What to Read, What to Watch and What Podcast to Listen to — April 2023

The Maid is a recent novel written by Canadian author Nita Prose.  As is the case for most fiction, the first half is far better than the second half.  Molly, aged 25, works as a chambermaid in a swanky hotel in an unnamed city. Molly is an orphan.  She never knew her dad and her mom, a drug addict, ran off when Molly was a baby.  She was raised by her grandmother – someone who gave her love and acceptance that she found nowhere else. At the start of the book, Molly’s grandmother has recently died, and Molly is lost. She remains in the small two-bedroom apartment on the top floor of a five storey walk-up.  Molly changes nothing—she keeps the cheap colour prints of the English countryside on the walls, the one motley couch in the living room, and the two old chairs which flank a small table in the kitchen.  Molly ensures that the door to her grandmother’s bedroom is closed at all times as she can’t bring herself to go in.  She can barely afford the rent on her own, and her stress about money—compounded by loneliness —  is evident throughout the book. 

But the most interesting thing about Molly is that she is somewhere on the autism spectrum.  She takes everything literally; she cannot speak openly with people and gets offended by the many challenges co-workers and management have to her abilities.  She has no friends.

This book is a rather light murder mystery with Molly at the heart of the story.  I didn’t think the mystery was compelling, but the portrait of Molly was well done, believable and upsetting (because of our prejudice against the neuro-diverse, and our own class biases).  An easy read. 

Elizabeth (Betsy) Stanko, in a composite by Getty/Martin Godwin for the Guardian

Basta by Betsy Stanko is a must read short article here — for anyone who has feminist sympathies and a hunger for historical context.  Stanko, now a highly-regarded professor of sociology in the UK (see the podcast from the Guardian noted below) got her first academic job in 1977 at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. In 1979, Ximena Burotto, a Chilean anthropologist in exile was hired by the same department.  Stanko and Ximena especially were targeted for sexual harassment and worse from male colleagues, as Stanko writes:

“I had managed sexual harassment on a number of jobs already – as a waitress (from the manager and sometimes from the clients), as a young woman researcher travelling New York State collecting data for my second research job, and as an assistant professor in that very department at Clark University. Ximena was able to stand up to the sexual innuendo and propositions, where I dodged and tried to find a way of not getting struck by its backlash, which commonly comes when you decide not to play the sexualised games present in the work-place.”

Basta is spell-binding – first this was decades before the #metoo movement, and second both women fought back.  They named their department chair, Sid Peck, who in turn sued them and three other women for $23,710,000 (in today’s money C$86,400,00).  Both women ended up leaving Clark – Stanko decamped to the UK, and Burotto (who was fired) went to an academic job at a Chilean university (after the Pinochet regime was toppled).  This is a must read for anyone who wants to see #metoo through a historic lens and see what women in ‘privileged jobs’ were subject to. 

“What can you say about a 27-year-old women who died?”  That’s what Canadian writer Mary Fairhurst Breen, winner of the 2022 Writing in the Margins Contest for creative nonfiction asks in her very good article Cause of Death in Briarpatch magazine here.   This article is about mental illness and vulnerability; the author’s turn of phrase and the empathy she shows and elicits from the reader is amazing. 

How Zoom hearings deny poor tenants justice

Also worth reading in March/April 2023 issue of Briarpatch is Assembling a Digital Dystopia by Yodit Edemariam and Michael Lawler, here. Just look at the first paragraph of this first-rate exposé:

On August 4, 2022, a hearing was held over Zoom by Ontario’s Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) to consider whether 64-year-old Sameerah Esho would be evicted. On that day, she was trying to participate in an online hearing, via telephone and in her third language, to keep her home of 10 years. After trying multiple times, she could not join the Zoom hearing. In fact, she had never used Zoom by herself before. The first time she used Zoom was months later during a session that was set up for her and an interpreter at her local legal clinic, for an interview for this article. 

The authors show that moving to Zoom for virtually all tenant-landlord issues, disadvantages the poorest tenants and newcomers to Canada.  Sameerah Esho was paying $1334 a month for a two- bedroom apartment for herself and her disabled son in the working-class suburb of Rexdale, in northwest Toronto.  Her disability benefit is only $1300 a month; her daughter pays for her food and other necessities.  According to the article, average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Toronto is now $2,500 a month—a 23% jump over the past year.  The reason? The article says that since 1995, 65% of rental units purchased have been by financialized landlords.  That means “mom-and-pop landlords are being bought out. They are being replaced by large corporate owners like real-estate investment trusts [REITs] and private equity firms which buy and manage properties using a pool of money from many investors.” 

“Mom-and-pop landlords are being bought out. They are being replaced by large corporate owners like real-estate investment trusts [REITs] and private equity firms which buy and manage properties using a pool of money from many investors.” 

from Assembling a Digital Dystopia in Briarpatch

According to the article, last year there were more than 80,000 applications (mainly by tenants) to Ontario’s Landlord Tenant Board (LTB).  Most of the applications had to do with evictions; many people are facing poverty and hardship. According to the authors, the system has “created an opaque and inaccessible system that tips the scales of justice toward landlords.”  And we know, if it’s happening in Ontario – it’s happening here in Nova Scotia.

And again in Briarpatch (Feb. issue) a good article The Case for a Prisoners’ Union by Jordan House and Halifax lawyer Asaf Rashid.  Well worth reading here!

I stumbled across a fascinating article A Flowering Evil by Mark Seal in Vanity Fair from August 2006, here. Joan Root was an adventurer, a nature filmmaker, and an Africanist who farmed 88 acres on Lake Naivasha in the Great Rift Valley in Kenya.  Over the past twenty or thirty years, a major export from that country has been cut flowers.  Indeed more than $766 million worth of carnations, roses and Alstromeria  CYC are exported to the Netherlands, UK, Saudi Arabia, Germany and Russia annually.  Huge commercial flower farms line the picturesque Lake Naivasha.  The pesticides and environmental harm from the farms go into the lake, as African workers flock from extreme poverty to work in these farms which pay them a pittance.  It’s against this backdrop that author Mark Seal has written a wonderful article about the life and times and murder of Joan Root, a white colonist, Kenya-born who fought the ecological destruction by the flower farms—and lost. Seal’s  2010 book, Wildflower: An Extraordinary Life and Mysterious Death in Africa, looks first rate.

If you feel old, or you ARE old (no self-identification here), why not read Is This It? In the New York Times here. Nicely done, and a bit of a scare – or a warning!

What to Watch

19-2, a Québec policier is amazing – brilliant — as I’ve already written here.  It’s still on Netflix and well worth watching.  You’ll be hooked and want to watch the series. I could not find a trailer with English subtitles, but the series is all subtitled in English.  Here is the trailer in French… But the series has English subtitles.

Also from Québec comes a great feature film offering on Netflix– The Fall of the American Empire.  It’s a clever whodunit, about drugs, the sex trade and lots of money.  It’s delightful, funny and witty.  Watch it.  Here’s the trailer. Delightful.

DNA is a recent film from France.  A family in Paris gathers just after the crushing death of their grandfather.  Neige is particularly affected,  a granddaughter in her 30s, she has children of her own.  Her struggle is to figure out her own identity and trajectory because her grandfather was a Communist who escaped from Algeria in the 1950s – as France’s repression and war against the people of its colony was mounting.  Was the grandfather Muslim? But he hated religion.  Did his two middle-aged daughters revile or love him? Why do his offspring insist they are French to the core and reject their heritage? When Neige sends for a genetic test kit to find out her ancestry, all hell breaks loose.  This is a fabulous film– you won’t take your eyes from the screen.  Here’s the trailer.

The Accusation, a 2021 French film on Kanopy is very good.  A powerful media mogul in his late 60s has an affair with his young assistant.  The mogul’s younger wife has left him to live with a literature professor and his 17-year-old daughter.  Enter the mogul and his ex-wife’s 22-year-old son just back from graduate school at Stanford University in the US.  This is a riveting table-turning film about sexual assault, and rape.  The acting is good, the film moves fast and we glimpse the “good life” of the Parisian bourgeoisie – until their fall.  Worth watching with the English subtitles. The trailer is here.

Posters and stills: Spy Among Friends, The Accusation, USSR stamp to honour Kim Philby, Days of Abandonment, and DNA.

Don’t rush to see Night Agent, a series on Netflix.  While it certainly moves along, it descends pretty quickly to a shoot-‘em-up, blow-‘em-up bunch of episodes which pander to the taste of 14-year-old boys.   A young woman housesits for her aunt and uncle just outside of Washington DC.  When the couple returns from Europe, the young woman manages to hide when “bad guys” enter the house and massacre the aunt and uncle.  Somehow she phones a desk at the FBI and a “night agent” gives her advice about how to evade the bad guys. The woman and the night agent become a team to fight the baddies, whose leaders reach the top levels in the White House.  Absurd.  But the film’s directors tried to strike every ‘equity’ note;  the young woman is Asian-American, there are good, patriotic FBI agents who are Black; the baddies are from eastern Europe and maybe Iran (!); and the US President (who is in tremendous danger!) is a 50-year-old white woman with long blonde hair.  Here’s the trailer

The Lying Life of Adults, is a great Italian film.  A 17 year old girl has parents who break up and start living each with a lover who was a  family friend. This film is base on a book by the renowned Italian writer Elena Ferrante.  It’s excellent, on Netflix.  Here’s the trailer.

The Days of Abandonment is also taken from a book by Ferrante – it’s excellent.  An Italian woman who works as a translator thinks she has a stable marriage complete with two young kids and a cute dog.  Suddenly her husband declares he needs his own space and exits the marriage – the woman is devastated.  This is a bittersweet film and very funny in parts.  Highly recommend it on Kanopy. Great trailer is here

A Spy Among Friends on Prime is worth watching.  It’s about British agent Kim Philby – who for more than 30 years served as an intelligent agent in MI6.  He was, until he was discovered,  one of the “Cambridge Five” spies for Russia.  Nicely done, and well-acted.   Warning: Very few women in the film, and only one has a serious speaking part.  Here’s the trailer

Don’t bother to watch Unseen – it’s a remake of a series I first wrote about last August here. The original Turkish series, Fatma, is brilliant.  Unseen is heavy, slow and boring.  Watch a trailer for Fatma with subtitles here.

What Podcasts to Listen to

The Guardian has a podcast starts by investigating John Edward Taylor, one of the men who founded the liberal-minded Manchester Guardian in 1821.  He and the majority of the other founders (and benefactors) were heavily invested in the transatlantic slave trade and a particular plantation called Success, in Jamaica.  Yet the abolitionist movement was on the rise.  This series, Cotton Capital, is fabulous—gives us a good idea of how countless “good folk” made their fortunes in shipping Blacks from Africa to the Caribbean in the 19th century.  The journalist starts at the Wilberforce Museum in Hull – which I’ve been to! The museum traces the life of the British abolitionist William Wilberforce and doesn’t merely extol his virtues.  The museum is a gateway to the north of England’s reliance on slavery which made its economy boom.  Textiles, especially cotton, were king at the start of the industrial revolution, and it pains me to tell you that Friedrich Engels owned cotton mills throughout Manchester in the mid-1800s – the cotton supplied by slave labour.  Yet Engels also helped to bankroll Karl Marx’s writing and research, and Engels himself authored an excellent book The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1853). Listen to the podcast here.

From Left: Wilberforce Museum, Hull UK; children slaves, 19th c. drawing; coat of arms of Manchester, note the bees which cover the globe; and logo for the podcast Cotton Capital

Not so much a podcast but something quiet to watch. The New York Times presents the before and after the earthquake look of Antakya, Turkey.  The devastation is so shocking when viewed by drone.  We see the main streets before the quake – the beautiful buildings, the bazaars, and the café life of the city – juxtaposed with the destruction.  Take a look.  Breathtaking.

Murder of Stephen Lawrence…

When I started my PhD in the UK in 1995, the murder of Stephen Lawrence was very much still in the news.  In 1993, Stephen Lawrence was a Black 18-year-old student finishing high school. He was a good student and planned to study architecture. Lawrence was knifed to death on his way home at a bus stop in Eltham, a rough area of southeast London one night at 10 pm.  The five young white guys who attacked him had links to the very active British National Party (BNP) a racist, anti-Black organisation. These young men also had sympathisers and even links to London’s Metropolitan Police, perhaps all the way to the top. I’ve read several books about Lawrence’s murder, and the inquiries that followed, as well as the private prosecution his parents (immigrants from Jamaica) were forced to undertake when the police refused to lay criminal charges.  Here is a decent podcast about the case, its aftermath, and the horrific racism his mother and father faced in pursuing justice.  Listen here

The Lawrence parents split up a couple of years after Stephen’s death, in part because of their family’s trauma, but also due to the relentless pressures of the inquiries and the police malfeasance, as I learned from Brian Cathcart’s book reviewed here The Case of Stephen Lawrence (2000). Shortly after Lawrence died, Nelson Mandela was in London. He was easily persuaded by civil libertarians to publicly support the Lawrence family in their fight for justice in the face of police inaction and coverup. In 2013, Lawrence’s mother, Doreen, was named to the House of Lords, as Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon. She took her seat on the Labour benches, as a working peer (as opposed to a hereditary peer). She was 60 years old at the time.

Below: Clockwise from left: Neville and Doreen Lawrence with Nelson Mandela in London, 1993; one of the myriad of reports on Lawrence’s murder and the police; book cover for Cathcart’s book; official photo of Doreen Lawrence, age 60, by Suki Dhanda. The portrait hangs in Britain’s National Portrait Gallery, London; Doreen Lawrence greeting Nelson Mandela (credit: The Mirror)

Beef: “a really compelling portrayal of Asian American women’s experience of female rage and the nuances of living in a world … that expects a certain tpe of docility and a placid surface.”

Dr Michelle Cho, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto

You could listen to the podcast Don’t Call Me Resilient.  This one is about the brilliance of the Netflix series Beef.  I’m now hooked on Beef which is 10 episodes.  I highly recommend it. Beef offers “a really compelling portrayal of Asian American women’s experience of female rage and the nuances of living in a world in a society that expects a certain type of docility and a placid surface,” according to Michelle Cho, Assistant Professor of East Asian Studies, University of Toronto.  Here is the podcast, in which Cho is interviewed.

1 in 100 cops in England have been charged with rape

The Guardian Long Read assesses rape by the police in London and Durham, UK. Did you know that more than 1100 cops have been charged with rape or sexual interference? Did you know that the rate conviction rate for rape used to be 5% and now it’s down to 1% throughout the UK? The podcast “I know where the bodies are buried”:  One woman’s mission to change how the police investigate rape features British-American academic Betsy Stanko (see What to Read above).  She decided to look at the police’s figures and do hundreds of interviews with the police about rape, their misconceptions, misunderstanding and deliberately poor handling of rape cases. 

Top echelons in police believe that the system is clogged with women who make false reports [of rape]; research has shown that false reports account for 2 to 3% of all the complaints.

Professor Betsy Stanko in “I know where the bodies are buried.”

The figures Stanko reveals are stunning.  For example, while the top echelons of police believe that the system is clogged with women who make false reports, research has shown that false reports account for 2 to 3% of all the complaints.  In most cases, women complainants were asked by police if they could tell the difference between truth and lies. This is a question that’s typically reserved for children not for adults.

In 2022, one in 100 police officers in England and Wales faced criminal charges for rape and sexual violence. The “best” officers have better than average relationships with their superiors because they’ve been groomed to massage their bosses’ egos by supporting their bosses, working overtime, or taking on difficult tasks.  The culture of silence is so pervasive that miscarriages of justice occur constantly.  I’d rush to listen to this podcast.

Flashpoint Jerusalem is a good way to spend 36 minutes.  The Brief’s two hosts, Nora Barrows-Friedman and Canadian journalist Jon Elmer explain what has been going on in occupied East Jerusalem, when Israeli forces, unprovoked, attacked the al Aqsa mosque compound during Easter, Passover and Ramadan.  Listen here.

Evaluating Canada’s Pandemic Response Through a Gender Lens on the Redeye Podcast from Vancouver’s Co-op Radio features Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives senior researcher Katherine Scott.  Her new report compares the response of the federal government with similar governments internationally and looks at how the provinces responded.  Scott shows that Canada’s response was not timely, and not adequate to the task. In 17 minutes, you can learn a lot!! Listen here.


The strike of more than 159,000 federal government workers continues to attract the sympathy of fellow Canadians. And that’s a good thing! When other workers’ wages are sliding downhill, typically not keeping up with inflation, members of PSAC have decided to lead the way in fighting back. The government is offering 3%, 3%, and 3% over three years, the union has proposed 13.5% over three years – which still does not keep up with inflation. Still it’s time for you to walk over and join the picket at your local MP’s office, or any federal building near you. Here I am with a new friend on the first day of the strike, in front of the Maritime Centre on Barrington St. in downtown Halifax. The Maritime Centre houses CSIS among other federal departments. The last time I protested in front of this building was in August 2006. At that time, Israel had carpet bombed much of the Beirut airport, and other targets in Lebanon. Israel killed 400 civilians. I handed out a leaflet about Israel’s tyranny and its dismal human rights record against Palestinians (and the Lebanese accused of hiding them). A young CSIS agent bounded up the steps. He refused to take a leaflet. I yelled out “what kind of intelligence officer doesn’t take a free leaflet?” He ignored me. Ten minutes later the same guy sauntered down the steps and sheepishly requested a leaflet. I guess his boss had asked him the same question I did.

Featured painting at the top: Two Maids by ‘Isaac’ Lazarus Israels, Dutch painter 1865-1934. For more on Israels, read this write-up.


  1. Although it was laboured in parts I loved Damian Lewis and Guy Pearce in A spy Amongst Friends about Kim Philby and if you haven’t read it yet, Ben Macintyre will be disappointed!

    The secret world of MI6 can be a small one. As all espionage cognoscenti know, Kim Philby was a member of the infamous Cambridge Five along with Anthony Blunt, Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess and John Cairncross. Philby knew John le Carré (aka David Cornwell) and ended le Carré’s career in MI6 by treacherously informing on all his East European secret agents. Few knew Philby was a cousin of Field Marshal Montgomery.

    Philby (and maybe other Famous Five members) also knew Colonel Alan Brooke Pemberton CVO MBE in the fifties when Pemberton was ADC to Field Marshal Sir Gerald Walter Robert Templer and fought in the guerrilla war known as the Malayan Emergency. Philby was sniffing around for information to help the communist Malayan insurgents but got little useful data from Templer’s camp and the insurgents (the Malayan National Liberation Army) were eventually defeated by the British.

    In the early seventies Alan Pemberton recruited one Bill Fairclough for MI6 (codename JJ). They worked together on and off for the next twenty years or so. Before 2014 Fairclough’s links with various intelligence agencies became public knowledge and to quash any fake narratives Fairclough set about publishing a series of factual autobiographical novels known as The Burlington Files, only one of which (Beyond Enkription) has been published to date.

    Given Alan Pemberton (Fairclough’s original MI6 handler knew Kim Philby) it is unsurprising that John le Carré turned down Bill Fairclough’s offer in 2014 to collaborate on the action packed factual Burlington Files series. David Cornwell responded along the lines of “Why should I? I’ve got by so far without collaboration so why bother now?” An expected but realistic response from a famous expert in passive fiction who refused to visit theburlingtonfiles.org in case his photo was snatched while on line!

    Or maybe because Pemberton’s People in MI6 even included Roy Astley Richards OBE (Winston Churchill’s bodyguard) and an eccentric British Brigadier (Peter ‘Scrubber’ Stewart-Richardson) who was once refused permission to join the Afghan Mujahideen. For more see a brief News Article on TheBurlingtonFiles website dated 31 October 2022 or read about Pemberton’s People in Beyond Enkription.


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