Sunday, January 25, 2015

Cheers! A toast to toasting

Here's mud in your eye!

Down the hatch!

Bottoms up!

Through the centuries, it has been a common practice for people of many cultures and backgrounds to toast to health, happiness, friendship and good fortune.  According to the International Handbook of Alcohol and Culture, toasting is "probably a secular vestige of ancient sacrificial libations in which sacred liquid was offered to the gods: blood or wine in exchange for a wish, a prayer summarized in the words 'long life!' or 'to your health!'"

The Oxford Dictionary states that the custom of drinking a toast can be traced back to the late 17th century.  It "originated in naming a lady whose health the company was requested to drink, the idea being that the lady's name flavoured the drink like the pieces of spiced toast that were formerly placed in drinks such as wine."

How did the practice of clinking glasses develop?  One story is that the touching of glasses originated in medieval times, when wine sometimes contained poison.  If a host wished to demonstrate that the wine wasn't spiked, he would pour part of the guest's wine into his own glass and drink it first.  If the guest trusted his host he would just clink glasses when the host volunteered to do this. Thus, according to legend, the clinking of glasses has become a manifestation of trust, honesty and a toast to good health.

Another story is that the clinking of glasses was believed to ward off evil spirits.

 Photo Attribution: Jason Hutchens from Sydney, Australia

There are a few theories concerning the origin of the jovial drinking toast "Here's mud in your eye!" One theory holds that it was used in saloons in the United States beginning in the late 1800s or that it was popular among English fox hunters and horse racing enthusiast even earlier than that.  Another is that it originated in the muddy trenches of World War I or in the cafes where British and American soldiers spent their leave.  A third theory is that it refers to the sediment often found at the bottom of a glass of wine.


Here's to you, as good as you are.  And here's to me, as bad as I am.  But as good as you are, and as bad as I am, I am good as you are, as bad as I am.

- Old Scotch Saying

May you live all the days of your life.

- Jonathan Swift

When it comes to blessings and toasts, it's difficult to top the Irish.  Here are some good Irish toasts:


Here's to health, peace and prosperity.  May the flower of love never be ripped by the frost of disappointment, nor shadow of grief fall among your family and friends.

May your home always be too small to hold all your fiends.

May I see you grey and combing your grandchildren's hair.


May you live to be 100 years, with one extra year to repent.


May the hinges of our friendship never grow rusty.

May you have warm words on a cold evening, a full moon on a dark night, and a smooth road all the way to your door. 

There are good ships,
And there are wood ships,
The ships that sail the sea.
But the best ships, are friendships,
And my they always be. 

Here's to you and yours,
And to mine and ours,
And if mine and ours ever come
Across you and yours,
I hope you and yours will do
As much for mine and ours,
As mine and ours have done
For you and yours!

There is also apparently a very colourful Gaelic toast that goes as follows:

Fad saol agat, gob fliuch, agus bás in Eirinn,  -  Long life to you, a wet mouth and death in Ireland.

Jewish toasts and blessings are made using the ancient words of Hebrew and Yiddish.  The traditional Jewish drinking toast is "L'haim," which means "to life."  According to Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman in his "Ask the Rabbi" column for Ohr Somayach website, in the Jewish faith, wine represents "beauty, blessing and joy."  That is why, the rabbi explains, many Jews say "L'haim" only after blessing the wine properly and drinking a bit, so that the toast should be filled with the blessing of God's name and the "inherent joy and bounty of the wine."

The Chinese drinking toast is "Gambei!" which literally translates to "Dry the cup!"  It is similar in meaning to "Bottoms up!"  Serbs bestow upon each other wishes for a long life (ziveli), while the Spanish drink to health (salud), as do the French (santé), the Polish (na zdrowie), the Italians (salute) and many others.

When clinking glasses in sunny Italy, people say "cin cin." the Italian equivalent of "cheers." Accordng to Italian superstition, it is bad luck to cross over the arms of the people next to you during a toast.

Toasts and blessings play a large part at Italian weddings.  Italian wedding receptions are high-spirited and boisterous.  Guests cry out saying and blessings to the newlyweds.


Per Cent'Anni

"For one hundred years" is the traditional Italian toast for newlyweds in Italy.  Here are some others:

Vita L'amor!  -  Long live love!

Amore e gelosia nacquero insiemo  -  Without jealousy, there is no love.

Aguri! - Best Wishes!

Ci sono tre cose belle della vita: la naseita, l'amore e questo giorno  -  There are three beautiful things in life: birth, love and this day.

There is also a very chauvinistic Italian wedding toast:  Auguri e figli maschi!  -  Congratulations and may you have male children!


One of my all-time favourite toasts is  "Here's looking at you, kid.!"  Nobody can deliver those words as eloquently as Bogie did in the classic 1942 film Casablanca.  It is unquestionably the most romantic toast in the English language.

By the way, toasting can and should be inclusive.  No one need feel uncomfortable and excluded from fully participating in festivities and celebrations.  Everyone, including non-drinkers, can join in salutations to health, happiness and a good life.  Toasting glasses don't necessarily have to contain wine, beer, champagne or any alcoholic beverage at all,  and non-drinkers should be encouraged to toast with a libation of their choice.


- Joanne

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Veronica Rutledge: A Senseless Death in Idaho

A two-year-old boy is without a mother.  Why?  Here's why.  On December 30. 2014, the toddler accidentally killer his mother with a concealed weapon.  The tragedy occurred in a crowded Wal-mart store in Hayden, Idaho.  The little boy was seated in a shopping cart when he pulled out a loaded handgun from his mother's purse.  The gun went off, ending the life of Veronica J. Rutledge, 29, an employee of the Idaho National Laboratory.  Veronica was a nuclear scientist and, by all accounts, a highly intelligent woman. She was also a gun enthusiast and firearms played a significant role in her life.

Veronica and her husband enjoyed hunting and they practised at shooting ranges.  A close friend, Sheri Sandow, had this to say about the deceased in a December 31, 2014 report by Terence McCoy in the Washington Post: "She was just as comfortable at a camp ground or a gun range as she was in a classroom."  Sandow also made some remarks about the attitude toward guns in her state.  She told The Post that in Idaho "we don’t have to worry about a lot of crime and things like that."  For Idahoans, however, "to see someone with a gun isn’t bizarre," stated Sandow.  Her friend Veronica "wasn’t carrying a gun because she felt unsafe. She was carrying a gun because she was raised around guns."

The Rutledges had permits to carry concealed weapons, which is not unusual in the state of Idaho. Early in 2014, the Iowa state legislature approved a bill that allows the public to carry concealed guns onto state university campuses. More than 85,000 people (7 percent of Idaho's population) are licensed to carry concealed weapons. Veronica's fate was sealed when, on Christmas morning, her husband presented her with a purse containing a zippered pocket for a concealed weapon.

The tragic and unnecessary death of Veronica Rutledge really upset me.  Those who oppose gun control measures are very fond of saying "Guns don't kill, people do."  That slogan is extremely annoying and completely misleading. In a perfect world, firearms would never fall into the hands of the mentally ill, thieves and children.  As we are well aware, this is far from a perfect world.  It is a world where guns frequently fall into the wrong hands and accidents happen, often with deadly consequences.  In the heat of the moment, people are driven to act violently.  The more guns in circulation, the more unnecessary deaths will occur.  Tragedies such as the one in Idaho happen in places with lax gun control laws.  The attitude toward guns in the United States is pure madness.

No matter what I say, though, the gun crazies won't change their mind.  They'll continue to rant about their "constitutional right to bear arms,"  Meanwhile, a young wife and mother never had the opportunity to ring in the New Year with friends and family.  She never saw 2015.  Her motherless two-year-old will have to live with what happened for the rest of his life.  It will be a tremendous emotional burden on him and he will undoubtedly suffer psychological trauma

Veronica Rutledge

The National Rifle Association (NRA) and right-wing Republicans will express sadness about the tragedy.  At the same time, however, they will argue that Veronica Rutledge should have been more careful with her firearm.  They will claim it's not their fault if gun owners are negligent.  Well, I say that Veronica Rutledge was a victim of an American social culture that accepts and approves the casual ownership of firearms.  She lived in a country that glorifies guns in motion pictures and on television.  She is dead because of the Wild West mentality of U.S. society.

Veronica's father-in-law, Terry Rutledge, also a gun enthusiast, isn't too thrilled about gun-control advocates using his daughter-in-law's death to promote their cause.  “They are painting Veronica as irresponsible, and that is not the case,” Rutledge told The Washington Post. " I brought my son up around guns, and he has extensive experience shooting it. And Veronica had had hand gun classes; they’re both licensed to carry, and this wasn’t just some purse she had thrown her gun into.”

Sadly, Mr. Rutledge misses the point.  The issue isn't about whether his daughter-in-law was careless or not.  The problem lies with American society and its increasing acceptance of guns everywhere. Why should it be considered normal and necessary to possess a concealed firearm while engaged in day to day activities?

For the Rutledge family and many other Americans, carrying a concealed gun while shopping in a Wal-mart store is normal behaviour.  Guns are part of everyday life.  They just don't see anything wrong with carrying weapons all the time.  The NRA and right-sing political movements are relentless in their crusade to defend the proliferation of firearms in America. That is why I appeal to more reasonable public figures and ordinary citizens to speak out in support of stricter gun control. As a reminder of what's at stake, I add the shooting of Veronica J. Rutledge to the following list.


James Brady: In January of 1981, Ronald Reagan Jim Brady Assistant to the President and White House Press Secretary.  On March 30, 1981, a deranged man, John Hinklley, Jr. tried to assassinate President Reagan in Washington, D.C.  Brady was one of four people shot in the assassination attempt and received a serious head wound.  Both Reagan and Brady survived their shootings. However, Brady was left with slurred speech and partial paralysis.  After his death, he and his wife, Sarah, became outspoken advocates for gun control.  They lobbied for stricter handgun control and assault weapon restrictions.  As a result of their efforts The Brady Handgun Prevention Act, also known as "the Brady Bill", was the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton on November 30, 1993.

James Brady died on August 4, 2014 at the age of 73.  His death was ruled a homicide despite the fact that 33 years had passed since his shooting.

Columbine - On April 20, 1999, two senior students went on a shooting rampage at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.  Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered 12 students and one teacher. There were also a number of injuries before the disturbed teens committed suicide.

Virginia Tech - The "Virginia Tech Massacre" occurred on April 16, 2007, on the campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia.  In two separate attacks, a deranged gunman took the lives of 32 people.  The gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, 23, a student at the university, committed suicide.  He had a history of mental disorders.

Gabrielle "Gabby" Giffords - On January 8, 2011, Gabrielle D. Giffords, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Arizona, was a victim of a shooting near Tuscon.  The shooting occurred near a supermarket where Giffords meeting with her constituents.  The congresswoman survived, but was severely injured by a gunshot wound to the head.  Six people, however, were killed in the shooting.  Giffords resigned her congressional seat in order to focus on her recovery. In November of 2012, Jared Loughner, now 26, was sentenced to life in prison for the shooting. He was judged competent to stand trial after receiving treatment for mental illness.

Sandy Hook - On December 14, 2012, a crazed gunman named Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  After taking 32 innocent lives, the 20-year-old Lanza committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.


Canada's largest city, Toronto, has a population of 2.79 million (City of Toronto website).  Chicago, Illinois has a population of 2.718 million (July 1, 2014, U.S. Census bureau).  Although these two cities have roughly the same population, the number of homicides in each is very different.  Toronto recorded 57 homicides in 2014.  Chicago recorded 456 homicides in 2014. However, before we Canadians become too smug, we should be reminded that on June 4, 2014, a disturbed gunman named Justin Bourque killed three Mounties in Moncton, New Brunswick. Before we become too complacent, we should remember that we need to stand up for gun control in our own country too. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative government are quietly and steadily relaxing gun control laws in Canada.  Harper and his Conservatives hope we won't notice. Don't let them get away with it!

- Joanne