What to Read, What to Watch & Podcasts to Listen to– in late June 2022

Family Circle: The Boudins and the Aristocracy of the Left  is a must read if you are interested in the Weathermen, or the American left of the 60s and 70s.  Author Susan Braudy examines the background of Kathy Boudin, and the renowned Boudin family.  Boudin served twenty-three years in jail for robbing a Brink’s truck which resulted in the deaths of two policemen and a security guard.  She started out as a popular Bryn Mawr college student who became a  leading social activist and a founder of the Weathermen.  Like her father Leonard, an iconic civil rights lawyer, her mother Joan, a respected feminist poet, and her famous uncle Louis Boudin, a venerated union activist and labor lawyer in Roosevelt’s America – fought for a better world.  The book’s author, Susan Braudy, actually knew Boudin in university, and while not an activist, Braudy was a keen observer and “fellow traveller”. The book is well written and well researched. In the nine years between Kathy Boudin’s release from prison and her death in May 2022,  she earned a doctorate and became an adjunct professor of social work at Columbia University.

Clockwise from top left: Family photo 2019, Valerie Block (Chesa’s wife), Chesa Boudin, David Gilbert and Kathy Boudin (in red shirt); nothing was left of 18 West 11th St. after the explosion of 1970 at the townhouse (Michael Evans/New York Times); high school portrait from the mid-50s of Diana Oughton, and her mug shot taken after her arrest in 1969; newspaper article about the Brinks robbery of 1981 which landed Boudin in jail for 23 years; and her husband jailed for 40 years; photo of Kathy Boudin led from the Rockland County Courthouse in Nyack, New York in 1981 (AP Photo/Handschu).

Boudin’s passing left two relatives – one the diametric opposite of the other.  Her older brother, Michael, is right-wing ideologically.  Eschewing his family and the left, Michael Boudin – a Harvard law school graduate – was elected Chief Judge of the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.  Kathy Boudin’s son, Chesa, raised by loving and radical comrades Bill Ayers and Bernardette Dohrn who were close friends of his mother and father, David Gilbert. Both Boudin and Gilbert were in jail for many decades. 

In 2019, Chesa Boudin  was elected District Attorney for San Francisco.  His platform included eliminating cash bail (since it discriminates against the poor), promising to hold police accountable for their actions and working to reduce the number of people sent to prison.  Just last month, a DA with a law-and-order agenda swept him from office.

Family Circle draws a withering picture of the police and FBI interference in left-wing activism. The book also portrays those who wanted to change society, including the radical left, in an honest and thoughtful manner.  It’s an excellent book. 

Perhaps on the other side of the coin is a 1971 book, Diana: The Making of a Terrorist by Thomas Powers.  Powers is a “just the facts” sort of journalist who traced the inadvertent and tragic explosion in a toney Manhattan townhouse that killed 28-year-old Diana Oughton and two friends in March 1970.  Oughton, a daughter of a wealthy family from the mid-west, was a former debutante and Bryn Mawr graduate. She had taught literacy in Guatemala before she returned to the US to work with children in poor neighbourhoods, and racialized communities. A dedicated member of SDS – Students for a Democratic Society– she became a member of the Weathermen.  Increasingly desperate to hasten an end to the Viet Nam war, and become a catalyst for change, she was helping two comrades to build bombs in the townhouse basement when one exploded killing the three.  Two women escaped the carnage– one was Kathy Boudin.

The Walrus presents a very good article which asks how much punishment is enough.  As most will recall, in 2018 truck driver Jaskirat Singh Sidhu blew through a stop sign on a Saskatchewan highway and crashed into a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos, mainly teenage members of the Junior hockey club. 

drawing of Sidhu by Anson Chan, in The Walrus

Driver Sidhu was a permanent resident of Canada.  He had emigrated with his wife, from India. At the time of the accident, he was not drunk; he was not on drugs; he was not a cowboy driver. He was distracted by a flapping tarp that put his load at risk.  After the horrendous crash, Sidhu readily admitted to being 100% responsible for the deaths of 16 people.

“Sidhu was sentenced to eight years in prison—an unprecedented length for a car accident, one he accepted without negotiation or complaint. But, on another level, this case goes beyond the usual parameters of crime and punishment.” 

Susan J Riley, in The Walrus

He pled guilty to 29 counts of dangerous driving causing death and bodily harm.  He put up no defence and said he alone was responsible.  In this way there was no trial which would have further traumatized grieving relatives.  But after his eight years in prison, Canadian law dictates that he (as a non-citizen) will be expelled from Canada – back to India.

The article asks if that is in fact a good thing – and is it fair? Sharon J Riley writes sensitively and sensibly about the question of fairness in the face of extreme tragedy.

For the 10th year in a row, Canada sold more arms to Saudi Arabia than to any other country but the US

Canadian Dimension has just published Canadian Arms Sales Rose Again in 2021 by Owen Schalk.  Did you know that Canada is the 17th largest exporter of military goods in the world? Did you know that in 2021, Saudi Arabia was the largest non-US buyer of Canadian arms – for the tenth year in a row?  Did you know that a 2021 report by Amnesty International and Project Ploughshares says that there is “persuasive evidence” that Canadian-made LAVs (light armoured vehicle) and sniper rifles were diverted for use in the war in Yemen?  This article is well worth reading here.

Clockwise, from top right: Yemeni child wounded by Saudi led coalition (Khaled Abdullah?Reuters); Washington demonstration against the US supported war on Yemen; from social media, man holds a Canadian-made LRT-3 sniper rifle; photo of Canadian-made LAV (Canadian Army Today).

Despite the fact that the government is bragging about there being more than a million jobs on offer in Canada, the employment situation does not look so rosey for women, racialized minorities and the disabled.  According to a May 2022 report Bumpy Ride: Tracking Women’s Economic Recovery Amid the Pandemic, by Katherine Scott of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives here,  levels of employment for lone parents of children under age 6 show little improvement.  As well, there was a deleterious effect on employment for women who had to provide care for children aged 6 to 12 during school shutdowns and homeschooling.  Indigenous people and racialized people were twice as likely to be able to make ends meet in the Pandemic.  Indeed male workers accounted for 59% of gains in high wage areas such as accounting, computer systems design and scientific research. 

Today’s figures show inflation running at 7.7%, yet women’s wages have increased by just 2.2%.   In fact essential workers, mainly women in nursing, childcare, and community service, have seen their incomes shrink in real terms.  This article is excellent!

“We must not let the legacy of the pandemic be one of rolling back the clock on women’s participation in the workforce, nor one of backtracking on the social and political gains women and allies have fought so hard to secure.”

Speech from the Throne, 23 Sept. 2020

What to Watch…

The best series I’ve watched lately is A Very English Scandal on Amazon Prime.  In 1962 homosexuality was illegal in the UK, as it was in Canada.  Jeremy Thorpe, a British MP and then leader of the Liberal Party found himself in deep danger over a long-term affair with a young man.  Each of the 3 episodes are each a jewel, in terms of acting, dialogue and plot. Thorpe is portrayed by Hugh Grant, whom I never thought much of as an actor before watching this series.  It’s a must watch.  Here’s the trailer.

That said A Very British Scandal should not be confused with A Very English Scandal (above).  That is because A Very British Scandal is awful.  Two nasty married people, the Duke and Duchess of Argyll, get a divorce in 1960s Britain.  He, a former Scottish landowner, and his English social climber wife duke it out in this BBC series.  Faithfully recounted, so I read, but  the series is a pain.  I don’t like to watch people drink themselves to death, fall into a stupor or act so abysmally  they are like starving rats in a cage.   Look up the trailer on your own for this one.

A US evangelical church ignores an impending environmental disaster

Some of you may have seen the 2018 feature film First Reformed.  It’s spellbinding.  A young couple comes to their church minister for counselling.  The husband, depressed and desperate, paints a grim but very real picture of environmental degradation and the limited future of the planet.  The story weaves between the good corporate citizens of their upstate New York town, the leader of its prominent evangelical church, and the aloof minister.   A great film to watch for free with your public library card — on Kanopy.  Here’s the trailer.

On CBC-GEM, watch The House of Maxwell.  The three-part series by the BBC goes into the rather sketchy background of millionaire newspaper baron (The Mirror) and former Labour MP Robert Maxwell, his family and his business relationships. 

Clockwise, from top right: Robert Maxwell announcing his acquisition of the Mirror Group Newspapers in London, July 1984 (GettyImages); Jean-Luc Brunel, found strangled in his Paris jail cell six months after Epstein. Brunel ran a modelling agency and supplied girls to Epstein; Noose found in Epstein’s cell after his death; Epstein and Maxwell in happier times; Epstein’s mansion on Little St James Island in the US Virgin Islands; Ghislaine Maxwell, her father, and mother Betty at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival (Steve Wood/Rex/Shutterstock).

The police assumed he had fallen from his yacht, The Ghislaine, after he was and found dead in the sea off the coast of the Canary Islands in 1991.  Foul play was suspected but never proved.  However, his publishing empire started to disintegrate.  His favourite daughter, Ghislaine, an intelligent, witty and vibrant socialite moved to New York City and counted Prince Andrew, Donald Trump, Bill Clinton and daughter Chelsea among her friends.  She met multi-millionaire Jeffrey Epstein and they became inseparable.  Ultimately after his 2021 death by suicide (perhaps murder) in a New York jail, Ghislaine was charged with sex trafficking.   The series is riveting and far from sugar-coated.  Here’s the trailer. On GEM, you can always watch for free.

New Series of Borgen, “Power and Glory”

There is a new series of Borgen, “Power and Glory.  The Danish drama is about politics and parliament and the media in Denmark.  If anything, this new series is stronger and more interesting than the preceding one.  The writing is tighter, and the issues are sizzling.   The characters are real, often flawed, ageing and inter-dependent.  Birgitte Nyborg, the former centrist but feminist prime minister, has to deal with a 21 year old son who refuses to attend university. He  becomes an environmental activist and is arrested for a prank gone wrong.  This is a brilliant series and it’s on Netflix.  Here’s a trailer.

I have to give a mixed review to The Girl From Oslo.  This Netflix series is a co-production of Norway and Israel.  Pia, a Norwegian medical student, decides to try to find her real father, who happens to be an Israeli cabinet minister and likely a high ranking officer in Israel’s Mossad (intelligence service).  Pia and two Israeli friends get kidnapped by terrorists at a resort in Sinai.  In exchange for freeing them, the bad guys want a dozen of their men released from Israeli jails, including one of their leaders who is locked up in Oslo.  Clearly the good guys are peace loving Israelis—good family men–  and their white counterparts in Norway.  Clearly the bad guys are ragged, dirty Palestinians who threaten their own comrades, and are violent and unbending toward their enemies.   That said, the 10 episodes are fast-moving; the scenery’s good.  Of course in the end, all’s well that ends well.  But for anyone who seeks to humanize the Palestinian struggle and cares about a just peace for Palestine and Israel – this series does not cut it. In fact, it normalizes the oppressive Israeli regime. Here’s a synopsis with a couple of minutes of the film.

And for all of you lining up and fretting at passport offices across the country, here is some eye-candy. You can watch Toscana on Netflix.  This romp through the countryside of Tuscany is lovely, lush and lulling.  A bulky and depressed Danish chef inherits an Italian stone villa, vineyards and olive trees from his long lost dad.  The chef learns to love a glass of local red wine, a simple grilled sandwich brushed with newly pressed olive oil, and he meets the woman of his dreams.  Cute – especially for those who won’t be going to Europe any time soon. Here’s the trailer.

Listen to these Podcasts…

The best podcast I’ve heard lately is The Death of Darcy Allan Sheppard on Canadian True Crime (CTC).  In six fascinating episodes, host Kristi Lee outlines exactly what happened to Sheppard, a Toronto bicycle courier who was killed by Ontario’s former Attorney General Michael Bryant.  Lee not only traces what happened from the standpoint of witnesses, who were on Bloor Street that hot August night in 2009, she shows the media was only too willing to accept that Sheppard was a drunk at best – a miscreant at worst – who deliberately antagonized a wealthy Bryant and his wife driving in their Saab convertible.  The media and the police were shockingly gullible in their defence of the powerful Bryant.  The series is also a darn good police and court  procedural; it asks many questions about the appointed “special prosecutor”, the judge and Ontario’s justice system. 

Below: photo of Michael Bryant (Globeandmail.com), cyclists at a memorial on Bloor St. for Sheppard (Patrick Morrell/CBC); Darcy Allan Sheppard, victim, aged 32.

Lee also challenges the facts as presented  by Bryant in his 2012 mea culpa book, 28 Seconds.  I review 28 Seconds here. In it, Bryant tries to white-wash his role (indeed, exonerate himself) for Sheppard’s death.  You can hear the series (each episode is about an hour long) for free wherever you get your podcasts.  Here is the link to the podcast.  This series is so good, I became a Patreon subscriber ($3 a month) to Canadian True Crime. 

Going for Broke is a fascinating set of six podcasts from The Economic Hardship Reporting Project and The Nation magazine.  It is presented by Ray Suarez, a New York journalist who worked for Al Jazeera America, NPR (National Public Radio), and PBS.  Beginning with himself, he exposes what losing a job, losing good health or falling between the cracks have done to people’s security and their ability to cope with life. livelihoods.  Suarez himself was laid off in his 50s, then got a serious illness, and could not again get a toehold in meaningful work.

Each 20 to 30 minute segment highlights a different person who explains a distinct issue.  The most interesting was episode that featured Ann Larson, the Philosopher Cashier who had once considered going to graduate school to become a  professor before she was forced to get “any” job to keep her head above water.  More than a decade ago, Ann started to work as a supermarket cashier in a supermarket; she continues to work there today. When she began, despite being years from middle-age and in good physical shape, she had never been so tired or worn down from work.  Her experience of cashing out people’s groceries during the Pandemic is spine-tingling.  Don’t miss this series here .  You can listen on Spotify (for free) or Apple Podcasts. 

James Brady was well-educated and was “engaged not only in the anticolonial struggle but in the broad struggle for socialism.”  

The US podcast series Disappearances has a penetrating half-hour episode about the disappearance of a Métis man, James Brady and his Indigenous friend Absolom Halkett at Lower Foster Lake, 190 km north of La Ronge, Saskatchewan in 1967.  Both men were experienced in the wilderness; they were prospecting for uranium. More importantly, Brady was a well-known Métis leader and Halkett was a radical member of the Cree Band Council.  Both were members of the Communist Party and fought the religious dogma of the day, residential schools and their people’s treatment as second-class citizens. 

Clockwise from left: Portraits of James Brady; Absolom Halkett at a tree planting ceremony in front of the La Ronge hospital, 1966. He’s closest to the camera; Dobbin’s book cover for The One-and-a-Half Men; poster for photography exhibit of the work by the late James Brady. Photos were taken about life of Metis and Indigenous people in Saskatchewan and Alberta from the 1930s to ’60s. The exhibit was at the Galt Museum and Archives in Lethbridge, AB in 2021.

They took an early interest in the CCF, and its later incarnation, the NDP, but quit because the party was too tame, too lacking in policy or action to counter colonialism and racism. My recently deceased friend, writer Murray Dobbin wrote a 1981 book The One-and-a-Half men: The Story of Jim Brady and Malcolm Norris, Métis Patriots of the Twentieth Century – which examines Brady’s life and legacy.  According to a book review by Raymond Huel, Brady was well-educated and was “engaged not only in the anticolonial struggle but in the broad struggle for socialism.”    You can listen to the podcast on Spotify for free, here.

Featured Image: Buttercups, by Helen McNicoll. McNicholl (1879-1915) was born in Toronto and was a Canadian Impressionist painter. She attended the Slade School of Fine Art in London, and moved between England, France and Canada with her partner Dorothea Sharp. This 1910 painting is at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.

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