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The news, it burns

(Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal)

Quotation of the Day for August 7, 2011

“A study of history shows that civilizations that abandon the quest for knowledge are doomed to disintegration.”

– Bernard Lovell

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Random neat stuff from RSS feeds – Wed Aug 03, 2011
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Random neat stuff from RSS feeds – Wed Jul 27, 2011
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Camp!

Once upon a time I was staffing a camp bus and there was this one little boy of about eight who DID NOT want to go to camp. He clung and clung to his mother who, in a moment of extreme madness, had actually got on the bus* to say goodbye to him.

Two of us pried the kid off the mom, one finger at a time. Finally Mom was detached (and firmly directed off the bus) but then the kid latched firmly on to the handrail on the bus stairs and couldn’t be budged. The bus couldn’t legally leave with him there in front of the white line, of course, and the mom stood three feet away from the open door, continuing to feed the drama.

Five minutes of soothing conversation with the shrieking kid got us absolutely nowhere and was making my head pound — I was, shall we say, not at my best after a long night out — and the mom was looking like she was about to lose her wits entirely and come back on the bus so finally I looked at a friend of mine and kind of hopelessly said “Help. DO SOMETHING.” He reached over and very quickly and neatly flipped the kid up over the rail into the front seat of the bus before the kid even knew what was happening. The bus driver slammed the doors closed and we were off.

The kid didn’t stop shrieking for a good long time — Barrie, IIRC.**

That kid? That kid has nothing in common with my kid.

Off to camp!

A mere 60 hours after her arriving home from her usual summer adventures in Western Canada, today was Camp Day for M. We got to the bus departure zone today and she found her friends, ran around with them doing some excited shrill squeaking, then got on the bus for three weeks of camp without a backwards glance.

“Do you think she’ll come off again and say goodbye?” D asked, and we each gave it about 50% odds. She did, in the end. Then she got on the bus and we smiled and waved as it left, and I remembered That Kid and felt glad that my own kid chooses other forms of drama.

Maybe we’ll get a letter from her this year. I’d give that about 50% odds, too.


* Rule for parents at camp buses: no matter how upset your kid is (or you are) it’s best to deploy the Madagascar penguin solution: smile and wave, boys; smile and wave.

** Once he was at camp he was fine. They all are.
I did make sure to send his cabin on their canoe trip with someone other than me, though, because it was really loud shrieking.

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Random neat stuff from RSS feeds – Wed Jul 20, 2011
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Random neat stuff from RSS feeds – Wed Jul 13, 2011
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It’s Spiderman! It’s a pirate! It’s both!

My nephew was apparently in need of some of his own dress-up clothes so for his 3rd birthday recently, I made him a cape using these fabrics and this tutorial:


It’s totally reversible and the neck closure is done with a little bit of velcro so it’s pretty safe (the velcro comes undone easily so it would be hard to strangle yourself).


Because of the length and the way the seams are tacked down it has a pretty good swing to it, even when one is wearing a bathrobe:

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Random neat stuff from RSS feeds – Wed Jul 06, 2011
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Random neat stuff from RSS feeds – Mon Jun 20, 2011
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An Ode to Popcorn

Among the detritus that came home at the end of the school year, I found M’s poetry notebook. They covered cinquains, rhyming couplets and odes.

It is a brave teacher, I think, who is willing to venture into Ode territory with a class of grade 2/3/4’s.

“I like M’s poetry,” said her teacher at one interview. “It always makes sense“. So it does… mostly:

An Ode to Popcorn (By M.K., grade 4)

O popcorn how wonderful you are
Your crunch and saltiness make a delcicious snack
I love to eat you riding in the car.
I even like you when your burnt and black.

I can put flavours on you.
I love the watermelon flavour
And sometimes, in mysterys, you’re a clue.
The popcorn, yellow and crisp, I savor.

(I left the original spellings intact. I wouldn’t want to mess with anyone’s artistic decisions. ;-) )

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In Which I Read Stuff: Nonfiction

I had the feeling I wasn’t actually reading much nonfiction lately, but looking at the piles on my floor and the history of my library borrowings that isn’t actually true. I didn’t read any nonfiction in the first few months of this year since I was working really insane hours to do 36 projects at once and in the fifteen minutes before collapsing into bed each night I needed exceedingly fluffy fiction that offered my poor brain no challenges whatsoever, but since then the nonfiction has picked up again.

At one point recently I was simultaneously reading:

1. Bill Bryson, Home
2. Keith Richards, My Life
3. Nigel Slater, Tender (Vols I & II): A Cook and His Vegetable Patch and A Cook’s Guide to the Fruit Garden.

This caused a friend to comment:

There’s probably a mash-up to be written that involves shooting up locally grown heroin in a perfectly restored English country house.

…which I have to admit I’d probably read and enjoy, if it existed.

The Bryson is a sort of rambling history of the theory of various kinds of housing and building in Britain, in Bill Bryson’s usual style. It’s a decent overview if you haven’t much knowledge of the area already; if you do it’s a non-challenging, competent review with his usual particular attention to quirk, humour and oddity. His comment that after the Romans left, the inhabitants of Britain pretty much gave up on the whole concept of comfort and haven’t ever really regained it does, I think, ring true and certainly explains British plumbing.

The Keef is his autobiography. It isn’t exactly linear but it is great fun. Plus, pictures!

And Nigel, bless him, has provided me with more fruit and vegetable recipes than I’ll ever be likely to get through, although he does have that odd British instinct to boil things and although the recipes contain mysterious — to my North American eye — ingredients such as gammon and groundnut oil (which I’m sure are things already in my kitchen, but under different names, but do I ever remember to Google them?). His fruits and veggies have effusive personalities. His quinces simper, they’re both exotic and erotic, and don’t get him started on plums.

Other things in the “recent” pile:

Carl Safina, The View from Lazy Point. A nicely written rumination on various environmental issues. Lots of anecdote that helps bring abstract points somewhere we can touch.

Peter H. Gleick, Bottled & Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession With Bottled Water. I can never understand why people spend money buying — and oil packaging and transporting — water, so I didn’t learn much from this book but had my biases reconfirmed and added a few good anecdotes to my repertoire. Worth a read.

Ben Goldacre, Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks and Big Pharma Flacks – Covers bad science of several different stripes. This book got good reviews, but I think it was short on necessary detail and explanation. It assumed the reader knew a lot of what it was purporting to explain, to my eye. Preaching to the converted, as it were. An entertaining rant if your science is already good; possibly a bit frustrating otherwise. As it was aimed at the general reader I don’t think it quite hit the mark. Perhaps I am wrong.

James Howard Kunstler, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition. If you were just starting out reading about cities/urban development/etc. — AFTER you read Jane Jacobs’ excellent and very readable The Death and Life of Great American Cities (do not groan, it really is a good book) — this wouldn’t be a bad book to start with, so long as you don’t mind a certain amount of profanity. I love Kunstler; he’s extremely low-bullshit and his hyperbole is very expressive. Here’s a bit from his chapter on Atlanta (which, it may be obvious, he does not like):

There was, however, at the same time, a gathering recognition among the prospering classes that the development explosion of the past thirty-odd years around Atlanta had begun to produce diminishing returns, as the geeks in econ might say, tending toward a decrease in the quality of life–to use the kind of euphemistic, understated, neutral language that was commonly employed to describe the fucking mess that even hardcore suburban growth cheerleaders, in their narcotic raptures of consumerism and gourmet coffee, had begun to dimly apprehend. … Routine midday trips to the supermarket now required the kind of strategic planning used in military resupply campaigns under wartime conditions. Mothers with children were spending so many hours on chauffeuring duty that they qualified for livery licenses. Motorists were going mad, literally, behind the wheel–one berserker tired of waiting at an intersection shot out the signal light with a handgun.

Look up his TED talks if you’d like to get a sense of his style before committing to a whole book.

Niall Ferguson, The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World. This one is an audiobook that’s been lurking on my iPod for longer than I’d like to admit. I keep making it about four chapters in, and it’s interesting, but it needs more concentration than I can manage in audiobook circumstances. Not that it’s not good – it is! (Well, up to Chapter 4 anyway.) It’s just that I tend to listen to audiobooks when I need half my attention to be elsewhere and this book asks for more than that. I have a few long plane trips coming up; perhaps that will finally get me to Chapter 5.

Michael Lewis, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine. Vintage Lewis; he uses a half-dozen stories to help illustrate and explain the causes behind the recession. A bit sensationalistic but very readable, full of well-done explanation and not at all dull.

On my library hold list:

Seth Mnookin, The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear. The anti-vaccination thing drives me mad; it’s such a result of first-world complacency and scientific illiteracy. This book has good reviews and I’m hoping to be able to recommend it to people.

Ken Greenberg, Walking Home: the Life and Lessons of a City Builder. Apparently city issues are big with me lately. Or maybe there are lots of good books coming out (FINALLY) on this. Either way.

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Random neat stuff from RSS feeds – Mon Jun 13, 2011
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Snort.

Sometimes we use Twitter to conduct highly professional conversations.











It’s probably a good thing none of us plans to run for public office.

(And yes, I did ask both of them before posting this!)

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“Tax Freedom” Day is bullshit.

Not relatively minor chickenshit — full-on full-size bullshit. If I could pitch the entire Fraser Institute off a cliff for even thinking up the term I would do it.

So, yes, the Fraser Institute is going on about how June 6 is “Tax Freedom Day” this year — the day after which “Canadians finally pay off their taxes for the year and can start working for themselves”. And CBC, shame on them, feels the need to pay attention to their pathetic bleating.

As if paying taxes wasn’t already “working for yourself”, your family, your neighbourhood, your country. As if there’s no value at all to the services provided by all our levels of government. As if we’d be better off without those services. As if civilization doesn’t depend on them. As if you could provide them cheaper by yourself instead of taking advantage of massive economies of scale. As if the people whining about them haven’t benefited massively from the services that have been provided to them; as if those taxes didn’t pay for the educational institutions and infrastructure that’s put them in such a privileged position that they’re now free to spend their time whining instead of doing something useful.

I’ll indulge in a lengthy but topical quote from Heather Mallick’s “Tax is not a dirty word” here:

Traffic lights, military graveyards, restaurant kitchen inspection, best-before dates on cheese, transport-truck safety, passports, immunization, filtration standards for urban cremation chimneys, crosswalk-painting, drainage, bank deposit insurance, child-support enforcement, prison guards, chiropractor regulation, bridges, tunnels, flag design, auditors-general, airwaves usage, census-taking, postal codes, organ donation, courts, clean water, weather history, alcoholism treatment, classrooms, assisted reproduction, at-risk species registration, forest-insect slaughter, fish conservation, Olympic training, vehicle registration, name change, international child abduction search and rescue.

Take a deep breath, class.

Building codes, nature trails, mental health treatment, Ontario cemetery finding, Toronto bike lockers, maps, vehicle sensors, P.A.T.H., apartment standards, First Nations statistics, land claims, bankruptcy, Polar Continental Shelf tracking, veterans, fence disputes, fraud and waste hotline, leaf pickup, snow removal, urban forestry, Hydro, pesticide regulation, Great Lakes pilotage, litter collection, committees of adjustment, army and navy, autism assessment, behavioural therapy, border guards, serial-killer tracking, copyright, Supreme Court appointments, governors-general, access to information, adoption records, critical infrastructure protection.

And another breath.

Air-bag safety, student loans, agricultural income stabilization, immigration, embassies and consulates, parole, postage stamps, streamlined customs clearance, the national do-not-call list, forest-fire mapping, petroleum and natural gas lands administration, canola dealer licensing, hunting and snaring licences, fisheries, elections, pensions, money-minting, aviation museums, polar ice-watching, police college, social assistance, unemployment insurance.

And that was just a taste, a smattering, of what Canadians do and have done for them, the stuff that makes you want to kiss the sweet Pearson tarmac when you get home from the bloody dust of Afghanistan and never leave this good-natured civilized paved place until whatever-awaits-us extends its bony hand and says “Follow me.”

Perhaps the Fraser Institute should relocate itself to, say, Somalia, if it feels taxes are so valueless. Fine. Go live somewhere without them. Work “for yourself”. (Here’s your AK-47, son. You’ll need it.)

Or perhaps Syria. A friend, posting the link to the blog of an out lesbian in Damascus who was just abducted off the street noted:

My friends blog about books and cycling and writing for TV, and then they go on with their lives. We are all extremely lucky.

Yes, we are lucky, extremely lucky. And in part we make our own luck by paying our damn taxes so that we can continue to live in a civilized country where people living peaceful lives don’t, as a rule, get snatched off the street.

/soapbox.

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Random neat stuff from RSS feeds – Mon Jun 06, 2011
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To do

A to-do list I found on M’s floor today.

I detect a nascent world domination plan here, which I suppose was inevitable given her genetic material.

I’m intrigued by the possibilities of the “fake lightening machien” and the “bat machien” and I wonder what the stuffed horse robots are going to do with their remote-controlled car, but I particularly like the note at the top: “*clean desk before attempting any of this”.

Latest in plush: statistical distributions

Having pretty much exhausted biological subjects (roadkill, organs, diseases), makers of fine plush lovies have moved into statistical distributions. You can buy a full set of ten, or individual distributions if you’re particularly fond of one.

Plush statistical distributions

I note they also sell “statosaur” burp cloths featuring embroidery which combines dinosaurs and statistical distributions. Excellent!

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Random neat stuff from RSS feeds – Mon May 30, 2011
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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.

[http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/economy-lab/stephen-gordon/the-truth-behind-tax-cuts-you-might-not-be-better-off/article1960947/]

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Random neat stuff from RSS feeds – Mon May 23, 2011
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