What happened to my outrage?

It is still there … my blinkers are unable to keep out the 24/7 streaming of imagery and strange activity that bombards us from all around. But long before I found that I had no allies in the sound government camp amongst the hard metal people and that they were revealing themselves as hard-right, Christian bigots to a large extent intent on hatred and preaching doom to their listeners, who profited neither in pocket nor in soul, I had also been coming to realise that the news and pundits depended on outrage and anger to peddle their wares. That people flock to bad news is just the way it is, but it is tragic that they will seek far and wide for that horror or injustice, not satisfied until something has made their blood boil that day. But how to continue to write and not take advantage of that inherent instinct and find things that anger me and write about those? Do you read editorials? Aren’t they always about something that one should be outraged about?

There was a standard opening to letters to the editor in The Times in London in the 1800’s, when it really was an extremely widely read publication and very indicative of its times [ha … ha, ed.], “I am shocked and appalled …,” and so they would get published of course. The letters that began, “I had a very solid day and appreciated the efforts of my neighbours …,” not so much. Indeed there was a book published called Shocked and Appalled about letters to the editor of The Globe and Mail, a Toronto daily.

I helped my father do research for an exciting book about the question of whether it truly was better to marry or burn, or as the Victorians were debating it, marriage or celibacy, that generated a fascinating series of letters to the editor of the Times, so I read a lot of letters to the editor. I still remember one that basically said, when poverty comes in the door, love flies out the window.

The letters were very revealing because people had widely different ideas about how much money you needed as income in order to afford to marry – class revealed and so many assumptions. Pure gold for the social historian. And then it gets funny – I went to see if I could find a link to dad’s book but couldn’t quite remember the title, and stumbled across what really shouldn’t exist, or should be even less visited than this inane blog, a subcategory, Best Selling Letters to the editor Books, which does indeed list dad’s book. Best cellar indeed. It ages well. I assume all Letters to the Editor Books are on there. The one about The Globe is, although it doesn’t have an attractive picture of the cover, unlike my pop’s. But I am digressing into the pleasant instead of explaining why I am digressing into the pleasant.

I don’t want to write about shocking and appalling things, and somehow want this blog to be a break from that for me as well as for you … an escape into the personal and the philosophical … a look at the deeper academic aspects of a question without being hopelessly polemical – a coffee shop on the cyber street of information.

roz chast man walks by coffee shop titled coffee and a kick in the pants new yorker cartoon 600x450  What happened to my outrage?

Or maybe a tea shoppe …  pets and pet peeve’s allowed, but you have to breathe deeply and take off those shoes. That is how I am trying to treat my own cranium after all and it would seem a disservice to not extend the same courtesy to all and sundry. Especially sundry.

Dang I wish I wrote that on Sunday … but have a sundry Friday or an all Friday, whichever you would prefer. The tea is on the house.

Posted in I AM FINALLY AWAKE, LIFE | 34 Comments

It’s funny how ideas can have a moment … or how did Nassim Taleb manage to worry about what we were just worrying about, i.e., what to worry about?

It is here in the comments on the last thread, and then just this morning a headline flashed past me, Fitch: Greek Election Uncertainty Raises Banks’ Liquidity Risks, as I checked on the current status of the U.S. dollar, and I remembered a previous me who would have tried to read those tea leaves. And when I went to the article, I realised that it was actually helping to raise said uncertainty, and was of course about what might happen, as waiting for actual events seems passé in news circles these days. Which got me discussing this question of what should one worry about with Mikey.

And then I started making Insanely good oxtail stew, because life is prosaic. But eventually I sat down on the couch with a cup of tea and remembered that it was Monday and there would be a new EconTalk podcast. And so there was [free of course to subscribe to on iTunes, if you want to be an eager nerd, ed.]. And wouldn’t it turn out that the discussion is really about what to worry about, and fat tails and thin tails and islands and ecosystems.

I think Nassim would have us worry about the consequences of the responses to the financial crisis and hence perhaps Greece, as he seems to include financial contagion as something that can have a globally disastrous fat tail … but I would also have to say that I did not follow all that was said as it is really a verbalization of a mathematical concept about risk analysis, which takes a bit of faith for the mediaevally trained. It ends on an interesting note as Nassim gets on an anti-GMO rant which one can’t help but be sympathetic to. It doesn’t really help in the ‘think globally, act locally’ meme but only because it doesn’t provide solutions, which wasn’t the goal of the underlying paper. My feeling about these podcasts that are much above my pay scale is that they rub off on one, helping to add a deep thinker’s, or two’s, or in this case quite a few’s, insights into the mishmash that wallows about in one’s cranium.

Like sleeping in a Holiday Inn Express, you just wake up feeling smarter!

Nassim Nicholas Taleb on the Precautionary Principle and Genetically Modified Organisms

EconTalk Episode with Nassim Nicholas Taleb
hosted Hosted by Russ Roberts

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of Antifragile, Black Swan, and Fooled by Randomness, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about a recent co-authored paper on the risks of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the use of the Precautionary Principle. Taleb contrasts harm with ruin and explains how the differences imply different rules of behavior when dealing with the risk of each. Taleb argues that when considering the riskiness of GMOs, the right understanding of statistics is more valuable than expertise in biology or genetics. The central issue that pervades the conversation is how to cope with a small non-negligible risk of catastrophe.

What me worry?

Posted in ECONOMICS, LIFE | 29 Comments

Is there any point in being mad at world leaders? On a Saturday morning at that …

Elected or not, a bunch of disappointments. But they are all nuts to try to run huge empires in the first place. I am currently particularly disappointed in the Pope, which is easy, but why can’t he defend free speech in the wake of a massacre?

Because he relies on a controlled flow of information from an authority (him) to control the masses at his feet. But how can he essentially defend hate, when he tries to be all mealy mouthed about respecting other people’s faiths, by which he means not drawing stupid cartoons, or you might deserve to die:

“You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others. There is a limit.”

What an unfortunate stance to take when religious extremism is what killed people here, not a lack of respect or an insult. Exactly backwards.

So once again [wonce? why isn’t once prenounced on-se? where does the w sound come from?] a big fat zero for organized religion. Anything based on one book or one man is bonkers. Like they say in Sawbones, that delightful marital tour of misguided medicine, a cure all cures nothing. [It really is worth the listen but you should go back to the beginning, just in case you get an urge to drill a hole in your head, which seems likely these days.]

And religion is nothing but a cure all, a lens through which to view the world. Experience puts on enough blinkers as we make fact out of anecdote and happenstance without letting someone else have the power to fit you with glasses that filter your understanding for you.

And that’s enough about that.


Stripping down and smearing oneself with paste while burning something, if not  an effigy, seems like a better alternative to the above referenced trepanation, and I think I will make an herbal infusion to aid in the ceremony. Now if only I can find my peace pipe …

which I pass to you cyberthetically on this chilly but warming Saturday.

Posted in LIFE, RANTS | 8 Comments

Sometimes life just calls your bluff …

and I seem to be more excited than horrified! It all comes from being married to an engineer, I suppose. And an engineer who loves to sail and also had a cottage on the Georgian Bay to spend summers at as a kid.

For reasons of luck and proximity, the cottage that I was lucky enough to spend summers at on Georgian Bay as a kid was neighbour to a cottage belonging to a professor who was a missionary to China of all things and won a Molson prize for Late Archaic Chinese: a grammatical study. One of his son’s happened to be just a bit older than my brothers and me, but we fell into friendly contact after awkward contact when we were little and our parents would interact. One of this son’s business ventures as a young adult involved getting Laser sailboats accepted as a class for Olympic sailing, and he had something to do with the initial design and construction of the prototypes I think. But one way or another, and it was sort of out of character, my parents bought one of the racing prototypes from him for me, when I was a youngish teenager. He would come out and laugh at how I had rigged it, because no one in my family was a sailor and I just tried to guess and remember [which is not a strong suit], and help me out.

And from these sort of Swallows and Amazons beginnings, we took advantage of my in-laws’ 22 ft Catalina for over 25 years. We took it on our honeymoon, and we took it on a beautiful 25th wedding anniversary trip up the Georgian Bay.

IMG 1859 600x400  Sometimes life just calls your bluff …

We took our children across the bay when they were little












and sailed with them in the Bahamas and British Virgin Islands. It just became a way of life whenever possible. Which wasn’t often enough.

But the Catalina is an old boat and frankly performs like a bit of a soggy bathtub, which is tough slogging for an engineer who happens to really like efficiency and has long been interested in sail and wing design. And then along comes a boat, with a long involved design story, that is efficient, and strangely safer than a mono-hull even though it is so much faster, a trimaran designed by Ian Farrier. But they are very expensive and while we have looked at them, and hubby has read much about them, it didn’t seem like a thing we were going to be able to really achieve. Not something we could actually live aboard and afford.

Someone else had a similar plan a while back though, and engineered the inside of this particular Corsair 31, the first aft-cockpit hull they made, so that it would be a functional cruiser, and they used the boat happily for years. But then it changed hands and after a while sat for some time in a boatyard in Wareham, Massachusetts. So we went and looked at it. And in a slightly odd twist it became ours. We are still stunned and that much closer to bankruptcy. It needs lots of TLC, but sweat equity is the name of the game, and I know it is going to clean up beautifully. And then maybe we can sail down the St. Lawrence and keep on going …. I will always come home though … my wanderlust comes in bursts, and one of the most astonishing things about the design of this boat is that it folds, even under way, and will make it through the narrows to Go Home.

When we showed a picture of a similar boat under sail to a close friend of one of our offspring, he said in a way that will forever endear him to me, “Oh, you bought a space ship!”

Here is the reality:

IMG 6110 600x450  Sometimes life just calls your bluff …But here is how the dream unfolds:

img3432 600x450  Sometimes life just calls your bluff …

We hope.

Posted in LIFE, PHOTOS | 35 Comments

I once [I try to spell once waunce and it is beginning to bother me] thought of a word game

in which you would trade back and forth completely contradictory aphorisms. Like “time waits for no man” would be fought with “haste makes waste”. [Haste Makes Waist is a slogan I thought of long ago when our country came up with the nauseating term “Participaction”, which really made you feel like you lived in a Soviet re-education camp, but would be great for a campaign against fast food. I should sell it to the King of New “no large sodas, but make mine a double” York.]

Look before you leap: he who hesitates is lost: better safe than sorry. An apple a day keeps the doctor away: mind over matter. A stitch in time saves nine. Hmnnn … how about forgiveness is easier than permission? That seems a slippery slope. I may have gone on about this before I realise as I was about to type “the early bird gets the worm: the second mouse gets the cheese,” [apparently it didn’t stop you, ed.] but coming around to my actual point, it does seem true that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. But does this metaphorize into real life? It depends … literally, yes. But in real life vinegar attracts humans much more than honey it seems when it comes to where they choose to spend that most precious of commodities, their attention.

Sorry to interrupt myself again, it is just that kind of a morning, but this reminded me of an interesting old econtalk podcast:

Esther Dyson talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the market for attention and how technology has changed, how much we pay attention to others, and vice versa. Along the way Dyson reminisces about Steve Jobs, the nature of the start-up and venture capital world, and the future of space travel.

Esther Dyson on the Attention Economy and the Quantification of Everything

I stopped getting a newspaper delivered to the house when our children were fairly young because it seemed to imply that the world was a horrible place. I had to remind them that the millions of dads who came home from work weren’t news, but the one who didn’t was. The odds are generally in your favour, but the newspaper fills one with dread. Television news is worse, where they want to bring the disaster straight into your living room, intestines if possible.

I am not proposing that it is correct to completely disengage, though the temptation is strong. But recognizing once again that ever present circle of concern that eats up your circle of influence if allowed free rein, turning to honey rather than vinegar attention-wise does seem more empowering. But maybe that’s the yoga talking! It is certainly my cup of tea talking … and that’s more my cup of tea, which I will take with a large dollop of honey.

3773947189 2cbf539ff9 z 600x419  I once  [I try to spell once waunce and it is beginning to bother me] thought of a word game
So excuse the saccharine prose, but I have had honey and vinegar and flies on the brain, and they made a strange brew. So remember to make hay while the sun shines but that man cannot live on bread alone … it is better when you remember which side it is buttered on, and toast it, and then add a little honey …

Have a sweet and eclectic Saturday,

Posted in LIFE | 22 Comments

Sometimes I am not really trying to make a point … things are just interesting in and of themselves

Why tell a story? Why take a photograph? Paint a painting, write a play … act in a play? Sing a song …

The arts are a funny thing. I got in trouble for saying this once because it sounded like I was lessening the value of art, I think, when I opined that all artists are journalists of their time. But it seems to me an inescapable truth, whether the artist is a critic or a participant, they [I apologize for switching to a plural pronoun but it is a tough call and always using he does irritate me, but he or she is ugly, and once someone proposed combining she, he and it into shit, which still strikes my funny bone, but language does evolve and dang it all I have accepted the transgendered and what will that do to pronouns and grammar? Shit indeed, and we are stuck I think with the least of many evils with they – sorry for the digression, but it actually came up very recently and I have struggled with it for literally decades and am tired of defending he as I used to, especially now that I am surrounded by he’s, having lost my only she ally, and Mouse doesn’t count because dogs are honorary males] will reflect their times.

Tom Wolfe really epitomizes this with a novel like Bonfire of the Vanities. Realer than life it is also not nearly as insane as reality. Dickens does it, and even when he moralizes or makes the good win in the end: he is reflecting his desperate desire that it should be so. Monet’s Garden is a lovely example too:

MonetsGarden15 copy 600x399  Sometimes I am not really trying to make a point … things are just interesting in and of themselves

It takes you to a time and place and helps you understand one man’s perception of that space. But it is a circular game. If it is important when painting a painting or taking a photograph to be telling a story, then what is the point of a story? To paint a picture of something with words, each one being but a one-thousandth of a picture, a picture being worth a thousand words.

Sometimes there is no point and things just are. We spend so much time trying to force a narrative onto things that we often miss the things themselves. And maybe that is where art can help, even though it always contains a forced narrative often well hidden, by slowing time down and allowing one to contemplate life without constant change. A still life, so to speak:


Paul Gaugin
Still life. Vase with flowers on the window
Nature morte. Vase de fleurs à la fenêtre.

Best to leave the notion of still as dead, as the French would have it, alone for the moment. But capturing time and in that sense stopping it for just that moment is a wonderful thing. So maybe sometimes the point of a story or a song or painting is simply that it happened, an anecdote so to speak, but one that cannot help but be reflective of its moment, and somehow help us understand that which cannot be explained.

Have a Thor-oughly thoughtful Thursday, as I have mercifully come to my final point.

[That was a really bad pun about the period at the end of the sentence, which when we were proofreading out loud for my dad we had to call a “stop”, which meant that I am forever left with Mr. F. Stop Fitzgerald in my head, as though he were a master photographer with awesome focus.]

Posted in LIFE, RANDOM | 31 Comments

Well, so much for not getting up in the early hours …

but frankly, sleeping from midnight to five is pretty much awesome. It reminds me of when we first had babies and if you slept for four hours you felt amazing. Perspective indeed. And I have an elderly friend, my mum’s best friend but mum is not up to communicating in this modern world and I am her proxy, who emails me on occasion and the other day I was replying and noticed that she had emailed me around 2 a.m. and I was responding around 4 a.m. When I mentioned to her that no one had told me I wouldn’t be able to sleep once I was older, she simple replied, “now you know” but then went on to add that she had come to enjoy her “midnight sojourns”.

I remember when my mum stopped being able to use her computer. She would deny it, and claim she had checked her email, etc., and I remember the frustration we felt and trying to show her … but now I realise she was telling us what she wanted to be true but just like getting into the rowboat, she could no longer visualize how to achieve her goals. It wasn’t lying, it was impossible for her to know that her brain was unable to get her limbs to move or her fingers to push the right buttons, so she found other reasons. But one day she did tell me that she couldn’t tell her legs what to do …

What am I on about? Perspective and then moralizing because I am watching the elderly perform a morality play and I would rather give advice than take it.

Mum wasn’t lying is the first perspective moment. Wondering how better we could have helped her is another. I learned about prompting as a tool a bit late in life [you would think a mum would have figured this out, ed! Hey, don’t be so judgmental, ghost of dad] but she took her widowing extremely hard and self-destructed so that is mostly idle speculation but helps me with her now and helps me understand manipulating people with objects, a subject for another time.

My mother-in-law, who graduated top of her class from the same high school that my mum graduated top of her class

Screen Shot 2015 01 06 at 8 14 06 AM 1 600x508  Well, so much for not getting up in the early hours …
[if you look closely you can find them separated by a year and it is almost as if she is pointing right at mum’s name, because who wouldn’t]

remembered to bring all of her digital versions of her paintings to me on memory sticks because I have promised to build her a website [as in WordPress forced to pretend it is a website] and she is probably wondering what is taking me so long. She is off to the Bahamas soon … [I still can’t quite believe that the offspring of those two top girls met and spawned …]

Sorry mum, but I must go on … these three lovely women, and mum’s best friend would certainly have given her a run for her top girl money, but went to a different school and they only met in first year university when they were 19, are very much peers. They had similar advantages, not equally wealthy but ended up with access to the same world. Two widowed, one not. What was different? Genetics, diet, exercise and attitude. And alcohol consumption. I understand my mum’s sadness, but when I see what it let happen to her I am shocked into some sort of action. Frequently inappropriate action, but that is also a subject for another time. I used to argue with her about happiness and whether it was strictly relative, her opinion, or not, mine. I would claim that I could know I was happier than if my children had died in infancy and I had had all my teeth pulled by twenty, as happened to her father [the teeth not the dying in infancy!] living in say Yorkshire in the late 1800’s. And then I would really irritate her by saying I hoped my children would be happier than me. Not sure why this got her goat so much, but it did.

I am lecturing myself here, slapping me back into happiness, but also hoping to take others along for the ride hence the public laundering. I don’t drink like mum did, just to lay her Scotch bottle on the table, but I like to avoid reality like a champ. And how can I let mum be right about happiness and look at these surroundings and be a chump about it? Especially when one of those three girls, the baby of the group at a sprightly 82, visiting at Christmas left the number of a local yoga studio that she found through her yoga instructor, where they practice Restorative Yoga. And wouldn’t they have a class tomorrow.

And I’ll bet it will help me enjoy my midnight sojourns, or any time I am awake, finally, superlatively, awake. As I heard someone say the other day, any day this side of the grass, son, any day above it.

And so we rise above it … and try to remember to be both loving and lovely as we enjoy any sojourns that we are so lucky to have. Sorry to be all soupy, it must be the turkey stock talking. Have a Tuesday!

Posted in LIFE | 10 Comments

I just have to put the World’s Worst Novel in a drawer …

it has become paralyzing in a way. I may rescue the characters, but they can have a nice nap in the meantime. And unlike Sims, they won’t die if I forget to feed them.

Ah, that felt good. I feel like I broke something and finally ‘fessed up.


Good Morning … from many perspectives!

Posted in LIFE, WORLD'S WORST NOVEL | 32 Comments

It is the dawning of the age of aquarius, or maybe not …

but as arbitrary markers of time go, the new year is important because you have to remember to write a 5 instead of a 4 at the end of the year. I find this quite tricky as five and four are very similar in a dylsecix world, not to mention getting an emotional wallop over the passage of time every time you see that inexplicable 2015! What ever happened to 1978?

[Pause while I try to remember how great it is to get old … better than the alternative:
 Ah, it always works!]

But while New Year’s Eve can seem unseemly, a seemingly mandatory drunkfest that lost its appeal many a year ago, the image of Janus, god of doorways, looking through a new door frame hopefully, an old man on one side and a toddler on the other, has stuck with me from some early age. And if you have to be a god of something, getting assigned doorways and time has to be pretty cool.

I don’t know how they know this, but it sounds good to me:

Janus as gatekeeper of the gates connecting Heaven and Earth and guardian of all passages is particularly related to time and motion. He holds the first place in ritual invocations and prayers, in order to ensure the communication between the worshipper and the gods. He enjoys the privilege of receiving the first sacrifice of the new year, which is offered by the rex on the day of the Agonium of January as well as at the kalendae of each month: These rites show he is considered the patron of the cosmic year. Ovid in his Fasti has Janus say that he is the original Chaos and also the first era of the world, which got organised only afterwards. He preserves a tutelary function on this universe as the gatekeeper of Heaven….

And good for him I must say!

You will be pleased to know that the Agonium of January falls on the 9th, so there is plenty of time to arrange your sacrifice, and you haven’t already blown it for the coming beanfest of a year. Today however is the kalends of the month, so get offering! You do not want to irritate a fellow who preserves as he does a tutelary function on this universe and could claim any and all of these titles, one of which would make an excellent wrestling personality … actually two of them … maybe all three: Patron of the Cosmic Year, Gatekeeper of Heaven, and best of all, The Original Chaos!

I really like that things were only organized afterwards. Maybe that is why Janus can see through time, having been able to see everything all at once before it got complicated by distance, because really that is what happened with the big bang … it all got more organized as things cooled and got further apart, separating into elements, whizzing about through space, turning into stars and planets and trees. And without distance there wouldn’t really be time to measure … although it all hinges on gravity, which controls distance but remains an elusive force, the slippery devil. But it does bring us back to this mundane earth, which we are so lucky to live on.

And so while I dislike New Year’s Eve, I am very fond of New Year’s Day and happy to make an offering to Janus on this calends of the month [apparently kalends is in the mollusk family of spelling, switching from k to c on an academic whim] in the hopes that both chaos and organization afterwards will occur, although I would like to go a little lighter on the chaos this time round the sun. So Happy Arbitrary January 1st. It couldn’t have come at a better time!

Posted in LIFE | 22 Comments

Can’t help myself …

Happy Birthday to Me!

Xy3 - Version 3

Well, maybe that was a mistake … I kind of miss that me. But one of my brothers once famously said on someone’s advanced birthday, “Think of the alternative.” And yes, it is fabulous to be alive.

IMG_7452 - Version 2

My blessings far outweigh my thorns and high on that list is the fact that our furniture got delivered in the St. Nick of time by the reupholsterer [on Monday, and my octogenarian in-laws arrived on Tuesday]. We had been living without it for almost three months because of a fabric procurement issue and the thought that we would pick a difference one after the insane process of getting agreement on what to do in a house resistant to change, that lets the dog on the couch, and has what one might consider strong opinions, was not on the table.

The couch and chair came from my father’s office at Emmanuel College, in a beautiful old stone building with marble stairs that were actually worn down by a century of scholarly and not so scholarly [mine] footsteps.

Emmanuel college toronto1 600x450  Can’t help myself …

Dad’s office was actually two offices, and the one that housed the Mill Project was a massive hall on the second floor. My parents would give me the keys and let me go down there and work on essays because they got a very early word-processor [a Wang – what a name!] and I lucked out and was able to do all of my university essays on computers, a huge advantage I now realise. It was both creepy and awesome to be in there at night and have the whole building to myself. There was even a basketball court that doubled as an auditorium. They have definitely filmed a bunch of horror movies there and in the quads behind. They even filmed Chicago in Toronto!

But back to the real heroes of the story, the couch and chair.

When the Mill project was over, unfortunately the office had to be given up, and there was a corner with this beat up old couch and chair and nobody knew what to do with the furniture. I remember calling my hubby-to-be or hubby [the timeline is foggy] and him coming over and double-checking the astonishing fact that he could lie comfortably on it full length. It has wing arms that are just right to support your head.

When I was first going to get it recovered I remember a sister-in-law questioning my judgement and mentioning horse hair or something and it not being worth it. Well, there was horse hair, and that was twenty-odd [and I mean odd] years ago, and now here we are, three grown children, a third dog, and the same couch and chair, just rebuilt to last another generation, or three, if you are a canine. [And if you are a canine, I would really like to congratulate you on your reading skills!]

And so while I miss that beautiful younger me, I could not be happier to get to be this somewhat rumpled older me. A lot like the couch and chair, except I am not off to the reupholsterer. Age is a victory really, and why should one hide those well-earned lines? Let’s just hope they are mostly laugh lines, and sometimes that is a matter of choice and perspective, I remind myself most sternly today of all days.

And speaking of well-learned lines, don’t forget to watch A Christmas Carol today [but only the version with Alistair Sim].  I have been lucky enough to watch that every birthday of my life, well, not the first, and many of them from this same old couch that I am sitting on writing this now, fifty-two years later. That is incredibly lucky!

Thank you very much for putting up with me. Like Ebenezer, I don’t deserve to be so happy.

I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a most excellent my birthday. Here’s to us indeed!

Posted in LIFE | 100 Comments