On being … a big pineapple

By Ingrid Sapona

For the past couple weeks now, here in Toronto you can’t go anywhere (no, I’m not talking about the combination of gridlock and road work that’s gripped the City for some time) without seeing some flag or symbol proudly displayed on a car, bike, hat, or you name it. And, if you’re like me, you’d probably recognize one or two of the symbolic references, but certainly not all of them.

Yes, part of this surge in displays of symbols around Toronto relates to the World Cup. I know that World Cup fever is quite wide-spread, but Toronto’s size (now the 4th largest city in North America) and diversity means that we have large populations of people from many of the nations in the Cup.

I distinctly remember the proliferation of car flags four years ago because my sister and a friend of hers were here and they were astounded by how many flags were – pardon the pun – foreign to them. Of course, I was almost as clueless until the Toronto Star did an article that identified the flags. I haven’t seen such a guide for this Cup, but I’m hoping that maybe now that we’re into the knockout round they’ll print one.

In the run-up to this year’s tournament, I was looking forward to seeing cars festooned with flags and I was a bit disappointed with how few there were initially. Then, just before the first round I noticed that for $3 you could pick one up at the grocery store. (My neighborhood store had flags from four countries – I wonder if the choices varied in other parts of the City.) After that, they started appearing on cars everywhere.

Another flag that’s on display everywhere in Toronto this week is the Rainbow Flag, the symbol for Pride, which, when capitalized like that, also has a special meaning that some folks may not be familiar with. “Pride” events, according to InterPride’s website, are events such as parades, marches, rallies, festivals, arts festivals, cultural activities, events and other activities “organized for people identifying as Lesbian, Gay Men, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and/or other emerging sexual identities”.

Toronto, which has had an annual Pride festival for over 30 years, is hosting WorldPride 2014 (also known as WP14TO – for those who like abbreviations). The 10-day event is the fourth such event ever held and the first one in North America and the City is – pardon the pun – pretty proud.

Major international events like the World Cup and WorldPride always generate a flurry of newspaper articles and even if I’m not particularly interested in the event itself, there’s usually some items that catch my eye. A few of the Pride-related stories I found interesting explained the history and symbolism of the rainbow flag and the abbreviation LGBTTIQQ2SA.

The symbolism of the rainbow seemed obvious, but I didn’t know that each colour represents something specific. (For the uninformed – like me – here you go: Red: life; Orange: healing; Yellow: sunlight; Green: nature; Blue: serenty/harmony; Violet: spirit. And, in case you’re wondering what happened to Hot Pink (sexuality) and Turquoise (magic/art) they’ve been dropped – not for any symbolic reason – but because they’re difficult colours to manufacture.) One other Pride flag-related tidbit that was mentioned is that before the rainbow flag the symbol for gay pride and the gay rights movement was a pink triangle. Apparently we have Harvey Milk to thank for moving away from that symbol, which was a Nazi concentration camp badge to identify homosexual prisoners. (Thank you Harvey – that thought is just too grim for me…)

As for what LGBTTIQQ2SA stands for, that was quite new to me. I thought I was pretty current knowing that LGBT stands for lesbian, gay, bi, and transgendered. But, most news stories used this long abbreviation and the WP14TO website explains that “LGBTTIQQ2SA is an abbreviation used to represent a broad array of identities such as, but not limited to, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, intersex, queer, questioning, two-spirited, and allies.”

I have to admit, I’m still not clear on all that (the two Qs are the most confusing to me). I think it’ll be interesting to see – over time – whether that abbreviation sticks. I think that, just as the rainbow flag’s been paired down to six colours, something less than 11 letters can come to represent the members of the Pride community. (I understand that they’re trying to be inclusive – indeed, I’d say that the abbreviation even covers me – I fall into the allies group. But it seems to me that by being so specific, you run the risk of alienating others.)

In reflecting on all the symbols people are flaunting here in Toronto this month, I’ve been feeling kind of out of it. Not being the flag waving type, I needed to find something else that I could display. Fortunately, on my most recent trip to the grocery store I found just the thing: a nice big pineapple. So, I picked one out and I’ve put it on prominent display in my kitchen window. What could be more appropriate and welcoming than the time-honoured symbol of hospitality? Mind you, it may not last long – I’ve got friends coming over and I’m planning on serving pineapple mojitos…

© 2014 Ingrid Sapona


On being … surprised?

By Ingrid Sapona

We just had a provincial election in Ontario and come October we’ll have a mayoral election here in Toronto. (You may have heard of our mayor – he’s kind of famous, er, infamous. But that’s a whole other story and since I can’t see myself writing  a column called On being … a crack cocaine user – nor can I imagine any of my readers relating to that topic – rest assured, you’ll see no further mention of our mayor here.)

The provincial election was called when the Liberal Party, which had governed since 2011 as a minority, failed to get support from the opposition for the 2014 budget. As you might expect, in the 35-day run-up to the election there was a heck of a lot of political polling going on. I got at least three calls myself, asking who I was likely to vote for. (Yes, you read that right – Ontario provincial election campaigns are limited to five to six weeks – eat your heart out American readers!) On the eve of the election, the polls indicated the race was going to be close. Well, it wasn’t. The Liberals won a solid majority.

The misleading pre-election polling here in Ontario was noteworthy locally, but it paled by comparison to the erroneous pre-election poll predictions elsewhere. In the premier race in British Columbia last summer, for example, pollsters where shocked when the party that was supposed to win by a landslide lost – by a lot! And of course, just this week there was the “surprise” loss by Eric Cantor in the Virginia Republican primary, despite the fact that his internal polls had him ahead by over 30 percentage points.

While I can understand that politicians are anxious to get some indication of how much support they might get in an election, surely they must realize the risks involved in taking the pre-election polls to heart. Sure, pollsters take a lot of factors into account, adjusting for all sorts of demographic factors, like age, wealth, education, location, and so on. And of course, all polls have that asterisk that provides the mysterious margin of error number, which is often so broad as to make the spread between the candidates virtually zero, but never mind.

If you ask me, if there are any lessons to be learned from the numerous pre-election polling misreads, it’s that candidates who put any stock in them do so at their own risk. If polls show you’re a shoo-in (like they did with Cantor), or even just in the lead, you run the risk of being complacent. And if you’re behind in the polls, you run the risk of feeling downtrodden, which makes it even harder to put your best foot forward, and I imagine you run the risk of people being reluctant to support someone others think will lose.

Personally, I love answering political polls, especially the super-efficient automated ones. I don’t mind saying what candidate I will vote for, and I always tell the truth. The way I see it, if the poll is being paid for by the candidate (or party) I support, I’m happy to have them know that they have my support. And, if the poll is sponsored by a party or group that I don’t like, I don’t mind taking a bit of the wind out of their sails. Mind you, my willingness to even respond to such polls is founded on the fact that, unlike many other choices that I have a hard time making, when it comes to politics, I’m never a fence sitter.

But, I think the problem with pre-election polls has to do with a fundamental difference between responding to such a poll and casting a ballot. When someone responds in a pre-election poll, they do so knowing they have nothing truly at stake. Candidates and the pollsters they hire seem to lose sight of this fact. Of course, I guess that’s human nature too, as they, arguably, do have something at stake with such polls. So, until pollsters figure out a way to factor in some of the whims of human nature, I’ll find it hard to take polls too seriously.

Anyway, that’s how I’d explain why pre-election polling has let to so many surprises. What’s your take on it? (I’m just asking…)

© 2014 Ingrid Sapona