What to Read, What to Watch, What to Listen to…in March

What to Read

What to Read…

I’ll start with newspaper and magazine articles this month.  Today’s Guardian, a respected left of centre newspaper in the UK, ran a story about Canada—specifically about Jacob Fillmore, a 25 year old environmental protestor in Halifax.  Fillmore has gone 12 days without solid food, only taking broth and water.  His protest is to demand an end to clear-cutting the province of NS.  The article is intense and timely, since the man is still on hunger strike in front of the NS legislature.

Jacob Fillmore, at Province House (credit Trendsmap.com)

The New Yorker has an excellent article about fish farms.  While they’ve been all but banned in BC, in Nova Scotia the government welcomes them with open arms.  However this article, The Smell of Money, details how a  fish farm increases the  impoverishment of the people in the city of Gunjur, Gambia.  The fish farm pulverizes the local cheap fish into fishmeal which is sold around the globe. Increased demand means the price of the fish has skyrocketed out of reach for local citizens.  In addition the few dollars they could make from tourism has dried up because of the stench from the fishmeal plant.  Read it here.

‘I’m the Doctor Who Is Here to Help You Die’ Why do so many patients have to wait until they’re suffering terribly before they can get relief? is adapted from a new book, The Inevitable: Dispatches on the Right to Die, by Katie Engelhard.  Published in the March issue of Harper’s Magazine, The article starts out with a euthanizing doctor’s view of the situation at hand:

The first thing Dr. Lonny Shavelson thought when he stepped into the room was This is a bad room to die in. It was small and stuffy and there weren’t enough chairs. He would have to rearrange things.

Shavelson has presided over more than 90 deaths mainly because other doctors in California won’t do it. According to the article’s author,  Shavelson, most of Shavelson’s patients were almost dead by the time he helped them die.  Why?

“Sometimes, this was because their primary doctors had dragged their heels—delaying the process for weeks or months. About a third of people didn’t make it through the state’s waiting period, because they died naturally or lost consciousness. Or because, when the day arrived, they were too disoriented to fully consent to their own death.”

Katie Engelhart

The article is a jarring reminder of the serious controversy which hangs over Canada’s brand new Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) law. Advocates, such as Dying with Dignity, insist this is a great law.  Contrary-minded include major disability rights groups, and leading disability advocates who say the new law is a disaster for the disabled.  For instance by the state not putting resources into proper care for the disabled, adequate affordable housing, supported living and financial aid – most disabled people are not allowed a reasonable quality of life.  One of the main issues  is that people with disabilities will be pushed toward seeking MAiD due to a chronic lack of supports.

A short story that will leave you quite changed is “The Wind” by Lauren Groff.  You can read it in the New Yorker here, or listen to it (same link) as I did.  At daybreak a woman drives rapidly with her three school-age children in tow through upstate New York. She has to escape from her violent husband, who is a cop.  What happens, first, second and in the end is instructive, urgent and all too common. Here’s an excerpt:

My mother saw on the dashboard clock that it was just past eight. The teachers were doing roll call right now. Soon a girl would collect the sheets and take them to the office, where someone, thinking they were doing the right thing, would notice that all three of the kids were gone, and call their absence in, first to the house, where the phone would ring and ring. But then, getting hold of nobody, they would call it in to the station, and it would be radioed out immediately to him. And he would know that not only was his wife gone but his kids were gone with her.

Lauren Groff, in The Wind

Lately there’s been a lot of hype about a new Hollywood film, Nomadland, starring the excellent character actor Frances McDormand.  The film is about a 60+ year old American woman, with little money, and who is “houseless” as she calls it. She criss-crosses the US in her van.  To make ends meet, she work long hours at an Amazon warehouse for a few dollars more than minimum wage.  It’s back-breaking work as detailed in this seminal article published seven years ago in The Atlantic magazine, The End of Retirement.    

Waiting for Joe

Waiting for Joe is a fascinating Canadian novel that follows the lives of a nearly middle-aged couple who steal a motorhome to drive from Winnipeg to Regina.  The book soars – as it follows the lives of the Joe, whose RV business – the Happy Traveller – goes bankrupt.  On arrival in Regina, they park the motor home in the Walmart parking lot.  Joe finds — then loses a job –while his wife, Laurie, is relegated to working in a clothes sorting room at Value Village.  The little cash they spend is from selling their household goods  from their earlier life in Winnipeg.  The back-stories of the couple, and Joe’s 90 year old father with whom the couple used to live, are well-crafted, believable and deep.  The book manages to deftly touch on foreign temporary workers, religious fundamentalism on the prairies, and racism.  Sandra Birdsell, the author, is an accomplished and award winning novelist.  I didn’t want the book to end.  I borrowed it as an e-book at the public library.

Somehow, I stumbled upon the 2017 novel When I Hit You Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy.   The author, who is also a poet, is barely 35 years old. She writes a delicate yet forceful story about emotional and sexual assault in a modern marriage between a university lecturer and a poet – in an unidentified city in India. The language is earnest and  accurate. And there is humour too. I didn’t want this book to end either.  It’s a feminist call-out, and author Kandasamy manages to use the husband’s bombastic Marxist rhetoric, his past radical political behaviour to gas light his wife.  This is a troubling and ingenious book.  I highly recommend it.   Hardcover, from the library.   

What to Watch…

Since earlier I noted the issue of euthanasia, an interesting take on death is in the 1995 film Antonia’s Line.  A Dutch woman, who fought as a partisan through World War II, is 82 years old.  She returns to the village in which she grew up; she has a grown daughter and granddaughter who are devoted to her.  She is an optimist and a fighter for justice. She works to build a community which is feminist and matriarchal.  But she insists she alone must decide and control when to end her life. For many reasons I found the film disturbing – perhaps because it addresses death very directly. When I first saw it in England in the 1990s,  I remember my university thesis supervisor told me he loved the film because the heroine coupled a great life well-lived with a kindly death.  This is a great film, which you can see for free on Kanopy, if you have a library card. Here is the trailer.

One of the best films I’ve watched lately is Gook (2017) on Netflix.  Two 20-something Korean-American brothers own nothing but a beat-up car, and a dusty shoe-shop in a poor black neighbourhood in Paramount, California – about 15 miles from Los Angeles.  The true star of the film is Kamilla (Simone Baker), an eleven-year old black girl who hangs around the shop helping out, rather than go to school.  We soon find out why.  The script, and the acting are memorable and sharp as the detail that the film was shot in gritty black and white.  The action takes place on one day, April 29, 1992 – when the America found out that the four cops who beat Rodney King – were acquitted.  Racial tensions boiled over and resulted in riots against the police in black communities across the US.  That is the backdrop to this film.  I don’t want to tell you much more – but I will tell you to watch it.  Brilliant.  Here’s the trailer:

I also saw The Dig on Netflix.  This is a wonderful gentle film set in the south of England days before the start of World War II.  A wealthy widow, her eight-year-old son and a local working class man, an amateur archeologist,  who calls himself an “excavator” –make an astonishing and important discovery buried in the huge mounds on the widow’s property.  The understatement and class-ridden attitude of the English shine through this rather haunting film.  Beautifully shot and quite wonderful.   For more read this article in The Smithsonian. Here is the trailer.

Lupin, part thriller and part mystery

There is a  first season of Lupin to watch.  The series is based on the stories about Arsene Lupin, the hero of a series of French thriller novels.  You have to see it, on Netflix. Watch the trailer. It’s a spectacular fast-moving series which takes place in Paris and environs about Assane Diop, who is obsessed by his father’s alleged suicide in a French jail.  It becomes clear that the charges against Diop’s father, an immigrant from Senegal, were bogus.  Diop le fils – who is a professional thief — uses the techniques in Lupin’s books to take revenge on the family who framed his father.  If it sounds gruesome –it is anything but.  It’s a wild romp that will captivate you.  

And, since it’s Covid times, I’ve had a bit more time, so I watched Juliet, Naked.  It’s a 2019 British film that takes place in a twee town on the south coast of England.  It’s a romantic comedy that works on several levels.  It’s delightful – especially if you have a soft spot for Rose Byrne or Ethan Hawke– the two leading characters.  It’s on Netflix.  Here is the trailer.

Finally– we rented (for $25.00 on Youtube!) Judas and the Black Messiah.  A lot has been written and will be noted about this nicely shot, and well-cut film about the months leading up to the murder of Black Panther Chairman Fred Hampton, in Chicago in 1969.  The movie packs a real punch when you see how vicious and violent the Chicago police were in stamping out the Panthers – it was a bloodbath.  The characters are all well portrayed – of course especially Bill O’Neal who was “Judas” to Chairman Hampton.  When we realize that Hampton was just 21 when he was assassinated under orders by  then-FBI director J Edgar Hoover, and when we see how much Hampton was able to accomplish, and how well loved and respected he was – it makes us see the Panthers as they wanted to be known – community builders and protectors.  This film is pretty heavy on the male interpretation of history, and gives only three women (girlfriend Deborah, Judy, and Mrs Winters) speaking roles — just sayin‘. The trailer will give you chills.

What to Listen to…

Mark Stobbe, who was a top NDP apparatchik in the Saskatchewan Roy Romanow days and beyond, was charged with murder, nearly twelve years after the case seemed to have gone cold.  In 2000, when the NDP’s star was falling in Saskatchewan, Stobbe moved to Winnipeg to take up a high profile job in Gary Doer’s Manitoba NDP government.  Stobbe allegedly murdered his wife, Beverley Rowbotham, in the garage or backyard of their suburban house on the outskirts of Winnipeg where he lived with her and their two pre-school sons.  Somewhat unusually, he took the stand in his own defence. There was only circumstantial evidence to tie him to the crime.  A master of words and with his excellent communication skills, he managed to sway the jury to a not guilty verdict – and, at the end of the trial, even the judge congratulated him and urged him to go home and raise his children well.  The trial was a sensation.  Of course I knew Stobbe, to be a sexist and nasty fellow – and a ‘true believer’ in the NDP.  Whether he killed his wife, I’ll let you decide.   Listen to this excellent and provocative podcast on Canadian True Crime

Clockwise: from left: Mark Stobbe at the launch for his book Lessons from Remand, in 2013 (credit: Kaleigh Hamilton, Global News); Beverley Rowbotham; Stobbe’s book cover; crime scene at Stobbe’s house; Mark Stobbe in front of the Winnipeg courthouse, 2012

Don’t Call Me Resilient!

Don’t Call Me Resilient is an excellent short series from The Conversation. I was very impressed by episode 4, “How we treat migrant workers who put food on our tables”, and episode 2, “How to deal with the pain of racism—and become a better advocate”.  You can tune in here or on Apple Podcasts.

The Elder Gap is a very good two part series of podcasts on APTN.  You can watch it here or listen to it here .  The Elder Gap is about what is happening in long term care to Indigenous people in Canada.

Evil By Design is an eight-part podcast series produced by the CBC.  It’s about Peter Nygaard and the corruption and power he wielded in Winnipeg, because he was a very wealthy businessman and employer supporting 1100 manufacturing jobs in the garment industry.  His increasingly ugly, abusive and illegal relationships with women were always whispered about and journalist Timothy Sawa manages to find and interview many of the women who give firsthand accounts.  It’s a fascinating podcast.  Though the series starts off a big slowly, the last three episodes are excellent.  Play the podcasts here or listen to them on the CBC LISTEN app.

Featured image: Indigenous and Canadian Art displayed at the National Gallery of Canada

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