1/15/2019

On being ... the hope project


By Ingrid Sapona

Last week I was at someone’s house for dinner. The conversation was interesting and wide-ranging. As so often happens, at some point the topic turned to politics and world affairs. I’ll admit, it could well be that I steered the conversation there, since these things are of great interest to me.

Anyway, we were pretty politically aligned and everyone expressed their concern with what’s going on in the U.S. and elsewhere. As the discussion went on, I noticed my anxiety level ratcheting up. After commiserating for awhile, the conversation turned to speculation about how things might be a couple years from now. On this issue, we didn’t agree. 

The big difference was that everyone else thought that, over time, things would return to “normal”. Indeed, they all seemed to have a “this too shall pass” outlook. I didn’t share their optimism and I was curious as to the basis for theirs. They could tell my questioning was coming from a feeling of despair, and they earnestly offered examples of what gives them hope.

I appreciated their effort at pulling me out of my malaise, but it was to no avail. The evening ended shortly after and I went home feeling agitated and sad. I also worried that my inability to contribute to lightening the conversation made me a rather dreary dinner guest. 

The next day I was thinking about my sense of hopelessness toward the world. It’s a feeling I’ve been unable to shake for some time. I decided to reflect on some of the things my friends said that make them hopeful. Though I didn’t buy some of their rationale, there were a few points I found compelling.

For example, one was that just because we hear about all the bad things, that doesn’t mean there aren’t good things going on. My first reaction to that was that it may be true, but it’s important for the media to report on Trump’s troubling behaviour and the division he’s fomenting. My friend agreed, but again pointed out how that tends to drown out other news. Another person who’s active with a few charities said she’s hopeful because she sees the positive differences these charities make in peoples’ lives. From these examples both friends were able to extrapolate a basic human goodness that gives them hope for the future.

The next few days, I reflected more on my general hopelessness. Though it’s a very real feeling – and one that might be justified, given the state of the world – I realize it’s neither healthy nor empowering. Put another way, there’s no up side to seeing things as hopeless. With this in mind, I decided it wasn’t too late to make a New Year’s resolution so I came up with “the hope project”.

I think this project’s going to require focus and maybe some help. For starters, I’m going to need to consciously change my reading and viewing behaviour. I’m going to have to stop skipping over, or ignoring, stories that I used to consider fluff. (Note my conscious use of past tense?) Previously, I often passed over human-interest stories. I rationalized doing this because I figured there are only so many hours in a day and there’s so much hard news to get to. As part of the hope project, however, I vow to not skip such stories.

Interestingly, a couple days after starting the project I came across Nickolas Kristof’s annualcolumn where he makes the case for why the world is better now than it’s ever been. Among the examples he cites is that in 2018, on average, around the world about 295,000 people who didn’t have electricity gained access to it each day and 305,000 people gained access to clean drinking water for the first time. Each of the positives he mentioned are worthy of acclaim, though some of their impact is diminished when included in a year-end laundry list. But, as part of the hope project, over the coming year I’m going to actively seek out stories about such transformations.

I’m also going to work on savoring stories about simple acts of kindness. A case in point was a story I saw on the news about a guy who noticed a flat tire on the car parked next to him. He had an air compressor in his trunk and so he filled the tire. He also left the car owner a note saying he filled the tire, but that they may want to have it looked at. The woman whose tire was fixed was so touched by the kindness, she went on social media to find who left the note so she could thank him. When the two met, the guy who fixed the tire said he figured anyone would have done the same. Hear, hear! (Or should I say, “From your lips to God’s ears” sir.)

So, I’ve got at least a couple starting points on my hope project. I am guardedly optimistic that by the end of 2019, my overall outlook will be more upbeat. I’m also hoping I’ll have something a bit more positive to contribute at dinner parties and in other conversations. 

And finally, if you have any ideas or examples of things you think promise a rosy future – please send them along – I’ll need all the inspiration I can get!

© 2019 Ingrid Sapona

12/30/2018

On being … a long, crazy year


By Ingrid Sapona

As I usually do, I started this alpha list early in the year because it’s usually a challenge to find something for every letter. But, given how well Trump manipulates news cycles, the difficulty has been in deciding whether to stick with some of the early stories or go with more recent examples. For the most part, I’ve kept with the originals because they provide perspective on just how crazy things have gotten.

A is for America alone – that’s clearly the path Trump has chosen. I guess being isolated is one way of looking at being first.

B is for “break in” – that’s how Trump characterized the execution of a search warrant on his then lawyer Michael Cohen’s home and office back in April. Clearly it was Trump’s usual bombast (another apt “B” word), but his disregard for legal processes got me riled up back then. Now it’s just another story that’s been eclipsed by more interesting news involving Cohen and other Trump cronies.

C is for conflict of interest – there’s so much Trump family conflict of interest that is yet to be revealed, I think that’ll be the real news story in years to come. But, back in April we got a taste of the Trump family’s methods with a small news story from Panama. Apparently, Trump’s company sent a letter directly to the president of Panama asking him to intercede in a dispute the Trump organization was involved in over control of a luxury hotel on the waterfront in Panama City.

D is for disaster – a word Trump loves and overuses. But did you ever notice that he never uses it when it comes to describing true disasters, like hurricane Maria or the wild fires in California. (Then he opts for another d word: denial.)

E is for eSwatini – the new name of Swaziland, according to its king Mswati III. The King made the announcement on April 18 during celebration of the 50 anniversary of Swazi independence.

F is for forbidden – apparently, women are forbidden from entering a sumo ring in Japan. I first learned this earlier this year when two women – one of whom was a nurse – ran into a sumo ring to start CPR on a male politician who was having a heart attack. The referee told the two to leave because women are forbidden from the ring. Tradition or misogyny? I bet the guy in need of resuscitation might have been willing to break with tradition…

G is for gamification – this is the idea of using video games to teach. For example, interns using video games that simulate situations they may find on medical rounds. Students are finding the better they do in the education games, the better they do in the underlying course.

H if for Hawaii – the 50th state certainly had a noteworthy year. First, there was the notification of an incoming missile threat that the governor was unable to quickly call out as a false alarm because he didn’t know his Twitter password. Then there were those volcanic eruptions that turned paradise into a living nightmare.

I is for inhuman and immoral – yes, the letter I does double duty describing Trump’s policy that separated parents and children at the southern border. It’s actions like that that inflame people throughout the world and help fuel anti-American sentiment.

J is for Jamal Khashoggi – a journalist whose death made very clear that in the human rights equation, one person’s life – not to mention the soul of a nation – is not as valuable as the sale of armaments to other countries.

K is for keys – remember those metal things used in earlier millennia to open and unlock things? Well, guess who has gone back to them? Apparently, to log into their computers, Google employees now have to use USB-based physical keys. The idea is that, in order to gain entry, a hacker would need both the user’s password and the physical key. Is that a Luddite I hear having the last laugh?

L is for lies – my prediction is that by the end of Trump’s time in D.C., the concept of lying will cease to exist.

M is for marijuana – weed is now legal across Canada. Just another reason so many of my U.S. friends are jealous I had the good sense to move up here decades ago!

N is for National Security – that’s Trump’s justification for a variety of proclamations, from trade wars to forcing coal on the U.S. What Trump fails to realize, of course, is the grave harm to National Security he’s wrought by alienating US friends and allies.

O is for overcriminalization – that’s a concept some Republicans have spouted as reason for going easy on Trump’s violation of election laws by paying off Stormy Daniels and the others. The argument goes something like this: a “mere campaign violation” shouldn’t be enough to impeach a president. Why is it that no one ever invokes “overcriminalization” when some guy gets caught under a third strike law and ends up in prison for life for lighting up a joint?

P is for plogging or “plocka upp” – it’s a fad in Sweden that has joggers picking up garbage they pass on their run. As the Toronto Star editorial put it, plogging offers both exercise and environmental activism in a single outing. Let’s hope it’s a trend that catches on …

Q is for Qanon – you may think I made this up just so that I’d have something for the letter Q… if only. Unfortunately, this is a vicious, internet-based conspiracy that’s uniting Trump supporters in ways that further defy explanation.

R is for resigning – the U.S. is not just pulling out of international accords. It’s also leaving all sorts of international organizations, like the UN human rights council. Retiring U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said it’s hypocritical to remain part of a self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights. I guess meeting with, and signing agreements with human rights violators like North Korea isn’t hypocritical.

S is for Sinclair media – a company that owns t.v. stations across the U.S. and that issues to its stations so-called “must run” pieces, which are basically pro-Trump, media bashing editorials disguised as news. Think of them as a 200-station echo chamber...

T is for threats – a Trump specialty. One of the most unbelievable threats he made this year was the threat to withhold funding to California communities after the wildfires. I’ll bet that warmed the hearts of the thousands who lost everything in the fires. And of course, as his supporters will point out – he often makes good on his threats – witness the shutting down of the government.  I guess the president thinks threatening and leading are the same.

U is for unexpected – it seems that Boston Bruins’ Brad Marchand decided to one-up Donald Trump in the unexpected (and questionable) behaviour department. During the NHL playoffs Marchand took to licking his opponents.

V is for vitriol – it’s becoming so common, soon we won’t even have a special word for the kind of nasty talk that pervades the airwaves. If you’re not sure what kind of talk I’m referring to, a good example was the comments made by folks like Lindsay Graham and Brett Kavanaugh at the Senate Judiciary Committee.

W is for war – war on trade, war on coal… one of Trump’s favourite concepts.

X is for xenophobic – but that’s too obvious. Instead – and if you forgive the play on spelling –  X is for (e)xcruciating – the feeling one gets watching the U.S. toss out all the things it once valued – like justice and equality.

Y is for Yanni – or is it Laurel?

Z is for zero tolerance – the Trump administration’s policy toward immigrants and the exact opposite of his policy toward dictators.

As we head into the New Year, perhaps our best bet is to look back further for inspiration. So, with that in mind, my wish for 2019 is that all of us will take up Mahatma Gandhi’s advice and be the change we wish to see in the world.

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona

12/15/2018

On being … a lesson in bah humbug


By Ingrid Sapona

I may as well start by confessing that Baby It’s Cold Outside has always been one of my favourite songs. As a kid growing up in Buffalo, my idea of the best present ever was a snow day on my birthday. First and foremost, I think of the song as an ode to the joy of staying in on a snowy night.

As I got older, my appreciation for the lyrics changed when I understood what was meant by “The neighbors will be suspicious”, or “There’s bound to be talk tomorrow”, and of course, that particularly nasty barb: “my maiden aunt’s mind is vicious”. But, to be honest, those lyrics just make me appreciate how far we’ve come. I hear the lyrics and I think about how lucky I am to have grown up in an age where I’ve never worried about what the neighbors might think, regardless of the time I get home or who I bring home, for that matter.

As for the mild protestations: “I really can’t stay”, “I’d better scurry”, and even: “I ought to say No, No, No” – clearly that’s just playful banter between two folks who are interested in each other. Indeed, surely I’m not the only one who swoons at the idea of having James Taylor sing that he’s been hoping I’d drop in then and tell me to “Put on some records while I pour”, much less hear him say “Gosh your lips are delicious”. But regardless of who the recording is by, I find the song empowering for women. To me, it’s all about the woman deciding to stay…

But now, some folks are saying that in light of the #MeToo movement, the song should be banned because of the predatory nature of the lyrics. One commentator even went so far as to call it a date rape song, pointing to the lyric: “What’s in this drink”? Come on – the song was written in 1944 – I always figured maybe he put some peppermint schnapps in the hot chocolate…

Then there’s Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer. The stop motion animated show (the Ranking/Bass Production) is my all-time favourite Christmas television show. Like millions, I watch it every year and can pretty much recite all the lines. Somehow, this year, people have suddenly twigged on the fact that poor Rudolph is ostracized – bullied even. Really? The show was produced in 1964 and they’re just now figuring that out? What part of the lyric: “They never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games” didn’t they understand?

The whole show is about being rejected by one’s peers. Poor Rudolph runs away with Hermey, the elf that’s mocked because he wants to be a dentist. And then there’s the Island of Misfit Toys, which is full of unloved and unwanted toys (my favourite being the Charlie in the Box).

But in the end, it’s really a redemption story. Santa comes around and apologizes to Rudolph. Our little red-nosed friend saves Christmas and Santa finds a home for all the misfit toys. Hermey works his dental magic and everyone realizes the Abominable Snow Monster is really a sweetie – he was just miserable because he had a toothache. And, the Head Elf promises to let Hermey open up a dental office the week after Christmas.

I remember seeing Rudolph when I was a small child and I remember feeling sad for Rudolph when his father was embarrassed by him and so he wanted to run away. I also remember empathising with Santa about having to decide whether to “cancel Christmas”. (Ok, maybe when I was really little the nature of my concern about a cancelled Christmas was a bit more selfish, but eventually I saw the businessperson’s dilemma.) I also remember feeling relieved that Rudolph came back and that in the end, everyone appreciated him because of his uniqueness. Those are the messages I took away.

But now, some people want to ban Rudolph because of the bullying aspects. Some also think that it sends the message that you’ll only be accepted if you can do something for someone. Man, how cynical can you get? (I’m surprised no one’s accused Santa of exploiting all the “flying reindeer”!)

There are so many things wrong with the world today… I guess we each pick and choose the things we get exercised about and we pick and choose our reactions. For those who worry that Baby Its’ Cold Outside and Rudolph are a bad influence on their kids, I say why not use them as an opportunity to start a dialog with your kids. And, for the rest of us who think these things are non-issues, I think the appropriate reaction is a simple bah humbug…

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona

11/30/2018

On being … a bit of a joy kill


By Ingrid Sapona

Meal kits are one of the hottest trends in the food world. These kits include “pre-proportioned” ingredients for a meal for two. Meal kit services made a splash in our family a couple years ago when my sister Regina’s friend (I’ll call her Sue) offered her a free meal kit box from one of the first meal kit companies. Regina describes herself as “cooking challenged”, so naturally I thought the idea was ridiculous. But, not wanting to seem ungrateful, Regina accepted Sue’s offer.

To our family’s great surprise, she has really enjoyed the meal kits. They’ve opened her to a world of new ingredients and cooking terminology. And, to prove to us – and to herself – that she can do it, very now and then Regina surprises us with a texted photo of something she’s cooked.

As an avid cook and someone who actually enjoys grocery shopping, I’m not exactly the target market for meal kits. And, though my grocery shopping habits don’t qualify me as a locavore, just thinking about the carbon footprint of boxes being shipped far and wide is enough to send me around the bend.

But, as more-and-more meal kit companies have come on the scene, my curiosity has been piqued. So, last month, I gave into temptation when I got a flier from a Canadian meal kit company offering a deal on my first box. Curious, I went on their website to see how much it cost. The regular price for a box with three meals for two is about $70. Too rich for me. But, the special offer was a box for $20, which was more than reasonable for that many meals.

To take advantage of the deal, I had to register on-line and provide a credit card number. Of course, I can cancel any time but if I forget to, boxes are automatically delivered and I’ll be charged for them. In the process of signing up, I had a question so I used their on-line chat support. While chatting with the rep, she offered me an even better deal: $20/box for two boxes. Given that I intended to cancel after trying it, that offer seemed almost too generous to me. So, I didn’t put the order through right then and there because I needed to think about it.

The next day I decided to take the two-box offer. To allay the guilt I felt for getting 12 meals for $40 (three meals for two people/box X two boxes), I decided that unless the ingredients or meals were terrible, thereafter I would spring for a box at full price and THEN I’d cancel. That seemed fair to me.

I did enjoy the meal kits. They introduced me to a few ingredients, which was fun. (The most unusual was a “finger lime”. When you cut the ends off and squeeze it, out pops “lime caviar” little gems that you use as a tasty garnish. Haven’t found them in the store, but I predict they’ll be THE food fad in 2019.)  None of the recipes were particularly noteworthy, but I loved not having to decide or plan anything. Just open the kit, follow the recipe, and – voila – you have a full, well-balanced, portion-controlled meal.

With the second box came an offer for me to give free boxes to three friends. (I suspect Sue got a similar offer that she passed on to Regina.) This offer posed a bit of an ethical dilemma. I have somewhat of a reputation as a foodie, so did I want to be seen as endorsing this company?

After some reflection, I decided to make the offer to friends who I thought might enjoy trying it. I made clear to them the pros and cons I see with the kits AND I told them of my intention to cancel after I pay full price for one box.

My friends’ reactions were interesting. One friend (I’ll call her Anna) said she was tempted, but that she had a nagging feeling of guilt at the prospect of a freebie. I responded to commiserate. I certainly didn’t make any bones about the fact that one reason I decided to offer the “free” boxes was to relieve some guilt about getting 12 meals for $40. I also explained that I relieved guilt about possibly leading my friends on by being 100% honest with them about my experience, what I paid, and my intention to cancel.

A week later the company emailed me saying Anna had signed up for her free box. Remembering our earlier exchange about the guilt of a freebie, I was glad to see I wasn’t the only one who had overcome it. I immediately emailed her, saying I looked forward to comparing notes. She confessed to second thoughts and said she planned to phone to cancel before receiving the box. She cited a variety of reasons, including her concern about all the packaging ending up in landfill. I could certainly relate to that concern, not to mention feel guilty about it!

I’m old enough to have come up with some coping strategies when it comes to dealing with guilt. But, it still surprises me how much of a role guilt plays in my day-to-day decision-making. Don’t get me wrong, I’m ok with having to struggle with guilt, and I kind of think a bit of guilt can have a positive effect. But sometimes, I gotta say, it’s a bit of a joy kill…

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona

11/15/2018

On being … like nails on a chalk board


By Ingrid Sapona

The other morning, the bus I was on drove past the sports centre where the Toronto Raptors (the local NBA team) practice. It was pitch dark outside but on the side of the building was a huge, lit billboard emblazoned with the Raptor’s slogan: We the North. I bristled when I read it.

We the North has been the Raptor’s slogan since 2014 and whenever I hear it – or see it – it causes a reaction in me that’s similar to hearing nails on a chalkboard. For starters, it’s grammatically awful. Sports connotes action – would it have killed them to throw in a verb? But beyond that, it just seems so forced. I can’t help think that the ad agency that came up with We the North was trying to channel the creativity behind the most elegant three-word slogan of all time: Nike’s “Just do it”. But, while brainstorming, someone must have mentioned Doug and Bob McKenzie and the Great White North comedy skits of the 80s and the “creative” team couldn’t get past that. So, what three-word winner did they come up with? We the North. Ugh.  

But clearly, I’m in the minority when it comes to hating that catchphrase. In a 2016 business article I read about the slogan, they talk about how popular it is. According to the woman in the Raptors organization who oversees the brand, the slogan’s been “embraced” because of its authenticity. Authentic? Really?

As I mentioned, part of what bugs me about We the North has to do with the grammar. But, there are some slogans that are grammatically or factually flawed that I don’t bother me. For example, I love “squish the fish” – the rallying cry Bills fans chant when their division-rival Miami Dolphins come to town. But, the charm of the rhyme is lost on my oldest sister (a teacher) who cringes as she points out, “but dolphins are mammals, not fish!” I get her point, but the slogan always makes me smile!

There are a number of popular tropes that bug me because I can’t get past a literal interpretation of them. “No worries” is a prime example. Have you noticed how in some contexts, that phrase has basically replaced, “you’re welcome”. If you doubt me, say thank you to some restaurant server sometime and I’ll bet the response you get is “no worries”. But it’s not the fact that no one says “your welcome” anymore that bothers me. It’s that when someone says “no worries” to me, I want to look them in the eye and ask: “how do you know – maybe I’ve got lots of worries!”

I know from chats with my friends that being literal isn’t just a trait that runs in our family. When Trump first rolled out his Make America Great Again slogan, a friend of mine invariably complained that he wished someone would ask Trump WHEN exactly he thought America was great. Point well taken, I thought.

“It is what it is” is another popular saying that really grates on me. I think it’s the defeatism inherent in it that bothers me. Of course something is what it is – but does that mean you have to live with it that way? The implication is yes – only a fool would think or behave otherwise. But, but…

Another popular phrase that I find really irritating is, “Been there, done that”.  I can never tell if the person saying it is bragging or being dismissive. To me it says “I’ve already done that or experienced that and I’ve moved on, but you can go ahead and try it for yourself, if you must.”  I know, I read a LOT into things!

But reading things into an expression isn’t necessarily bad. One of my favourite au currant catchphrases is “You got this”. Sure, it sounds a bit like a daily affirmation that Stuart Smalley (a character portrayed by Al Franken on SNL in the 90s) might have said. But what’s wrong with a using a phrase that boosts confidence or shows support?

What about you? Are there any pop expressions that grate on your nerves? Or any that you especially like? Do tell…

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona

10/30/2018

On being … process improvements


By Ingrid Sapona

Last weekend was haul-out at my sail club. Fancier clubs own travel lift cranes and use paid staff to launch and haul out boats. Our club hires two cranes and crane operators and the members pitch in to haul all 340+ boats over two days.

This was my 17th year working haul-out. There are all sorts of crews to work on. Some of the jobs are strenuous and physical, and some rather cushy. The kitchen crew works hard keeping everyone satisfied with coffee, morning and afternoon soup, and a hot lunch, but at least they’re inside all day. Most other crews are outside, regardless of the weather (which can be pretty miserable this time of year)! One thing all the work has in common: there’s a lot of hurry up and wait.

This year I worked on the parking crew. With every boat owner on hand at some point during the weekend to bring their boat over to the crane, there are a lot of cars around. And, once you start putting boats on cradles, the yard fills up pretty fast. Plus, there’s a lot of heavy equipment – things like forklifts and boats on cradles – being moved around by amateurs. So, making sure cars are not in the way is important.

Parking within the yard usually fills up pretty fast. There have been many times when I was there by 5:45 a.m. to work on a crew but I was turned away because they had already run out of parking space. That meant parking in a nearby public lot for the day, which was not ideal. This year the planning committee re-configured where boats would be placed on that first day. As a result, a whole new area was available for about 25 more cars. Plus, over the summer, the club repaved a roadway down the side of the yard and they added a gravel shoulder. That meant space for another 25 or so cars. These two changes meant we didn’t have to turn away a single car this year.

During our down time on the parking crew, I was listening to a book about managing teams. Though I wasn’t particularly into the book, it did help me focus on refinements I’ve noticed different crews have made to the launch and haul out process over the years. For example, years ago someone had the idea of renting a golf cart for the weekend. The property is quite big and a golf cart is easy to drive, it fits in small areas, and it makes schlepping things from one end of the yard to the other much easier. This year there were three golf carts zipping around.

The kitchen crew also has been honing its processes. In years past, they brought the soups out  the cranes. This year they served the soup under our large main tent – it’s easier for the kitchen crew because it’s closer to the clubhouse and there’s a dry space under the tent for everyone to sit while they warm up with their soup.

A bunch of us also noticed that there were fewer snacks (cookies, muffins, candy) than in years past. Some speculated that the cutback was due to austerity measures. Others attributed it to poor planning by the new kitchen crew chief. I prefer to think that the folks in charge had our health interest at heart.

Over the weekend, the parking crew came up with some changes for next year. For example, we have a large motorcycle parking area that often has 4-6 bikes parked there during the summer. On haul out weekend only one bike was there. Next year we’ll make sure that bikes tuck in somewhere else on the property for haul out weekend so we can put cars there. And we’ll do things differently near the fire hydrant. The pavement near it is painted so that no one parks there. But, on Sunday morning we let one car park there, but asked him to be sure to leave half the space free. Later, when none of us were watching, someone else slipped in next to the car. Clearly, they thought that if one person can park in the marked area, they could park in the other half. Next year we’ll used a couple lawn chairs to block half the space. Live an learn…

In the clubhouse, a team was experimenting with tracking each crane’s progress (boat-by-boat) on an iPad and then projecting the results on a screen in the clubhouse. This way, boat owners don’t have to guess when it’s time to go to their boat to bring it to the crane. If this works, we may stream the progress on the internet so members can check it from home or from their phone. That would be very helpful.

Over the weekend I also noticed some bitching and moaning about some things that were being done differently this year. But, resistance to change is almost as inevitable as change itself. Personally, I admire the thought and effort my fellow club members have put into improving the launch and haul out process. Sure, some of the changes may not have been as useful as hoped and so we may go back to the old way. But, I applaud the willingness to try new ways. After all, you don’t know if they’re an improvement unless you try them.

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona

10/15/2018

On being … into the weeds


By Ingrid Sapona

Autumn in Canada always brings a marked change in the air and people’s behaviour. The days seem to suddenly become shorter so it feels like you’re headed to work in the middle of the night. The landscape, which normally occupies the background, suddenly takes its bow at centre stage with yellows, oranges, and reds. The drop in temperature sends us digging deep into drawers and closets to pull out sweaters and corduroys.

Normally, the only uncertainty about autumn in Canada is when these changes will happen. This year, however, one autumn day will change things across all of Canada: October 17th. That’s the day recreational cannabis (marijuana, as it’s more commonly called) becomes legal here.

Legalization has been on the horizon for some time. But, in these last few days before the 17th, there have been multiple news stories about it daily. Here are a just a few headlines from the Toronto Star this past week:
  • ·       The weed man of St. John’s – about a guy in Newfoundland (a province with its own time zone out in the Atlantic) who hopes to be the first person in Canada to legally sell pot for recreational use.
  • ·       Expect cannabis shortages across the country, Aphria warns – a business story about concerns raised by Aphria, a licensed marijuana producer, about supply chain problems and product shortages.
  • ·       Ontario pot-sale plan raises health concerns – about warnings that legalized marijuana may promote a generation of addicts.
  • ·       Toronto police face strict pot use rules – about the Toronto Police force’s announcement that officers will be banned from using recreational marijuana within 28 days of being on duty.
  • ·       Cannabis awareness campaign imminent as legalization looms – about a government ad campaign on the rules, regulations, and health and safety matters related to pot.


Closer to home, my condo Board is grappling with rules related to cannabis use in and around the building. The Board surveyed owners on whether to allow pot smoking on balconies and within one’s own unit. The majority of survey respondents would like it banned everywhere in the building. The Board has the right to pass a rule about things like this unless at least 15% of owners demand a formal vote. Well, that’s happened, so the matter will be up for vote at our November Annual General Meeting.

In principle, I don’t care if pot is legalized. I’m not a user and I can’t see myself becoming one – it’s just never interested me. But, given how popular marijuana use is, I figure the government may as well profit from it. If it seems cynical to think that’s one of the motivators for this change, you need look no further than a postcard the government sent out to tell us about the ins and outs of the Cannabis Act. One of the eight bullet points on the card says: “Legal cannabis has an excise stamp appearing on it.” So, rather than the Good Housekeeping seal of approval, if there’s an excise stamp on it, you can rest assured the government’s share of the proceeds have been accounted for.

Since the summer, I’ve started thinking more seriously about how legalization of marijuana will impact people’s daily life and society in general. In Ontario, the rules that apply to smoking cigarettes will also apply to pot. At my sail club, for example, there are quite a few smokers. Though Ontario has rules that say no smoking inside, or on covered patios, or under party tents, the reality is, it’s pretty hard to stay up-wind when groups of folks are enjoying a smoke near the Club’s Gazebo bar.

Over the summer I was invited to someone’s house for a BBQ. I didn’t know most of the people there, and a few of us brought some desserts, which were put out as a buffet. As I reached for a brownie, I couldn’t help wonder whether – in years to come – I’d be more hesitant to choose something from the dessert table if I didn’t know who the baker was.

And of course, there’s the question of the impact THC (the ingredient in marijuana that gives you the buzz) will have on people’s general behaviour. From what I’ve read, there are a lot of unknowns. We all learned defensive driving, which is where you watch for others drivers’ erratic behavior. Now, besides watching for others driving, maybe we’ll have to pay more attention to erratic behavior by everyone on the street. (Mind you, with people walking and doing things on their mobile devices, having heightened attention to everything that moves is probably a good idea regardless.)

I remember the fuss about Y2K and how that ended up being a nothing. And I’ve also read articles about what society was like when Prohibition ended and it seemed that was a non-event too. Maybe a couple years from now I’ll look back on my trepidation with a touch of embarrassment. Hell, maybe it’ll end up being just what’s needed to get us through the Trump years…

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona

9/30/2018

On being … a civics lesson


By Ingrid Sapona

When news broke that a woman accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, there was wide-spread speculation about her motivation. I wasn’t concerned about her motivation for coming forward, I just thought she was crazy. After all, though Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s a few years younger than me, she’s old enough to remember how Anita Hill was treated before the same committee. (Talk about déjà vu – though the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearing was over a quarter century ago – some of the male senators who were on the committee back then are still on it.)

On Thursday, Dr. Ford testified under oath before the Senate judiciary committee and she addressed the issue of her motivation head on. In her opening statement, Ford said that she came forward because she felt it was her civic duty to make public this information about someone who may be appointed (for life) to the Supreme Court. After noting that she was terrified to be there testifying, Ford then carefully, and in detail, described the sexual assault and the lasting impact it’s had on her life.

Like many watching, I admired Ford’s bravery and poise under stress. Most people would have a hard time talking about such a painful experience in private, to people who aren’t there to judge you. Imagine being willing to tell it to a room full of people who are sceptical, if not outright antagonistic. Despite assurances from people like Senator Dianne Feinstein that Dr. Ford was not on trial, given that she was under oath, had to hire lawyers, and was questioned by a seasoned prosecutor, I’ll bet it felt like it to her.

Dr. Ford’s willingness to put herself (and her family) through the whole thing speaks to her both character and her belief in the importance of the Supreme Court. In coming forward, Dr. Ford may not have swayed members of Congress about whether Kavanaugh’s past behaviour makes him unqualified to sit on the Supreme Court, but she reminded women that victimization is perpetuated, in part, through silence. In an era when ego and self-interest trump everything else (no pun intended), the idea of a civic duty is so rare that it’s remarkable and that it sets an example that I so wish everyone will learn from.

Of course, Ford’s behaviour was not the only lesson delivered on Thursday. Judge Kavanaugh’s and Senator Graham’s bombast, fury, antagonism, and blaming also set an example to men and women around the world. They made it loud and clear to everyone that when a man is called on to answer questions about his behaviour vis-à-vis women, he should come out swinging. And, if he does, odds are that other powerful men will come to their defense to keep women in their place, if not quiet.

But, the clearest lesson of the whole two-day affair was delivered on Friday by two sexual assault victims who stopped Senator Jeff Flake in an elevator. Ana Maria Archila said to Flake, “I have two children. I cannot imagine that for the next 50 years, they will have to have someone in the Supreme Court who has been accused of violating a young girl. What are you doing, sir?” That encounter apparently helped Flake see the light and at least lobby for further investigation, which is better than nothing. (He could have voted against allowing Kavanaugh’s name to go to the full Senate, but he didn’t.)

Regardless of the outcome of the FBI investigation into the questions raised by Ford’s testimony, the underlying civics questions remains: is Kavanaugh suited for the Supreme Court? For the answer to that, we need look no further than to Kavanaugh himself. On Thursday he showed his true colours under pressure. He was belligerent, pompous, and partisan.

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford thought it was her civic duty to raise concerns about Kavanaugh’s suitability to become a Supreme Court justice. I guess now we’ll see what the Senators make of their civic duty regarding who they allow to sit on the highest court in the land.

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona