The Secret to a Long Life (is Knowing When it’s Time to Go)

Oct-03-2014 | Comments Off

I’ve put out Tikkunista for eleven years. I used to describe it as a weekly that publishes roughly 40 times a year, but that’s dropped to maybe 20 times a year. A year ago I wrote about why I was going to stop publishing the weekly (or whatever) updates, but like a trial separation in which the couple drifts back together, it didn’t seem to work. I think what brought me back was both a spate of letters from dear readers saying how much they would miss me, and the absense of anything else to take up the empty space in my day.

Here’s what I wrote a year ago: I will try putting out a Twitter feed @tikkunista that will allow me to send out items I find. But that won’t take up any time that I’m not reading online. It’ll cut out the hours of formatting and embedding links that I now spend each week. Ending Tikkunista will create an empty space in my life, that I will then find something else to fill, because there is no space that abhors a vacuum more than the space between waking and sleeping. I’m not sure what that activity will be, but it needs to be something that isn’t sitting in front of a computer. It doesn’t need to pay well, but it needs to be something that offers me a community.

I’ve been lucky enough to find what I was looking for. I joined NUUC (Neighbourhood Unitarian Universalist Community) which isn’t actually in my neighbourhood, but about 40 minutes across the city. But it is a non-dogmatic spirit-oriented group of people (more info here) and at present I’m involved in about seven different activities, ranging from co-chairing the Social Action Committee to leading Sunday Services (think of an MC introducing the next act, and you’ve got the rough idea), to being part of a men’s group, doing some editing, some cooking, and a few other things. And of course attending Sunday Services. It has been a joy, and I’ve started to become close to a wide variety of interesting people, and have started to learn (oh so slowly!) how to say “no” to offers to participate in many other things. “No” is not a word I’ve traditionally been good at, which begs a whole lot of other stories that I must write some day in my free time, of which I have none.

But I tried to say “No” to Tikkunista and it lured me back. This time I’m saying, “No” for real. I thought doing one last set of links, for old times sake, to try to ease the pain of our  separation, and then realized how much that was exactly like having one last cigarette after you’ve decided to give up smoking. As Yoda famously said, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” So I will follow his advice, and do not.

Paul Simon sang, “One man’s ceiling is another another man’s floor.” Part of following an ascending path has to be to move past lower floors, as you keep climbing. My twitter feed of interesting links will go on, as that won’t take up time, and I know I’ll continue enjoying and sharing fascinating political stories, interesting cultural insights, and beautiful art. But the best piece I would have run in the next Tikkunista would have been Rabbi Brandt Rosen’s farewell to his congregation, in which he says, “Our tradition is teaching us that we must continually leave home if we are to truly live.” To become fully human, Adam and Eve had to leave the Garden. And to be involved in my new community, I’m leaving Tikkunista.

Thank you to all those who subscribed, or read it through the past 11 years. Profound thanks to those noble people who contributed money to keep it going. It was a joy, and now it’s not, and that’s all he wrote.

Sept 9th, 2014

Sep-09-2014 | Comments Off

Tikkunista rolls into the fall. While we have sections on the rise of ISIS, a post-war analysis of Israel/Gaza, a US-summer retrospective, and some updates on Canada, we’re not starting with any of them. Instead, here’s the stuff from the past month that you’d be really unhappy if you missed. All great, and that’s about all they share.

The New Yorker has an exploration of GMO foods called “Seeds of Doubt”. It looks at both those who oppose GMO foods, those who support them, and distinguishes between Monsanto and the technology. If you are interested in the subject, whatever your position, this is pretty essential reading. Also a fine two-sider, the Atlantic looks at almonds. There’s a lot of evidence they’re really good for us– but increasing evidence they’re terrible for the environment (particularly bees). The Guardian has a clear one-sider: naps are good for you, with lots of tips on how to nap for maximum productivity. Also from the Guardian, a cogent review of a new book on how to fight depression – without drugs. On the lighter side, a quick video shows how to test if your batteries (AA, AAA, etc) are dead by dropping them on a hard surface, while another shows how to peel a lot of apples very, very fast (3 seconds each?). John Oliver is funny and accurate in his comments on the pay gap between men and women, and Project Gutenberg now offers 46,536 free ebooks (NOT pdfs) to download. The one you’ll most use is a three minute video that shows seven insanely cool new ways of using your smartphone camera: a quick telephoto lens, a quick macro lens, remote control…so much there.

So as the dust has settled in Gaza, what did the war mean? Who won (if anyone)? Who lost, bedsides those who were killed? Robert Fisk says it’s no victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation (tnx, Gabe). Al Jazeera does some polling, and reports that Hamas’s support has surged after its war with Israel; it would win Palestinian elections if they were held today. And Wallace Shawn has a marvellous piece about the whole sad affair, “”The anger of the Palestinians cannot be ended by killing their children”.

We’ll segué into ISIS by looking at an overview. Thanks to Rabia, for a useful visual of the different sects and branches of Islam. The Jewish Chronicle reminds everyone that “Islam saved Jewry. This is an unpopular, discomforting claim in the modern world. But it is a historical truth.” The Guardian observes that “3 years ago, Islamic State did not exist – now it controls vast swaths of Syria and Iraq. Why?” But really the best piece on ISIS is War Tard, who looks at the history of the Middle East and of ISIS over the past 13 years, and concludes, “ISIS have already pissed off too many people to enjoy longevity.” He makes a convincing argument. And one additional thought from the Washington Post, which looks at Jihadism, and sees deep similarities to American Exceptionalism. “It wasn’t a verse I’d read in our Qur’an study circles that made me want to fight, but rather my American values… I assumed that individuals had the right — and the duty — to intervene anywhere on the planet where they perceived threats to freedom, justice and equality. (Again, h/t Rabia)

Of course, it’s impossible to discuss the political impact of ISIS without getting into the US response, and what it should or shouldn’t be, and why. Eric Margolis looks at Obama and sees Michael Corleone, in The Godfather, saying, “Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in.” Stephen Walt reassesses the POTUS, wondering if Obama is a realist, “calculating, coldhearted, and decisive when it counts.” And we cover Ferguson, starting with a marvellous rant by Jon Stewart, and continuing with The Guardian’s questioning why Homeland Security is arming US local police. On that subject, Tom Tomorrow deconstructs Obama’s statement, “We tortured some folks.” (Tnx, Linda), and Tom the Dancing Bug has a toon in which Pinocchio, Inc. is given corporate life. A tale of two 9 year olds looks at how parents cannot allow 9-year-olds to play unsupervised at playgrounds, but can allow them to fire an Uzi. Other reasons to despair include a Colorado Republican arguing that fracking is okay because it’s natural for water to burn. After all “ ‘Indians’ used it for warmth.” Slate Magazine has a superficial article that reveals Americans’ deep despair, with a hopeless cry: “Will Everyone Shut Up Already About How the Nordic Countries Top Every Global Ranking?” The argument appears to be that there’s no point to looking at how successful countries manage because we’re not them. And why aren’t we? Well, as you figure that out, just sing along with the Koch Brothers’ parody song, “We’re the evil thing.”

Meanwhile in the great white green North….no, wait! Not allowed to say that– the Canadian government has ordered scientists not to disclose extent of polar melting. Just one of the many gifts Stevil Harper has brought us. And if you’re losing track, this Star graphic will show the full cornucopia. Click on each segment to see the tasty contents. Meanwhile in British Columbia, the teachers’ strike continues. If you’ve lost track of how this came about, here’s a useful three minute video that gives a quick refresher. Or if you enjoy gov’ts being caught lying, the Globe and Mail tells how the BC government’s chief negotiator revealed the plan to instigate the strike to fulfill their political agenda. Oops.

Music? There’s a new Leonard Cohen album due out 9/22 (a day after his 80th birthday). See the advance video of “Almost Like the Blues”. Another oldie, Willie Nelson, is gloriously profiled in Rolling Stone. A rare set of covers from Umphrey McGee at the Wanee Music Festival can be heard and downloaded for pwyw (h/t Lief). And a fascinating new Klezmer band, Zebrina, is out: read my review “Blues for YHVH”.

Dogs and other animals time! Here’s a simple plot: strapped with a GoPro, Walter the Labrador runs very fast to jump into the water. More complex is a dog wearing a spider costume at night, scaring the crap out of everyone. (“Spider-dog, spider-dog/ scares you coming through the fog. Not so scary? Listen, Dick,/ he’s got mandibles that click….”) Pure cutesy chaser: A St Bernard meets a kitten. Humour? See the heroic dog preventing tower from falling: saving many lives! Not to neglect the feline fans, here’s a history of classical music, in cat gifs (tnx, EB). And in a totally mind-blowing riff, ISIS shows their political acumen by tweeting cute kitteh pictures: My Mewjahid protectz me. After that, almost anything is anti-climactic, but here’s a mother turtle with her kids, a cute little elephantasy, and a hallucigenia, an ancient creature dating back to God’s surreal period.

Time to relax with some humour. Start with a clear XXIst century warning, from the Czech republic, and follow with a equally modern story of someone trying to choose a password. A fine list has 15 words without English equivalent: (#14. Boketto (Japanese) The act of gazing vacantly into the distance.) Now, watch the sad happy face, and see a gif with a sudden plot twist. Enough? Ok, then see what happened at the wedding when the best man lost the rings, see why a man who spent days working on a Lego construction is now crying, and learn why you should be very careful if you put a bald guy on the cover of your publication. And we’ll close with a funny ad Exxon won’t let anyone see on TV, and 34 panoramic photos gone terrifyingly wrong.

And we’ll end with some photos, starting with Prague at dusk, and a forest of Baobab trees in Madagascar, many over 1000 years old. A mesmerizing film shows jello bouncing at 6,200 FPS. Jigglissimus. (My Latin teacher would be proud of me for that one!) Some street art, with a great trompe d’oeil mural, some Parisian works by Pejac (h/t Gabe!), and street art by a cyclist on a curved wall. You probably shouldn’t try that one yourself. An LED painting with a 24 minute exposure and (At Last!) proof that the Wellington Hotel Annex was an inside job! This 60 second video proves it! Wake up, sheeple!!!

August 8th, 2014

Aug-08-2014 | Comments Off

A quick summer Tikkunista, while in the midst of hosting family reunion, and other chaotic events. But some news is timely, and none more so than the Israel/ Gaza conflict. Three brief perspectives: looking at Israeli actions, looking at Hamas, looking at public opinion. We start by looking at what some Jews are saying about Israel’s action. A wise a nuanced piece by my favourite Israeli writer, David Grossman, calls for an end to “the grindstone of Israeli-Palestinian violence. The Rabbinical Council of the JVP “stand with all people of conscience who reject the ways of militarism and occupation and who seek a path to a truly just peace in Israel/Palestine.” Gabor Maté, son of Holocaust survivors, looks at how the Jewish “beautiful dream” has become the Israeli nightmare. And Kevin Coval, the great American Jewish poet, writes that “your jewishness is not dependent/ upon an undying loyalty to a state/ that murders in your name.”

“Hamas’s Chances” is Nathan Thrall’s very intelligent analysis (from the London Review of Books) of how the current Gaza war came about. It’s a must read. Foreign Politics Magazine takes a realist’s view of the war, concluding that you can’t kill Hamas, you can only make it stronger. And Mustafa Barghouti says that behind the conflict in Gaza is the same old problem – an occupation which makes peace impossible

And finally a look at how these duelling narratives are being received. Here’s a graphic of American sympathies in Israeli Palestinian conflict. Mondoweiss observes that Israel is starting to alienate the US mainstream media. (Tnx, Amy). And a useful map of the world shows those countries that recognize Palestine.

Maps are useful ways of summing up a lot of information, sometimes useful, sometimes not. Here are pointless but fascination maps of countries whose largest city is not their capital and countries whose flag has red or blue. Slightly more useful are maps that show countries that are poorer than Bill Gates, or a map of WWII deaths as a percentage of countries’ populations. Very useful are maps which show how Asia is scared of China or four maps that explain Islam in Africa.

While we’re on religion, here’s a quartet of pieces to savour. Parts of the US Muslim movement embrace gay and interfaith marriages, female imams and mixed prayers. That’s an example of how Richard Dawkins in 2014 has become a figure of mockery. As the Guardian article quotes, “Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology.” A fine piece on Paganism argues that, “If you’re going to explore Pagan stuff, you need to be twice as sceptical as the muggles.”

Summertime is the time for reading (so are fall, winter and spring, of course.) The New Yorker has all its current and all its past archives open for free all summer. Amazon has announced a deal through which you get unlimited reading and listening for $10 a month. Books make me think of English teachers, and here are a very useful “55 Thoughts for English Teachers”. This was the month in which “Weird Al” Yankovic’s video “Word Crimes” went to #1 on the charts. Want more Weird Al? Here’s his “Mission Statement”, and a fine Guardian backgrounder on the man himself (Mad Magazine, Tom Lehrer, Monty Python were all shapers.) And you can test your knowledge of English in this quiz, and feel superior if you beat my 84%.

While it’s been a cool summer in Toronto, the world has just broken the monthly heat record twice in a row. In China, the worst drought in 40 years damaged over 1,000,000 hectares (4000 square miles) of cropland. So to fiddle while the world burns, here are “30 classic summer songs that don’t get old”. Not a bad selection. Or watch this impressive video on how to cool a drink in under two minutes. Very useful!

A trio of gender politics pieces: the good, bad, ugly. The good is Adam Gopnik’s New Yorker essay, No More Mr. Tough Guy”, deconstructing the obsession on masculinity and the presidency. The bad is the hilarious list some guy posted on “OK Cupid”, an online dating site, listing all the reasons he doesn’t want to hear from women. Hilarious, in a hideous kind of way. And the ugly is Eliza Bennet’s ‘flesh as canvas’ embroidery, entitled “A Woman’s Work is Never Done”. Not for the squeamish. Perhaps that calls for some cheering essays? Choose among Alan Watts on Happiness and How to Live with Presence, E.B. White’s Beautiful Letter to a Man Who Had Lost Faith in Humanity, Sherwood Anderson: The Best Resignation Letter Ever Written, or the Moth podcast, a 15 minute story by Shannon Cason, a banker who had a serious gambling addiction. (It is cheering, in the end…)

Time for some comedy? Let’s start with animals, and this lovely 1 minute gif of what happens when good dogs go bad. Watch John Oliver starts a mass movement #gogetthosegeckos. And in what has to be an apocalyptically bad idea, a Safari park boss just took two young chimps to see the Planet of the Apes. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver takes on the Wealth Gap (starts out lightly, and gets better). And for you graphic designers, here is the worst layout ever of an author’s name.

And we end with some lovely photographs. Here are 15 of Kathy Klein’s flower mandalas, the winners of the 2014 Nat Geo traveler photo contest, and Bastille Day fireworks at the Eiffel Tower. As well, an impressive watermelon crocodile, some terrifyingly beautiful pictures from the roofs of Hong Kong, and what it looks like inside a kilometre long barrel wave on a surfboard. And we’ll end (tnx, Ginny) with some stunning geometric designs you can use on your next tattoo. Have fun!

We haven’t had a quote of the week for awhile: Leonard Cohen on creative discipline: “The cutting of the gem has to be finished before you can see whether it shines.”

July 12th, 2014

Jul-12-2014 | Comments Off


There’ll be cheerier news further on, but this week we have to start with Israel and Palestine. Two weeks ago, Rabbi Lau-Levie wrote this sadly prescient and deeply moving call for compassion after the bodies of three murdered Israeli teens were found. Then a Palestinian boy was burnt alive by Jewish terrorists, and things went from worst to worst. Here is a sample of Jewish responses, at a time when it becomes clearer and clearer that the Israeli government does not act or speak for all Jews. Harretz, the Israeli newspaper, editorialized that, “There must be a cultural revolution in Israel. Its political leaders and military officers must recognize this injustice and right it…. Without [this], the Jewish tribe will not be worthy of its own state.Bradley Burston offers a heartfelt “Israeli Jew’s apology to Palestinians” (Tnx, Rabia!) Rabbi Landes calls for the bulldozing of the homes of Jewish terrorists, too. And the ex-head of Shin Bet, the Israeli counterterrorism agency blames the Netanyahu government for the deterioration, saying, “The deterioration is first and foremost a result of the illusion that the government’s inaction on every front can actually freeze the situation in place, the illusion that “price tag” is simply a few slogans on the wall and not pure racism, the illusion that everything can be solved with a little more force, the illusion that the Palestinians will accept everything that’s done in the West Bank… and so on and so on.” And Uri Avnery, still a clarion voice in his 90s, writes about the racism and the lack of public outcry over Muhammad Abu-Khdeir’s death. Perhaps all that can be said is that this is increasingly clearly a conflict not between Jew and Muslim, but between those who believe that more deaths will solve the conflict, and those who know it won’t.

After that, we need a serious shot of hope. Here we look at an array of maps, on all subjects from the serious to the trivial. The first map is worth studying and rejoicing over. It’s three maps of the world, in 1800, 1950, and 2010, showing life expectancies world wide. (Click to enbigify.) When you despair over whether there is any progress, remember this map. While your map reading skills are honed, here’s a question for you. What’s the minimum number of borders you’d have to cross to get to the equator by land? (Sorry, islanders.) The answer is here. Here’s a map project: XKCD has a brilliant quilt showing the solar systems’ solid surfaces stitched together. (No gas giants!) Here’s an amusingly unanimous map showing the most popular spectator sports in the world. And while on that subject, a map showing how that BrazilGermany debacle played out in the twitterverse. Vaguely map-like, this spiral of countries is arranged by the percentage of their financial transactions that don’t use cash. And we’ll end with a time-lapse map showing American seizure of indigenous land, between 1776-2010. Sorry to bring you back down.

Climate change is already here: drought now covers almost 35% of U.S., and is predicted to grow. But just this week, faith groups representing half a billion Christians says they will no longer support fossil fuels. The Guardian observes that solar power has won. Even if coal were free to burn, power stations couldn’t compete. An example? India’s building a huge floating solar farm (this is just the start.) In Canadians ongoing fight against the tar sands, Bob Rae discusses why the Supreme Court’s BC land-title decision is more important than you think.

Let’s hop on the money-go-round! Here’s a collection of pieces about the very rich, the very poor, and how they are treated in different countries. The F-35 Fighter Jet is a historic $1 trillion disaster. $167 billion over budget, and counting. With that amount, the US could have bought every homeless American a $600,000 home. Which would have been smart, as a study shows it’s significantly cheaper to house the homeless than leave them on the streets. Of course it won’t happen, as over 75 per cent of US conservatives say the poor ‘have it easy’. Elsewhere there are signs of light: in Vancouver, a charity creates city benches that convert into pop-up shelters for homeless people. (Beats London spikes!) In a political experiment in Iceland, anarchists governed Reykjavik for four years and achieved astonishing successes. And look at the contents of this Finnish maternity box, which every pregnant Finn gets after 154 days of pregnancy.

A curious mix of pieces all of which relate to identity, perceived or real. We’ll open with five centuries of female faces in Western art, put together in a 2 minute video. A few days late for World Pride, a deeply moving piece “I am No Abomination: my rewritten Bar Mitzvah Speech, 30 years later”. Brainpickings looks at how scientists are rethinking the placebo effect: how our minds actually affect our bodies. And here’s some good party advice: Don’t Say Goodbye. Just ghost. And as our perception of our identity is so often limited to the words we have to conceive of it, open your mind with illustrations of 20 untranslatable words from other languages.

Speaking of mind expansion, here are a few thoughts about drugs: after six months of legal marijuana, Colorado has $10 million more cash and 10% less crime. Meanwhile researchers are working to understand how psychedelics affect the brain (Tnx, Linda!) And a draft of a chapter from my book about 40 years of teaching, about handling the reality of drugs. On to films, great films of the past, the future, and the present. The New Yorker has a charming retrospective appreciation of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. Here’s the trailer for the new Terry Gilliam film: The Zero Theorem. And in classic Canuk hoser style, effortlessly reprising Bob and Doug McKenzie, a Saskatchewan man films a tornado coming straight at him. That’s air, for water we have three minutes of huge waves crashing against lighthouses in France. Fire? Here’s a film of a drone flying through fireworks. And back safely on the ground, street artist Insa’s animated graffiti gifs(tnx, Diana)

Here are some lovely pictures of children, and other animals, starting with 30 magical photos of children playing around the world (tnx, Rabia!). On, into 23 exceedingly sweet photos of animals and their children, more amazing underwater photos of dogs fetching balls, a husky going crazy in pile of autumn leaves (Tnx, Ruth and Maddie), a cat with a fascinating face, and amazing footage of an annual gathering of 75,000 red-sided garter snakes intent on finding a mate. (Tnx, Gabe) (Not Safe For Herpetophobics).

And in an appreciation of the beauty of our world, despite the horrors: here’s the 2014 National Geographic traveler photo contest (28 photos), the 2014 iPhone photography awards, Twisted Sifter’s top 50 ‘Pictures for the Day’ for 2014, and pictures of 10 incredible crowds. And we’ll end with a time exposure of traffic lights in the fog, and hovering boats in Menorca, Spain. No, wait, there has to be space for Patrick Hughes’ perspective mind twister, which looks like a regular painting, until…. it doesn’t.

See you next time!


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