interesting. Until… I found myself getting kind of anxious about it.

And then… I closed the app.


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The Green Party sign on the lawn

Ontario is in the midst of a provincial election, as evidenced by the lawn signs popping up around town. In our neighbourhood, the PCs were out first, and I’m surrounded by them. The NDP were next; they’re further up the street. Haven’t seen too many Liberal. Then on my way home yesterday, I’m like hey, there’s a Green Party sign.

Then: Wait, that’s on my lawn.

They actually shouldn’t have done that. I get why they thought they could—because at some point in the past year or so, I donated to that party. So few people donate to political parties, I can understand them thinking that, for sure, it must mean that I plan vote Green.

Except that I’m that rare weirdo who will donate to a party just to encourage them, secure in the knowledge that I will get 75% of my donation back at tax time. If donating meant that you could automatically plant signs in my lawn, in some cases, I would have had three or four different parties’ signs on my lawn. But still only one vote.

signs-for-indecisive

Signs of the indecisive

The Greens didn’t ask me if it was OK for them to put a sign on my lawn. So I could by rights call them up and ask them to take it away. Or more simply, just take it out myself put it in my garage.

Having it out there feels like a lie, as though I’m saying I plan to vote for this party, and you should too. When really, the only thing I’m sure of in this election, is that because of Doug Ford, I will not be voting PC, and I wish that others would not, either. But as to whom I or anyone else should vote for instead…? It’s a tough one.

This is a sentiment difficult to express with any lawn sign.


Voting in an Ontario provincial election is very simple: Using a pencil, you put your x beside the name of one candidate from one party (or an independent), and you’re done.

But it’s a fairly complex set of factors you have to consider when deciding where to put that x.

Which party has the best leader?

It’s unfortunate that in our parliamentary voting system, where each party leader is just another elected MPP, that leaders have such focus and importance. But that’s the way it is.

leaders.png

Provincial party leaders Doug Ford (PC), Kathleen Wynne (Liberal), Andrea Horwath (NDP), and Mike Schreiner (Green)

As I’ve said, I don’t think Doug Ford is qualified to be Premier. I don’t want to go on a big rant about it, so I’ll keep it to a little rant. His only political experience is a Toronto city councilor, where he was frequently absent, and always uninterested in learning the details of policy. Which is probably why the PCs are basically running without a platform. All evidence suggests he’d be a terrible Premier. (See: https://www.notdoug.com/)

“Vote for this guy, his worst ideas are so terrible the courts will save us from them and she’s just the worst” isn’t as novel a platform as it used to be and we’re already seeing how it plays out down south, but let’s give it another go up here. What could possibly go wrong?

Doug Ford’s politics of indulgence by Tabatha Southey

But who’s the best other option?

Would you rather vote for the incompetent incumbent, the profligate wildcard, or the fake conservative who refuses to show his work?

— Robyn Urback, being cynical

Honestly, I don’t know. I’m not on the “I hate Kathleen Wynn” train. The woman is impressive. She’s smart and decent and qualified. Here I’m going to quote Christie Blatchford, a conservative I often disagree with:

…it’s why the decision facing Ontario voters on June 7 is so freaking difficult — or rather, she’s why.

Kathleen Wynne is so clearly heads and tails smarter, better informed and more capable than Doug Ford that it borders on the ridiculous.

Smarter, more capable Kathleen Wynne

But, the NDP’s Andrea Horwath is having a good campaign. Last election she came off as angry and aggressive, and it was rather off-putting. (I also thought the NDP platform then was dumb.) This time, she’s sounding much more positive and putting herself across in a reassuring way. These Paul Wells assessment is probably fair:

She has richly earned a reputation for being one of the least exciting politicians in the land. But there is something fascinating in her old-fashioned willingness to answer a question in detail.

Just how far can Andrea Horwath go?

The Green’s Mike Schreiner suffers from being excluded from a lot of debates, so I suspect the average Ontarian knows nothing about him. But I’m again that sort of weirdo who will make the effort, and he also comes off well. Here’s a report from a forum he was allowed to attend [and how much do you love that they also included the None of the Above party?]:

Perhaps neophyte fringe candidate Paul Taylor, representing the None Of The Above Party, summed up Thursday’s night’s all-candidates forum best.

Seating arrangements on stage at the Italian Canadian Club had the affable Taylor sitting to the right of Green Party candidate Mike Schreiner’s, meaning Taylor had to repeatedly address a question after Schreiner’s energetic, precise and crowd-pleasing responses.

“Oh shit. I should have sat down there,” said Taylor motioning further down the table.

Schreiner led the pack at the first local public all-candidates forum. He has been campaigning for months, he is by far the most experienced of the bunch and he is well versed on the issues and his party’s stances on them.

Schreiner shines at first all-candidates forum

If I lived in his Guelph riding, I’d have no doubt about my vote. Or the appropriateness of a Green Party lawn sign.

But I don’t live in Guelph.

Who’s the best local candidate?

Individual MPPs don’t matter as much as I think they should, but that is who we are actually voting for. And in this case, I have an answer to the question: NDP candidate Catherine Fife. She is the current MPP, running for re-election. And she has always been an impressive politician: articulate, well-informed, charismatic. If the NDP did manage to be part of some sort of government, she’d likely be in Cabinet.

catherine-fife.png

I did hear a debate between her and the local Liberal and PC candidates, and the other two sounded good as well. Just not necessarily better than Ms. Fife.

As for the Green candidate, I have yet to catch a debate that includes him, and I know nothing about him. (Except that he puts out lawn signs without asking.)

Who’s most likely to beat the PCs in my riding?

This is the strategic vote angle. If all I’m sure about is that I’d rather not have a PC government under Doug Ford, then I should vote for whoever is most likely to beat that party.

And in this riding, no doubt that means voting for Catherine Fife of the NDP. Despite this not being a traditionally NDP riding, she’s managed to win the last two elections with margins of 7% to 8%. One of those was a by-election, but the other case she managed to win despite it being a fairly disastrous election for the NDP as a whole. This time the NDP  is so far polling much better than last time, making her the horse to bet on with your anti-PC vote.

Who has the best platform?

Oh yeah, that. Which party’s policies do I most agree with?

According to the CBC vote compass poll that I took, that would be… The Green Party of Ontario.

This blog post is already running to novel lengths, so I’ll just touch on three policy areas where the Greens impress.

Deficits

Not always a bad thing for a government to run deficits, but Ontario is in a bit of a precarious financial situation and none of the major parties are being honest about what that implies.

First of all, they are starting with numbers that are likely bogus, according to the Auditor General (see: Bad books: How Ontario’s new hydro accounting could cost taxpayers billions). Nevertheless, the Liberals plan to forge ahead with a number of new drug, dental, childcare, and mental health programs, along with a commitment to high-speed rail which (lovely as it sounds), just isn’t economically viable (see: Kathleen Wynne’s pledge to spend billions on a bullet train makes zero sense).

The NDP would do similarly things, but differently. Like drug plans for everyone, instead of only those of a certain age, but excluding those who have employee coverage. And not committing to high-speed rail. To pay for their commitments, they would increase taxes on the wealthiest and larger corporations, but that wouldn’t make much of a dent in the deficit.

The PCs? Their “plan” involves spending more (in certain areas) and reducing government revenue (lowering various taxes, getting rid of cap and trade). Oh, and they wouldn’t lay anyone off. How will they pay for that? Wave their hands and say, “efficiencies”, apparently. They unsurprisingly haven’t released any costing for this impossible plan. People sort of assume they care about the deficit, but there’s no evidence of it.

The Greens also support spending in new areas, but they at least have some proposals for how to pay for it: congestion taxes, parking levies, tobacco tax increases. “Even with a better range of public services, our projected deficit will be almost one third of the deficit projected by the Financial Accountability Office for the 2018 Ontario Provincial Budget. No other party has accounted for these higher budget deficits.” Source: Green Party platform

Hydro

Ontario’s hydro system has been mismanaged (mostly under Ontario’s previous premier) and a lot of people (not me so much, but) are angry about their higher utility bills. The Liberals, as already noted, are doing some accounting hocus-pocus to put off some hydro bills til later, even though that’s going to end up costing way more in the end. The NDP plans to bring Hydro One back into public hands, which may be is a good idea, but unlikely to be as easy to accomplish as they claim. The PCs will just lower rates, somehow. I don’t know, and I don’t believe they plan to undo the hocus-pocus.

The Greens, meanwhile, have a really specific idea: “Ontario can save $1.1 billion per year by closing the Pickering Nuclear station on schedule in 2018. We can replace high cost nuclear power with low cost water power from Quebec.” Is there something wrong this plan? I don’t know; they’re the Green party, nobody bothers to analyze their plans. But it certainly sounds more sensible than anybody else’s.

Marijuana

Canadian Senate permitting, marijuana will become legal this summer. The Liberal plan is to sell it only through government stores, à la LCBO, pushing out the small producers who have, for years now, supplying the product for medical marijuana users. The NDP have rightly criticized the very small number of stores the Liberals plan to roll out, but haven’t proposed a different approach. Doug Ford has mumbled something about supporting the free market there, but as always, without any details.

Whereas the Green Party were hot off the presses with an alternative plan to regulate and license small businesses to sell cannabis, way back in September.

Can you read the signs?

Clearly, I would like some sort of ranked ballot to better catch these nuances (and only the Greens support that). But in the current one-vote world? Three weeks to decide…

 


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Finding time to listen

I have found a new (to me) podcasting app Pocket Casts and it’s very good. It has solved all my podcasting problems: It gathers all podcasts in one app, whereas before I was bouncing between iTunes, Google, SoundCloud, and a browser. It keeps my spot in each podcast I’ve started, even when switching devices or playing through Sonos or Chromecasting. It can even cut silences out of each episode, making it each one slightly shorter.

Wait, did I say it solved all my podcasting problems? There’s one it’s likely only exacerbated, even with the seconds or minutes saved by cutting out silences: finding time to listen to all the ones I’d like to.

the-best-podcasts-of-2017-so-far

Some people do this by listening on what they call chipmunk speed, playing it at a faster speed than recorded. I tried that, but I just don’t like the weird sound that results, even at only 1.5x faster.

I can’t attend to a podcast while reading, or having a conversation, or working (because fortunately my job’s not that boring), or writing, or anything else in which I have to attend to my thoughts. My commute is extremely short, which is wonderful in most ways, but means that it’s really not enough time to make much of a dent in a podcast episode.

And I just don’t want to give up my daily habit of listening to music while making dinner. I also don’t think they would be as good as soundtrack to my Monday night cleaning routine as my “high-energy songs” playlists.

“Know what would make my life better? Listening to music less often.”

— No one, ever.

So I found myself seeking out extra chores I can do, for which a podcast would be a useful adequate. Now, anything that can motivate me to do some tidying up is beneficial. But I still prefer cooking to tidying, so I also find that I’m now trying out more dessert recipes. The value of that is debatable.

(On the other hand, you can definitely overdo this podcast thing, as revealed in this article: I Listen to 35 Hours of Podcasts Every Week. Is That … Bad? Answer: yeah, kind of… And towhich I say… 35 hours a week! Jesus. When do you do… anything else?)

There seems to be podcasts about every topic under the sun, and I’m not always sure how I stumbled upon the ones I try to listen to semi-regularly. But here’s a sampling of them and what I like about them.

Psychology

These are nice because, being less attuned to current events, you can more cherry-pick through them and feel less pressure to listen to them soon after their posting date.

Under the Influence

Good old CBC Radio—the original podcaster! This particular series is by Terry O’Reilly and is on the subject of advertising, or “the art of persuasion”. Recent episodes have covered jingles (with a WKRP reference), use of celebrities (early Ellen Degeneres!), brand myths (no, little Mikey from the Life cereal commercial didn’t die of pop rocks + coke. In fact, he’s alive and works in advertising). I’ve always loved this show, but rarely catch it on the radio. Podcasts to the rescue.

Hidden Brain

Hidden Brain is by NPR: the CBC of the US! This is how it describes itself:

Hidden Brain helps curious people understand the world – and themselves. Using science and storytelling, Hidden Brain reveals the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, the biases that shape our choices, and the triggers that direct the course of our relationships.

One three-part series that actually changed my own behavior a little was on the subject of sleep: The “Swiss Army Knife” Of Health. It makes a pretty compelling case that while sleep feels like a waste of time, it’s really important. And that while those who routinely get only 5 or 6 hours of sleep a night might think they’re managing just fine, they actually aren’t. They just no longer notice how tired they are all the time. But they are chronically under-performing, both mentally and physically. To be at your best, you need an “uncompromising 8 hours of sleep.” Every day.

Pop culture

Pop culture stuff is timely, but not that timely, especially since I almost never see movies on opening weekends, read books when they first come out, or watch TV live (love my PVR). So I can go back a few weeks on the pop culture ones without them feeling irrelevant.

Backtalk by Bitch Media

This one, hosted by two young women, looks at all aspects of pop culture—music, TV, movies, podcasts, books, magazines—from a feminist perspective. I’ve gotten some really good recommendations from it, along with some great insights; for example, their episode about the movie Get Out pointed out a whole lot of racial metaphors and symbols that I had missed, and made me admire the movie even more.

The only issue? And I don’t know how to say this without coming across as a disapproving granny, but wow, they sure swear a lot. I know, there’s a lot for American women to be angry about right now, and you gotta speak your truth. I just feel the arguments might be a bit more effective if the colorful language was applied more judiciously.

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The Americans Podcast

Where Backtalk is very broad; The Americans Podcast is super-specific. It’s not about all the people living in the country to the South, but about the FX TV series by that title that tells the story of Russian spies in 1980s who pose as an all-American couple, complete with all-American children. As previously reported, Jean and I love it.

It’s currently in its sixth and final season, and I have just discovered this podcast, which contains interviews with the cast, crew, and creators of the show, and thus is strictly a post-episode listen, as it’s rife with spoilers. This season is setting up to be epic.

Politics

Political stuff, especially American, is just moving with break-neck speed these days. These are the ones I don’t like to wait too long after post date before listening.

Lovett or Leave It

Crooked Media was a response to the election of Trump. Most of its members used to work for President Obama in some capacity. So they’re not unbiased, but the aim is to have “better conversations about politics.” They have a ton of podcasts, and I’ve sampled various ones. But my favorite is Lovett or Leave It.

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Some sincerely cool Crooked Media merch

Lovett or Leave It is taped live Friday nights in front of an audience, who participates in some segments. It’s a humorous, improvised look at the week’s stories in US politics. To add to the many other sources of humorous looks at US politics. What’s different here, I guess, is that it’s a lot of super well-informed people cathartically doing things like playing a clip from Fox news, saying “OK, stop”, and responding to the stupidity. Or turning the ridiculousness into a game. Or spinning a wheel to decide which topic to rant about.

It’s partly informative, it’s partly therapy.

Oppo – Canadaland

This is a relatively new one, and it’s about Canadian politics! I was drawn to it because they seem to be especially covering wonky issues I get somewhat obsessed with, like carbon pricing, why doesn’t the NDP seem more viable in Ontario, and what’s up with Sikh politics.

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It features journalists Justin Ling and Jen Gerson, who are supposed to in “opposition” from left and right positions, but it took me two episodes to realize that was the idea, because neither of them is really that extreme or partisan. Which I think is good (and also kind of Canadian).


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I have not completely forgotten how to read

This Globe and Mail article, called I have forgotten how to read, was posted some weeks ago now, but the opening sticks with me [bold added by me]:

Turning, one evening, from my phone to a book, I set myself the task of reading a single chapter in one sitting. Simple. But I couldn’t. There was nothing wrong with my eyes. No stroke or disease clouded my way. Yet – if I’m being honest – the failure was also not a surprise.

Paragraphs swirled; sentences snapped like twigs; and sentiments bled out. The usual, these days. I drag my vision across the page and process little. Half an hour later, I throw down the book and watch some Netflix.

Out for dinner with another writer, I said, “I think I’ve forgotten how to read.”

“Yes!“ he replied, pointing his knife. “Everybody has.”

“No, really,” I said. “I mean I actually can’t do it any more.”

He nodded: “Nobody can read like they used to. But nobody wants to talk about it.”

I identified with the gist of the remainder of the article, which is that the Internet has rewired our brains and made it difficult for us to focus on extended text, such as a book. Heck, even a brief Internet outage (maybe 2.5 hours) one Sunday left and my husband and I feeling like lost, disconnected souls, missing our regular jolts of online distraction.

But still, that opening example… You literally can’t sit and read one chapter? That just seems impossible. Like, how boring was this book you were trying to read? Maybe don’t go for Moby Dick or Middlemarch. Try some hot fiction. A lively bio, maybe.

On the other hand, if actually true, it’s made me feel slightly superior, because despite my web-addled brain and Twitter addiction, I still manage to read a book chapter pretty much every single day.

Sure, it takes a bit of conscious effort. No screens in the bedroom (other than an eReader), TV off by a certain time. And quite deliberately having at least two books on the go, so that my Internet-addled brain has variety and choice. Normally, I try to make sure it’s at least one fiction and one non-fiction on the go.

Here’s a few I’ve gotten through—or am working on—recently.

Caught by Lisa Moore

Nobody I’ve talked to seems to have of this book, even though it was supposedly a best seller. It’s a Canadian novel, set in 1978, about a young man convicted of drug dealing who escapes from prison. He then connects with his former partner in crime, who evaded incarceration, for another possible job. But he might not be evading the law as well as he thinks….

This was a well-written novel, with each chapter acting like a short story in itself, with its own suspenseful arc.

I was pleased to see that CBC has adapted the novel as a mini-series, and even more pleased that they’ve changed some plot elements in an interesting way. Now I don’t know how this version will end, as I’m thinking it can’t be the same as in the novel…

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Yes, it was about time I read this, and yes, it came to mind because of the popular mini-series, even though I only watched the first episode of that, because then the free Bravo preview ended, plus I found it kind of dark.

Compared with that one episode of the mini-series, the novel was not as depressing as I’d expected. The episode quickly presents the story of Offred’s capture and “orientation” into the life of handmaiden; the novel spends more time with her immersed in that life, with flashbacks occurring only later on in the book. And it’s overall less graphic, I suppose.

I “enjoyed” reading it, if that’s the right word? It kept me engaged, anyway. And not having seen the rest of the mini-series, I didn’t know how everything would play out.

Mortal Error: The Shot That Killed JFK by Bonar Menninger

This a non-fiction work about what I think is the most convincing take on the Kennedy assassination: that the President was accidentally killed by one of his own security men. It documents the work of ballistics expert Howard Donaghue, who was asked to prove whether Oswald could possibly have fired three times in the necessary time span for him to have acted alone. Donaghue managed to replicate that feat, but wanted to do more research before giving his own stamp of approval on the official account. Hence begins years of research.

He discounts some of what conspiracy theorists insist prove their case; the “magic bullet” problem. He explains that by how Kennedy and Connolly were seated relative to one other, and by the type of bullet used. But he couldn’t buy everything about the official account, either, concluding, for example that the first shot did ricochet onto Kennedy but not Connolly. And he was especially troubled by the fatal head shot: both its trajectory and its effect. Leading to his eventual conclusion that it was actually fired from a different location and type of gun.

I know exactly nothing about gun and ballistics, of course, but the evidence laid out here just works better for me than any other I’ve heard. The official story, about one deranged man acting alone, makes it hard to explain why so many officials did act in such weird, suspicious, cagey ways—breaking Texas law by stealing away the body, later losing the President’s brain (!). But arguing that Oswald was either just a patsy or a party to some government conspiracy doesn’t work that well, either; he really did seem the deranged loner type to try something like this, and he did murder officer Tippet.

But that Oswald alone tried to murder the President, and that one of the security men reacting to the shooting tripped and accidentally fired? And that officials didn’t want the world to know that accident happened? Yes, that makes sense to me.

There was a documentary made about this theory in 2013. (The book was published in 1992.) Trailer below, but the whole thing seems to be posted on YouTube.

My Real Children by Jo Walton

Someone had recommended Jo Walton to me as an author, and I picked this particular novel because it was the only one immediately available for borrowing (as an ebook) from my library. It’s a novel about a woman whose life starts off on one trajectory, then splits off in two directions based on a pivotal decision. After the setup chapters, the book alternates between what happens when she says “yes” versus what happens when she says “no”.

It’s not only her own personal life that veers in different directions in each case, but world history itself. Early on we learn that in one case, President Kennedy (him again!) was killed, while in the other he was not. So you initially think that one life will take place in “our” world vs. an alternative one. But no. Kennedy is killed is different way, and a whole other history follows (such as his brother not being assassinated and instead becoming President himself).

With the mix of two personal stories and two alternative world histories, I got totally caught up in this. My original plan was to read what I could doing the three-week borrowing period then check it out again later, but no, I found I really wanted to finish it! The only downside to that was that it meant reading the later chapters in rapid sequence, which got pretty confusing—there was so many characters (friends, children, partners, grandchildren), not to mention varying historical facts—to try to keep straight in each “life” at that point.

I was wondering how this would all come together in the end. The answer wasn’t entirely satisfying, but I didn’t regret the journey one bit.

The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish

The current read, one I am still working on. (Plus, it’s a book club book, so discussion is to come.) Early part is a really sad story, told by a very funny person.

Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman

Just anticipating this will be my next fiction read, as that is the Oscar-nominated movie that really had my heart this year. Whereas my brain said Get Out might have been the best in terms of ideas. But the Academy thought Shape of Water, of course—it was also good. Jean and I liked The Post also, but it was more conventional than the other five nominated movies I saw.

I did not watch the actual telecast, beyond the opening monologue. I had reading to do.