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Quotation of the Day for July 2, 2014

“I think the deepest sacrifice of those that we ask to go to war is not the possibility that they may die or their colleagues may die, but the sacrifice of their normal unwillingness to kill – and in particular that when they come back we don’t want to know what it is that they’ve had to do.”

– Stanley Hauerwas, professor of theology and ethics at Duke University.

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The cheese stands alone

Quotation of the Day for June 21, 2014

“A cheese may disappoint. It may be dull, it may be naive, it may be oversophisticated. Yet it remains cheese, milk’s leap toward immortality.”

– Clifton Fadiman

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Yep, that’s an accomplishment

I just got back home after being on the road for three weeks. I was in Jordan in the Syrian refugee camps, the United Nations, I was signing books in Norway and in Sweden and in Spain. And I got home, and waiting for me was the board copy of “Chu’s Day,” which they’d just gotten for really little kids. And I’m not sure I’ve ever been more proud holding this big cardboard thing where the pages are big and thick and you know the pages are going to get chewed on and sucked.

And your mind goes back 52 years, in my case, and you remember what the taste of chewing a board book is. I’ve made one of them. I’m a real author finally.

Neil Gaiman

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Quotation of the Day for January 23, 2012

“‘No accident that _débâcle_ is a French word,’ observed my brother once…. The word _débâcle_ suggests the going-wrong of an elaborately conceived plan: a disaster that somehow leaves the principal parties not only having lost what they were aware that they were risking but much more besides, as if an attempt to charm the boss by inviting him to dinner and cooking an ambitious favourite dish of his were to result in the death by poisoning of his wife, the loss of one’s job, collapse of one’s marriage, one’s bankruptcy, turn to violent crime, and subsequent death in a shoot-out with police – when all one was worried about was the risk of curdling the hollandaise. Compare the implication of mismanagement, of organization going wrong, in the Gallic _débâcle_ with the candidly chaotic, intimate quality of the Italian _fiasco_, or the blokishly masculine and pragmatic (and I would suggest implicitly reversible and therefore, in its deep assumptions, optimistic) American _fuck-up_.”

– John Lanchester, The Debt to Pleasure.

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And so — 2012.

As usual Neil Gaiman has the best wish, which has managed to condense thoughts that took me three pages to write for my niece into a few short lines. Well, that’s why Neil gets the big bucks and I don’t, isn’t it?

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.

If one does fall prey to the most common New Year’s Eve mistake, there is this helpful guide from Slate to guide us through those first, often fraught, hours after waking: Drinking in the Morning After – The do’s and don’ts of imbibing in the a.m.

Drinking at breakfast is a rare pleasure with a noble heritage, and you need to show some decorum. If self-respect is beyond you at the moment in question, then settle for showing some respect for the institution. Treat this as a special occasion and dress to impress—a feat easily accomplished by waking up in or near your tuxedo. At the very least, affix a boutonniere to the lapel of your bathrobe.

Finally, while it’s still nice and quiet and we all have time to plan, I’ll remind everyone that I have declared January 2 to be Introvert Day — the only holiday that you celebrate by deliberately NOT gathering with beloved family and friends. Enjoy your precious solitude, and may 2012 bring you happiness.

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We should all stand against it

As usual, someone else has said what I wanted to say about Remembrance Day much better than I could:

The Evil That Walks By Night

There is an evil that walks by night, stalking a nurse just off the night shift, stomping a gay guy, snapping the crucifix from a headstone.

Unchecked and unchallenged, it becomes bolder, enjoying the ability to strike fear or cause pain or create suffering. Sometimes it finds like-minded companions and begins to feel safe in the daylight and to contemplate even larger evils.

When that happens, there have always been those willing to force the evil back into the night. Some of those brave men and women don’t come home, leaving families in need of help. Some return from the battles with scars it takes time to heal.

That’s where the money raised by Poppies goes. And wearing one designates you as one who understands that sometimes sacrifice is required and you respect those who chose to pay the price.

But it also marks you as one who knows that there is evil in the world and that you stand against it.

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On the shortness of life

Quotation of the Day for April 12, 2009

“You will hear many men saying: “After my fiftieth year I shall retire into leisure, my sixtieth year shall release me from public duties.” And what guarantee, pray, have you that your life will last longer? Who will suffer your course to be just as you plan it? Are you not ashamed to reserve for yourself only the remnant of life, and to set apart for wisdom only that time which cannot be devoted to any business? How late it is to begin to live just when we must cease to live! What foolish forgetfulness of mortality to postpone wholesome plans to the fiftieth and sixtieth year, and to intend to begin life at a point to which few have attained!”

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, from On the Shortness of Life

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And then you’re all in a less-civilized place

Quotation of the Day for May 30, 2011

“Receiving a tax cut is like standing up at a concert in order to get a better view. It’s easy enough to see why an individual might be tempted. But if everyone does it, the gains become much less clear-cut.”

– Stephen Gordon, on the illusory benefits of tax cuts.


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Ridden hard and put away wet

“Some people try to turn back their odometers. Not me, I want people to know why I look this way. I’ve traveled a long way and some of the roads weren’t paved.”

– Will Rogers
Quotation of the Day for April 21, 2011

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I have great friends

Quotation of the Day for November 9, 2009

“That same afternoon I was sitting on a stool in an intoxicated condition in Grogan’s licensed premises. Adjacent stools bore the forms of Brinsley and Kelly, my two true friends. The three of us were occupied in putting glasses of stout into the interior of our bodies and expressing by fine disputation the resulting sense of physical and mental well-being.”

– Flann O’Brien, from his novel At Swim-Two-Birds.

Yesterday I had the chance to see a whole bunch of people I haven’t seen in ages, along with a whole bunch of people I see often. We ate and drank and talked and laughed and generally had a lovely time.

Today I am smiling and, as the quote says, full of a sense of physical and mental well-being (despite a lack of stout and intoxication). It is a privilege to know all the people I know, even if I only see some of you every couple of decades, whether I saw you yesterday or ten years ago. Thank you, all of you.

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For my grandmother, who was also a good pirate

Perhaps it’s silly to post a link to a blog that purports to be written by a cat in honour of my Vanaema, but I like this piece and the tone is right.


Rest well, Rita Kalda. December 4 1924 – February 7 2011.



Thank you, sir, for worrying about the right things:

John Williams has been making wine in California’s Napa Valley for nearly 30 years, and he farms so ecologically that his peers call him Mr. Green. But if you ask him how climate change will affect Napa’s world-famous wines, he gets irritated, almost insulted. “You know, I’ve been getting that question a lot recently, and I feel we need to keep this issue in perspective,” he told me. “When I hear about global warming in the news, I hear that it’s going to melt the Arctic, inundate coastal cities, displace millions and millions of people, spread tropical diseases and bring lots of other horrible effects. Then I get calls from wine writers and all they want to know is, ‘How is the character of cabernet sauvignon going to change under global warming?’ I worry about global warming, but I worry about it at the humanity scale, not the vineyard scale.”

“We have no idea what effects global warming will have on the conditions that affect Napa Valley wines, so to prepare for those changes seems to me to be whistling past the cemetery,” he says, a note of irritation in his voice. “All I know is, there are things I can do to stop, or at least slow down, global warming, and those are things I should do.”

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I’m okay, you’re okay – in small doses

Quotation of the Day for February 27, 2010

“Extroverts are energized by people, and wilt or fade when alone,” writes Jonathan Rauch in The Atlantic. “In contrast, after an hour or two of being socially `on,’ we introverts need to turn off and recharge. This isn’t antisocial. It isn’t a sign of depression. It does not call for medication. For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating. Our motto: `I’m okay, you’re okay – in small doses.”‘

– Wendy Dennis, in House and Home magazine, December 2009.

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Yes, Doctor Freud, I think it does go back to my potty-training days

I feel a bit sorry for the writer, who is clearly stuck in potty-training hell with his kid, but this review did make me snort:

Safety 1st Jack Potty ($33.65)

Just as I was set to love the Boon, I was ready to despise Jack Potty—a potty chair that looks like a slot machine? Has there ever been a worse concept for a children’s product? Excluding lawn darts and candy cigarettes?

Jack PottyThe Jack Potty has multiple colored lights and a spinning display that features guitar-playing bananas. When the potty has been used successfully, lights flash, buzzers buzz, and a voice offers congratulations. For additional verisimilitude, the potty plays the sound of cascading coins, though no actual money pours out (Version 2.0?). The Jack Potty is the only addiction-themed potty I ran across in my research, and I half-worry that my son will, as an adult, find himself inextricably drawn to casinos, sitting there day after day, glassy eyed, wearing diapers so he doesn’t have to leave his machine. Oh, the irony.

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Quotation of the Day for January 13, 2010

Quotation of the Day for January 13, 2010

“But the main idea is the first one: hanging on, staying alive. Canadians are forever taking the national pulse like doctors at a sickbed: the aim is not to see whether the patient will live well but simply whether he will live at all. Our central idea is one which generates, not the excitement and sense of adventure or danger which The Frontier holds out, not the smugness and/or sense of security, of everything in its place, which The Island can offer, but an almost intolerable anxiety. Our stories are likely to be tales not of those who made it but of those who made it back, from the awful experience — the North, the snowstorm, the sinking ship — that killed everyone else. The survivor has no triumph or victory but the fact of his survival; he has little after his ordeal that he did not have before, except gratitude for having escaped with his life.”

– Margaret Atwood, writer, in her book Survival, comparing the dominant symbols of the literatures of the United States (The Frontier), England (The Island), and Canada (Survival).

Case in point, Alden Nowlan’s poem, which had a nice run in the Toronto subways a decade ago:

Canadian January Night

Ice storm: the hill
a pyramid of black crystal
down which the cars
slide like phosphorescent beetles
while I, walking backwards in obedience
to the wind, am possessed
of the fearful knowledge
my compatriots share
but almost never utter:
this is a country
where a man can die
             simply from being
caught outside

—Alden Nowlan, Selected Poems

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Quotation of the Day for December 3

Quotation of the Day for December 3, 2009

“She wondered why someone would bother to write that; but then, ‘Why bother’ was never a question you could ask about more or less anything on the Internet, otherwise the whole bunch of them shriveled to a cotton-candy nothing.”

– Nick Hornby, in his novel Juliet, Naked.

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I am sad my bank has no cheese vault

Quotation of the Day for September 3, 2009

“Thank heavens we caught the robbers before they grated it.”

– William Bizzarri, on the theft and recovery of 570 wheels of Parmesan cheese held as collateral by the Credito Emiliano bank in Italy. Bizzarri manages the cheese vaults of the bank.


No mom jeans, then?

A brief movie review on BoingBoing raises a fashion issue I had not previously considered:

…when you dress yourself in the morning, please take note that this outfit could possibly be the one in which you spend eternity as a reanimated corpse.

I’ve earned every one of mine
Lesson 397 - Wrinkles

Lesson 397 - Wrinkles

(Surviving the World)

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Sensible words from Michael Pollan

Well, you know, it’s very interesting. Since this book came out, where I argue don’t buy high-fructose corn syrup and don’t buy products with more than five ingredients, suddenly the industry is—you know, they’re so clever. I have to hand it to them. But now they’re arguing that their products are simpler, and there’s new Haagen-Dazs 5, which is a five-ingredient Haagen-Dazs product. You know, it’s still ice cream. Ice cream is wonderful, but we shouldn’t treat it as health food because it now has only five ingredients. … Frito-Lay potato chips now is arguing that they’re local. Now, you have to remember, any product is local somewhere. Right? This food doesn’t come from Mars. But to think that Frito-Lay as a local potato chip is really a stretch.

So, I’ve had to update my rules. And with all this new marketing based on these ideas, my new suggestion is, if you want to avoid all this, simply don’t buy any food you’ve ever seen advertised. Ninety-four percent of ad budgets for food go to processed food. I mean, the broccoli growers don’t have money for ad budgets. So the real food is not being advertised. And that’s really all you need to know.

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