11/30/2022

On being … the right size

By Ingrid Sapona 

No, I’m not writing to announce the end of a successful diet. (I wish.) 

Today’s column is about vanity sizing. Never heard of it? I hadn’t either until I saw a piece on it on CBC’s Marketplace. The Marketplace team tested the sizing on jeans from seven different, well-known brands. They made sure all of them were of a similar style (for example, all might have been boot cut or whatever) and all of them showed the same waist size (38 on the men’s jeans and 34 on the women’s). They had a male model with a 38 waist test all the men’s pairs and a female model with a 34 waist test all the women’s pairs. 

They found that the men’s ran pretty true to size. The women’s, on the other hand, varied quite a lot. They varied – as in, they were bigger than the labelled waist size – by anywhere from an inch to six inches! Yes, that means the actual waist was 40 on a pair marked as having a 34 waist. I noted that the reporter didn’t explicitly say they tried multiple size 34s of each brand (to check for innocent labelling mistakes). But, given that they actually named the brand that was off by six inches, I’m sure they checked for simple labelling errors. Indeed, the fact that there was such a big variation in the same size pants was kind of the point of the story. Apparently, vanity sizing is where a company makes the same style over a number of years and they keep the same size on the label, but they change the actual fit. This way customers feel good about continuing to fit into the pants and they keep buying that brand, not realizing the pants are actually getting bigger. 

At first I wasn’t too fussed by the whole thing. Indeed, I’ve often thought sizing on women’s clothing was odd and kind of arbitrary. Those of us who grew up in North America just accept that – for some reason – at some point we go from sizes that are stated using odd numbers (7, 9, 11, 13) to sizes stated in even numbers (6, 8, 10, 12, 14, etc.). And then, over the past couple decades some stores have gone way off course and use numbers like 1, 2, 3 and 4. Why? Who the hell knows. And if that kind of randomness isn’t enough – some places now have size 0. What does that mean? Is 0 for women who are so waif-like that they’re basically ghosts? 

The Marketplace report made a few interesting points about the impact of clothing size. First, there’s the issue of how difficult it is for women to shop with confidence and ease. A psychologist they interviewed made the point that people often connect the size of clothing they wear with their self worth. When seemingly objective measures (like a waist size stated in inches on garment tags) are not reliable, it’s easy to understand that vanity sizing is a way of manipulating how women feel about themselves. For those having trouble seeing the harm in this kind of thing, I’ll explain. If you’ve been buying jeans from the company that labels the waist as being 34 when the jeans actually measure 40″, imagine how you feel about yourself when you try on another brand’s 34s and they don’t come close to fitting. Is it any wonder that some people hate clothes shopping? 

Besides being eye-opening, I think learning about vanity sizing is kind of a relief because it drives home the fact that you can’t go by the size on the tag. Indeed, I’ve been trying to get comfortable with that idea for awhile. For the past couple of years when I’ve gone clothes shopping, I’ve adopted a new strategy. When I find something I want to try on, I take multiple sizes into the changeroom. I begin by picking up the size I think I am, but I also grab a size smaller and a size bigger. Then I try them all on and hope that one of them might fit comfortably and look ok. On the rare occasion when both those criteria are met, I pretty much feel I’ve hit the jackpot. But, if all of them are too small, I feel pretty dejected. If there’s something about the garment that I really love, I may screw up my courage and try yet a bigger size, but that doesn’t always happen. At that point, I’m usually to discouraged to try anything more. 

Though I don’t think I’ll ever really enjoy clothes shopping, armed with the new insights into the sizing games manufacturers play to manipulate us, from now on the only numbers on the tags that I’m going to continue paying attention are the price. 

What about you? How do you feel about vanity sizing? Does the size on the tag matter to you? Has your size or outlook changed over the years? Will it now?? 

© 2022 Ingrid Sapona

11/15/2022

On being ... an attempt at recompense

 By Ingrid Sapona 

I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about Alex Jones. Indeed, until his defamation trials earlier this year, I couldn’t have told you the name of his website (it’s Infowars). Sure, I had seen him – probably on pieces on The Daily Show (Comedy Central’s late-night satirical news program), but I never paid much attention to his outrageous claims.    

Before the defamation trials, I hadn’t heard any of the unbelievable stories Jones made up about the Sandy Hook shooting. I was shocked when I heard the details about the lies he fabricated and unrelentingly promoted, and about the agony he cause the victims’ families. I couldn’t bare to watch the trial because I was sure that Jones would use it to grandstand, but it was impossible to not hear a bit about the proceedings. 

One tidbit that caught my attention during one trial was about how much money Infowars brought in on a daily basis. I don’t remember the exact amounts mentioned, but it was in the six-figure range. I remembered wondering how it was possible that he was bringing in that much. All I could figure was that Infowars must have been selling t-shirts and hats to fans through the website. (But even then, I couldn’t imagine making that much every day selling shirts and hats.) 

It wasn’t until I read a fascinating New York Times opinion piece by Farhad Manjoo that I understood how Jones and Infowars make money. The short answer is ad revenue. (I know, can I get a DUH…) But it’s not just garden variety advertisers one is likely to encounter on Infowars. Apparently (and I will be the first to admit that I’ve never been on Infowars’s website, nor will I ever) the bulk of the ads are for what you and I would probably think of as snake oil. “Wellness” products, such as diet pills, fluoride-free toothpaste that Jones once claimed kills the SARS-corona family of viruses, and products with names like InstaHard (you can guess what that’s for). 

Manjoo’s article helped me understood how Jones operates. I’ve never thought for a moment that any of the social media “influencers” like Jones honestly believe any of the lies or conspiracies they peddle. But, while politicians might make bold-faced lies – or go along with others’ outrageous lies – to gain or retain power, I long wondered what motivates some like Jones to fabricate a lie about something like the tragedy at Sandy Hook. 

Now I get it though. For Infowars, the more outrageous the lie Jones comes up with, the more people will check out the website. (What else could explain the idea of “crisis actors”?) It doesn’t matter one bit whether people visit the site because they’re believers in the lies or because they want to see for themselves whether Jones is as crazy as they’ve heard. Jones knows that once people are on the site, a given percentage of them are bound to notice the ads for the different miracle cures. Then, the minute folks click on the ads – ka-ching! – Infowars and Alex Jones make money. Somewhere along the road Jones figured out that the bigger the lie, the more views, and the more money. 

Thankfully the families won in all the lawsuits against Jones. But, the question many of us are grappling with in the wake of the verdicts is how to stop Jones and others from creating and spreading such lies. Pointing to a “symbiotic relationship between bogus, unregulated health products and bogus political claims”, Manjoo makes the argument that going after the huge market for “alternative health products” is one way of reducing the ability of Jones and his ilk from profiting from lies. I agree with Manjoo. I have long believed that governments should be doing way more to regulate advertisements and certainly if it weren’t for ad revenue, sites like Infowars would probably not exist. (Indeed, I would also make the cost of advertising a non-deductible business expense – that would rein in a lot of the most flagrant excesses.) 

To try to silence Jones, the Sandy Hook families did about the only thing they could: they sued him for defamation. That route was not without its risks, as Jones tried to hide behind claims of the right to free speech. I applaud the bravery of the families for bringing suit, as the trials meant they had to re-live the pain of Jones’ vitriol. When they won, they argued that the only way to stop Jones from continuing to lie for a living was to hit him with a judgment that is high enough to put him out of business. It seems the Connecticut Superior Court judge agreed. Last week she added $473 million in fees on top of the $965 million in compensatory damages the jury awarded the families. 

Regardless of how much Jones may end up actually paying (he’s already entered bankruptcy and no doubt will do all he can to avoid paying), the CBC offered the most straightforward takeaway. The host of The National (CBC’s flagship nightly news program) put it this way: “The cost of telling lies … has gone WAY up for U.S. radio host Alex Jones and his company. He faces a total judgment of over $1.4 billion U.S. – that’s the price for his repeated lies.” Though putting a price tag on lies and hate speech seems crass, maybe doing so will at least make people who might be tempted to follow Jones’ lead think twice. 

© 2022 Ingrid Sapona

10/30/2022

On being … seen … and (hopefully) heard

By Ingrid Sapona 

A couple weeks ago I heard a snippet on the news about two people pouring a can of tomato soup over Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. Like many, I was shocked and worried that the famous work of art might have been damaged. The report I heard was pretty vague, but it said the two who did it were protesting climate change. It seemed odd to me at the time, but once I learned the painting was not harmed (it had a protective glaze, apparently) my thought about the protest was simply, “whatever”. 

A couple days after the incident my sisters and I happened to be in London on holiday and we passed the National Gallery. I knew that entry to the National Gallery is free and it was a weekend day, so I assumed that explained the long queue. Later, however, someone who lives in London told me they suspected the line was moving slower than usual because maybe the Gallery was letting fewer people in at one time, given the recent Sunflower/soup incident. I knew what they were talking about, but I didn’t realize the incident had happened at the National Gallery. 

Later, at the hotel, I saw a news photo of the incident showing soup dripping off the painting and two protesters in tee shirts that read JUST STOP OIL. That was the first I heard about them also gluing their hands to the wall. The incident didn’t really move me one way or the other. I just thought they were looking for attention and they got it in a pretty harmless way. 

Then, a couple days later we were in a town in Gloucestershire and we saw this poster in a local art shop. I was impressed with how quickly someone had put that together, so I snapped a picture. I assumed it was tongue in cheek, but when I downloaded it, I noticed the MR BRAINWASH caption. I really didn’t – and still don’t – know what to make of that. 


Anyway, on our last night in the UK we heard a news report about climate protesters throwing mashed potatoes on Monet’s Grainstacks at a museum in Germany. Again, the main detail about the incident that I heard was that the Monet was undamaged because it was under glass. Then, this morning I read that climate protesters had done something to Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earing while it was on display at a museum in The Hague. Again, the painting was unharmed because it too was under glass. 

Ok, the third time in two weeks means this kind of a protest is clearly a “thing”, right? So, I decided I needed to understand it. I knew they were climate protesters – and climate change is a topic that’s really important to me – but I didn’t really see the connection to fine art. 

Both the Van Gogh and Vermeer protesters were connected to Just Stop Oil, a group that wants to stop oil and gas extraction in the UK. During the incident at the National Gallery the protesters asked visitor whether they “are more concerned about the protection of a painting, or the protection of our planet and people?” In an interview after the incident, a spokesperson for Just Stop Oil said the group’s intention was to generate publicity and create debate around the climate crisis and the actions needed to stop it. 

Then finally, I read a New York Times article about the most recent incident – the one involving the Vermeer. Apparently, as the protesters were gluing themselves to the painting and gallery wall, gallery patrons were aghast. The protesters assured them the painting was protected by glass. That explanation didn’t appease everyone, however, and several people were heard to tell the protester to shut up and one called the pair obscene. 

Once they were done gluing themselves, one of the protesters said to the onlookers, “How do you feel when you see something beautiful and priceless being apparently destroyed before your eyes? Do you feel outraged? Good. Where is that feeling when you see the planet being destroyed before your very eyes?” Wow, I thought… now I get it. 

A comment attributed to one of the Van Gogh protesters in an on-line meeting hosted by Just Stop Oil about a week after the incident was along the same lines – and equally moving, I thought. She asked, “Where’s that emotional response when it’s our planet and the people that are being destroyed? Where’s that shock when we are set to lose our real sunflowers?” Good point, eh? 

The sound bites and news briefs about these incidents did say they were carried out by climate protesters, but without more explanation, it’s easy to dismiss them as mere stunts. But in learning more about it – and them – I am quite impressed. I think the idea of comparing destruction of the planet to destroying a work of art is quite profound. I take my hat off to them for trying something new and different to get attention while doing no actual harm. I applaud their effort and feel that the least I can do is stand with them by writing about it. 

Unlike a work of art hanging in an art gallery, we can’t protect planet earth by putting it behind glass. So, it’s incumbent on all of us to take a stand – and take action – to prevent climate change before it’s too late. I don’t know where you stand on the protesters’ methods, but I hope it stirs you to at least join the climate change discussion. 

© 2022 Ingrid Sapona

10/15/2022

On being … scared

By Ingrid Sapona 

Apparently, I have something in common with Jamie LeeCurtis: neither of us like scary movies or being scared. (I know, she’s the queen of horror, so they say… I guess a true artiste screws up their courage – and maybe considers the paycheck – and takes on the role.) Anyway, even though I like Ms. Curtis, I couldn’t watch any of her horror films. Heck, to this day, I can’t watch the Wizard of Oz. I just hate it. I’m sure there are all sorts of wonderful things about it, but there’s also a frightening witch who commands an army of flying monkeys AND snatches little Toto. That’s stuff of kids’ nightmares, I think.

So, growing up I had mixed feelings about Halloween. Sure, the prospect of candy was great and smiling jack-o-lanterns are ok. But I never liked scary costumes and spooky decorations. I understand that Halloween is All Saint’s Day eve and so originally it was about remembering the dead, which explains the skeletons and tombstones and maybe even ghosts. But so many people seem to feel the need to amp up the scare factor by putting cob webs with giant black spiders on their bushes and other scary decorations. There’s no way I’d go up to a house with a skeleton hanging or a skull near the door, much less a huge cobweb, for a piece of candy! (I’ll wait till the Easter Bunny, thank you.) 

I’ve never understood why people are attracted to things intentionally made to scare the bejesus out of you. I just don’t get the appeal of going out of your way to watch something – or going to something like a haunted house – just to experience fear. And yet, lots of people crave that. I guess from those folks’ perspective, they can’t understand why people like me go out of our way to avoid that kind of stuff. 

So, when I heard about the “Mississippi day care center scare” story last week, I couldn’t believe it. I had the news on in the background when the newscaster talked about some day care worker who put on some sort of Halloween mask and scared the children. Then they ran the video and the first thing you hear is children screaming. Now I know, children scream for a lot of reasons and half the time you can’t tell if it’s out of fear or delight. But in this case, there was no question. 

The video showed a woman in a black hood wearing what I – as an adult – recognized as a “Scream Mask”. Though I have NO idea what the mask is from, I recognized the white skull-like visage with black holes for eyes and the long mouth that looks like a ghoul screaming. But given the children’s blood curdling wails and crying, none of them thought it was just someone in a mask. 

In the video the masked fiend slowly walks around the lunch table where the children are sitting. At one point she bends down near one and lets out a scream – amping up the terror. I couldn’t believe it. The video shows a close up of one little girl screaming and shaking with fear.

Though I didn’t think it could get worse, it does. The video also shows another adult telling the masked worker which two- and three-year-olds have been bad. Then the masked one crouches down next to one child and asks if they’ve been bad. Then you see the masked person chasing a two-year-old who is running away, screaming. The video – the terror – went on for more than two minutes! What adult would do that to little kids – and what other adult would stand there videoing it? 

The reporter described the daycare worker as wearing a “spooky” Halloween mask “screaming at – and appearing to intentionally scare – young children”. If the mask wasn’t terrifying enough – as it certainly would be for many at that age – it turns out the incident wasn’t just a warped prank. As the woman in the mask explained – after she and her co-workers who didn’t intercede to stop the terror-inducing behavior were fired – it was part of her plan to get the kids to listen and clean up their toys. As though it matters, after being fired she said she realized her plan went too far. You think??  

But perhaps the biggest nightmare inducing fact to come out of this story was the explanation given by the woman who made the video. She explained on Facebook (after she was fired) that she recorded the video on purpose because “this sort of thing has happened before” and she wanted to show the parents how the kids had been treated. Wow… talk about a real-life horror story! Mind you, that explains a bit about her motivation – but why didn’t she step in to stop her colleague before she donned the mask, or once the kids’ fear was so apparent? 

For a long time, I was embarrassed to admit that I don’t like scary things. Indeed, seeing stories like what those daycare workers did to those kids makes me feel stronger about saying that folks should know that not everyone sees fear-inducing things as a benign form of entertainment. 

So, what about you? Where do you stand? Are you more likely to hand out Halloween candy dressed as Freddy Kreuger or as Mr. Rogers?

© 2022 Ingrid Sapona


 

9/30/2022

On being ... left wondering

By Ingrid Sapona 

I’m sure you heard the news this week about the rupture of Russia’s natural gas pipelines (Nord Stream 1 and 2) in the Baltic Sea. The rupture seems to have been discovered by Denmark who first noticed a patch of bubbles caused by gas welling up in the water near the island of Bornholm. The flow of Russian oil and gas to Europe has been a focus of western news for a long time, as Germany and other countries relied on it for their energy. Since February, of course, the pipelines (not to mention Ukrainian nuclear power facilities) have become especially newsworthy as Putin has used them as tools of war. 

With those facts as the backdrop, it isn’t surprising that the cause of the pipeline rupture would garner a lot of attention. Clearly the issue of whether it was a deliberate act of sabotage, and if so, by whom, will have political consequences in ways I’m sure many of us can’t begin to imagine. So, in a news story on the front page of the Thursday New York Times – three days after the discovery – the headline was: Burst Pipelines Seen as Attack, But the Mystery is Who Did It.  

But the ecological consequences of the leaking gas has garnered barely a mention. I did see one New York Times article on Wednesday by Stanley Reed, a London-based writer energy writer, that mentioned the environmental impact. About half way through the 39-paragraph article (yes, I counted) there was this cryptic (not to mention concerning) sub-heading: The environmental impact appears alarming. Finally, I thought, someone is covering the issue. 

But the measly five paragraphs under that sub-heading only talked about the fact that natural gas consists of methane, which is a significant contributor to global warming. (According to the article, estimates are that the gas leaking could amount to about 1/3 of Denmark’s annual emissions, so not an insignificant amount.) But, it was the last of the five sentences under that gob-smacking subheading that I think is deserving of further reporting: “Scientists hope that the gas, which is rushing to the surface and dispersing into the atmosphere, will not have a major [italics are mine] impact on animal and plant life in the waters around the leak.” Clearly we all HOPE that, but how about some details – or follow-up – as to the basis for this hope? 

Lately I’ve been frustrated about some news stories that are talked about from really just one angle. The Russian pipeline is an example, but another one was a story related to the tragedy in Uvalde. The story I’m talking about was the one about the school police chief (Pete Arredondo) being fired. When I first heard the news, I didn’t quite understand how the school district could fire the chief of police. In my experience, school boards typically don’t have that much political clout. 

It was only after reading a few reports that I realized Arredondo was not the chief of the Uvalde Police Department – he was the chief of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District police force. Confused, I ended up looking up the school district. It serves seven communities and has about 4150 students in total, from PK through grade 12, in a county of about 25,000 residents. 

I had never heard of a school district having its own police force. But, apparently, it’s not uncommon in Texas for school districts to have their own actual police forces. Why is it that? Of course, that’s a rhetorical question – it’s because (sadly) America is a violent society. But why is it that the news stories around the Uvalde massacre seemed to only focus on laying blame for the response? Why were there no stories about whether by accepting armed officers in the schools, not to mention having a school district-funded police force that is separate from the local police, society is facilitating the acceptance of violence. 

I know that sometimes reporters simply don’t have details that can help us understand all implications of an event. (Russia activating reservists is a perfect example of a story where I suspect western reporters don’t have solid information about what constitutes a reservist.) But lately I feel that journalists, editors, and consumers of news approach stories with blinders, focusing on the most immediate consequences only. Meanwhile, aspects of a story that will have broader implications later are glossed over or ignored to our (future) peril. 

Am I the only one who feels this way – or are there angles of news events you wish you knew more about? Of course, wishing to know more doesn’t change things that have happened. But, maybe by talking more about various angles of stories and events we’ll be better able to anticipate long-term impacts that we do have time to change. 

© 2022 Ingrid Sapona 

9/15/2022

On being… at a historic turning point

By Ingrid Sapona 

The death of the Queen on September 8th should not have come as a real surprise, given her age. And yet, somehow it did catch me by surprise, not to mention it brought great sadness. I know I’m not alone in feeling both those things. (I wonder if Liz Truss was as surprised by the news, having just met with her about forming a new government.) 

Of course, I knew the death of the Queen also meant the accession of Charles to the throne. I hadn’t really thought about whether he’d change his name – I guess that was the fashion at a time, much as the cardinal that becomes Pope takes a different name. In any event, I’m glad Charles didn’t, as I think referring to him as King Charles will be enough of an adjustment for now. 

British historians have already commented that the Queen’s death marks the end of the second Elizabethan era. Of course, from our vantage point it’s hard to know what this era will mean 100 or 200 years from now. But, if history is any guide, the era that just ended will represent different things to different people — much as, say, the Georgian and Victorian era do. For example, to me the Georgian era (1720 to the 1830s) simply conjures an architectural style while the Victorian era (1837-1901) brings to mind various moral precepts. 

My fear is that when historians reflect on what the end of the second Elizabethan era marked, they will say her death was the end of civility, decorum, and selflessness as virtues to aspire to. Indeed, I worry that the Queen’s death in 2022 will be a mere footnote to the early decades of the 21st century, which will be remembered for the emergence of leaders whose path to power was through division of society by stoking hatred, intolerance, and violence. 

For quite some time, many of us have watched with shock and dismay as the U.S. seems to be tearing itself apart. I’m sure that to some, such a statement seems alarmist or perhaps even absurd. And yet, denial and disbelief are further symptoms of the problem at the heart of our concern: Americans seem to be taking democracy for granted. 

Democracy requires work and diligence to survive. It is built on the principles that everyone’s rights are equal and that no one is above the law. When those principles are compromised, the system will collapse. And when it does, what do Americans think will happen? Given the proliferation of guns in the U.S., how can anyone doubt that civil war is a real possibility. But, unlike the previous civil war – this time there won’t be an obvious boundary line. I believe the term for it is guerrilla warfare.  

I do feel a glimmer of hope that the U.S. will wake before it’s too late because others have finally begun openly talking about the dangers of the current political atmosphere and the potential for civil war. Indeed, on September 1st – a week before the second Elizabethan era officially came to a close – the President of the United States warned that the U.S. is at inflection point. 

Inflection point, indeed… and not just in the U.S. The recently chosen leader of Canada’s federal Conservative party – Pierre Poilievre – has taken from Trump’s playbook and gained success by spreading conspiracy theories, making ridiculous claims (for example, buying cryptocurrency is the best way to protect oneself from inflation), by railing against the media, and encouraging fringe protest groups. Many believe that Poilievre’s extremist rhetoric will not translate into a majority victory in a federal election, but that’s the same kind of denial that ended up seeing Trump in the White House in 2016. My hope is that Canadians realize the dangers of such complacent views before it’s too late. 

It would be wrong to say that I envy the Brits for their realization that the Queen’s death is a turning point in history, but in a way I do. This period of mourning has provided an opportunity for them to reflect on how their system of government works. All the news reels and commentary about the Queen’s remarkable sense of duty and her ability to keep her views to herself should be more than just a source of wistful pride. Hopefully it reminds Brits of the traits they have so long aspired to – you know, that whole Keep Calm and Carry On attitude. 

Unfortunately, people in the U.S. and other places do not seem to realize that their countries are also at a turning point in history – a dangerous one in which politicians and others have made voicing hatred and taking up arms to threaten others normalized. I guess the question is whether such normalization is ok with you. Remember, both action and inaction play a role in shaping history. So, what type of society do you want to live in – and what’s your role in shaping that society? I hope you decide the answers to those questions before it’s too late…  

© 2022 Ingrid Sapona

8/30/2022

On being ... asked

By Ingrid Sapona

 

How do you feel about surveys? 

Don’t worry, this isn’t a survey. It’s just something I’ve been thinking about this week. 

I started thinking about surveys after hearing a sociologist talk about current views of Ukrainians in a session titled: “Russia’s War onUkraine: Assessing the State of the Conflict Six Months On.” It was part of an on-going series hosted by Northwestern’s Buffett Institute for Global Affairs. 

Tymofii BrikRector and Head of Sociological Research at Kyiv School of Economics, was asked about Ukrainians’ perceptions about the war. In response, he talked about surveys he and other scholars and organization have been doing by phone, on-line, and in-person to learn about how the war might be changing Ukrainian society. I never thought that scholars might use surveys to gauge such things.  

He talked about the trends they’ve observed from the surveys. Apparently 80% of respondents believe in the victory of Ukraine and, based on surveys done in March, April, and this month, they have believed this consistently. The surveys also show increased trust in national institutions – with 60% of those surveyed indicating they trust the military and 45-50% trust the president. The surveys also show there’s been no backlash or disappointment in military or presidential powers, he said. 

Brik also talked about surveys Ukraine’s Institute of Sociology of the Academy of Science has been conducting regarding how people in Ukraine identify themselves. Just before the invasion they asked respondents how they primarily identify themselves. There was a range of labels to choose from: “Ukrainian”, “a dweller of a town or village”, “a person of the global world”, “a Soviet person”, and so on. In February about 60% of respondents primarily identified as Ukrainians and now it is 80%, he said. Brik concluded by saying Ukraine right now is a very solidified, united nation. As a result, he’s quite optimistic because the research demonstrates that Ukrainians are showing strong resilience and adherence to their state and nation and a willingness to support democratic institutions. 

Maybe I should be embarrassed to admit this, but until I reflected on Brik’s work and the conclusions he and others are drawing from it, I tended to think of surveys mainly as tools used in marketing. I certainly never thought of them as serious tools of sociological research, nor have I thought about the role such surveys might play in swaying the global community. (Though there are moral reasons to support Ukraine, evidence of how Ukrainians feel is no doubt important to foreigners’ continued support.) 

With my attention newly focused on surveys, I’ve been surprised at how many domestic news stories mention survey statistics. For example, there was an article last Wednesday about people’s views on inflation. The survey discussed in the article asked people how long they thought inflation might continue. (FYI, 2/3 of Canadians apparently think it’ll continue for at least another year.) The survey also asked people what they thought was causing inflation. (Seems Canadians point to Covid-19 fallout, supply chain problems, the federal government, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the Bank of Canada, with no single culprit standing out.) Then a story in Friday’s paper referenced a survey about whether inflation has changed personal spending habits. The survey results aren’t important here. Instead, what I’d say is that I never thought about surveys as a way to get at the psychological, practical, and emotional impacts of something like inflation. 

And, clearly, surveys are relevant in a wide array of areas. Accompanying a Sunday article on Scotland’s Period Products Law, which guarantees women and girls access to tampons and sanitary pads, was a side bar with results of surveys done by Plan International Canada. The surveys were about affordability of menstrual products and attitudes toward menstruation in Canada. I’m sure these surveys will be sited in the on-going grass roots efforts to get similar legislation passed in Canada. 

And then there was a front-page article in today’s Toronto Star about a new monthly poll by the same firm that did the survey on peoples’ views on inflation. The pollster is calling this new survey the Rage Index and they say it’s to track the mood of Canadians regarding their governments, the economy, and current events. The survey response choices are: “very happy”, “pleased or moderately happy”, “neutral or no emotion, “annoyed or moderately angry”, and “very angry”. But, on the pollster’s website reporting the results, they combine “very angry” and “annoyed or moderately angry” under the generic label of “angry”. That kind of generalization drives me crazy, especially when they’re supposedly gauging peoples’ moods about topics that are ripe for political exploitation. 

I may not have been tuned into surveys to the degree I am now, but I’ve long been wary of polls like the Rage Index, as they seem intended mainly to make headlines. I found it interesting that the Rage Index pollster concluded Canadians are “grumpy” – a label that wasn’t even used in the survey. Of course, a “Rage Index” that measures grumpiness probably wouldn’t land on the front page… 

I generally don’t mind answering surveys. But I have been known to stop mid-survey or to refused to answer if I sense a survey is designed to lead responses in a certain direction. After thinking about the surveys I’ve seen referenced this week, I don’t think my view of surveys has changed all that much. I’ll still cast a skeptical eye on them – wondering who has sponsored them and what they might be used for. But, so long as they’re well crafted and not the only tool used in decision-making, I can see how they provide useful insights into all sorts of things. 

What about you? Where do you stand on surveys? Are you an avid survey answerer? And how do you feel about survey results? Do you put much stock in them? 

© 2022 Ingrid Sapona 

8/15/2022

On being … beyond expensive

By Ingrid Sapona  

Would you pay $15 for a pint of canned peaches from your local farmer’s market? Me either, inflation or not.  

I love peaches and so does my sister Regina. (I honestly can’t say whether my other sister feels the same.) I came by my love for Niagara peaches from my dad. He kept his boat at Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is pretty much the heart of peach country. Summer weekends we never drove directly to the boat. The trip always included a stop (or two) at Dad’s favourite farmers to get whatever was in season. (Niagara is also renown for its cherries, apricots, pears, and plums – I enjoy all of them, but not as much as peaches.)  

Regina, who lives in the Cincinnati area, loves Niagara peaches so much that earlier in the summer she mentioned she might drive up to visit me in Toronto during peach season. For a variety of reasons, she decided not to come up. (Instead, she made due with ordering peaches from Georgia that something called the Peach Truck delivers in the Cincinnati area in June.)  

When the first peaches hit the local farmer’s market a couple weeks ago, I bought a small basket to see how they were. Naturally, I didn’t mention to Regina that the peaches are out – that would have been cruel. But, I got to thinking about how I might share the bounty with her and the idea of canning came to mind. During Covid a friend gave me a couple jars of peaches she had canned and I remembered what a treat they were.  

I have a vague recollection of canning something once – and I have a canning book, so I probably did try it. Once I made the decision to try canning peaches this year, I bought a dozen mason jars and I picked up a ton of peaches when I was in Niagara. When I told my friend I was planning on canning them, her only question was whether I had a big enough pot. I assured her that my biggest pot was quite big and that I was sure it would do. I mentioned I didn’t have a canning rack for it, but that I do have jar-lifter tongs (further evidence that I must have tried canning once before). She said she wouldn’t can without a rack because she thinks keeping the jars off the bottom of the canning pot helps prevent them from cracking. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have one I could borrow – as it is, she borrows one from her neighbor. Thankfully, Amazon had one that fit my pot and it was here the next day. 

So, one afternoon I set to it. I had the canning pot on the boil, sterilizing the jars. I had another pot with simmering water to briefly pop the peaches in to make them easy to peel. I had a bowl of ice water on the ready to stop the peaches from cooking after being retrieved from the simmering water. After the ice water bath, you peel them and turn them into a bowl with a water/lemon mixture so they don’t discolour. I had a pot on the stove boiling the light syrup and another small pot with water boiling for the lids.  

Once I had the jars filled with the peaches, topped up with the syrup, and the lids in place, the last step was to return the jars to the canning pot and boil for 30 minutes. I gently placed the jars on the submerged rack and topped up the water in the pot. The instructions were very clear – you don’t start the timer until the water returns to a boil. That’s when I discovered that my biggest, deepest pot isn’t really as deep as I thought. The jars are supposed to be covered by at least an inch of water. Turns out, the only way the jars would be sufficiently submerged was if I filled the pot to the VERY brim.  

Having gone to all that work, I wasn’t going to hold back on the water. Naturally, when the water was at full boil, it splashed out all over the place. Undaunted, I stood there for 30 minutes, wiping up the splattered water and adding more to keep the pot topped up. When the timer went off, I gently lifted each jar out onto a towel to let them sit for the required 24 (!) hours. Then I set to work cleaning the mess. That’s when I realized that I had used every pot I owned and a number of large bowls.  

The next day, when I inspected the jars, I was happy to find that they were vacuum sealed. I was proud of my handy work, but not sure it was worth the effort. Did I mention all that was just for four, one-pint jars of peaches? I started laughing when I did a quick calculation: $19 for the jars, $21 for the rack, and $20 for the peaches. Then, if you add on the time it took… Well, the only way to rationalize it was to say the experience was right out of one of those MasterCard commercials – you know, Priceless!  

Mind you, because I still had peaches left over, a few days later I made a second batch. Because I knew what I was doing, it took me a little less time, but it was still a lot to clean up. So now I’ve gotten the marginal cost down to $7.50 a jar. Still more than I imagine I’d pay to buy them, but you know something, in the dead of winter I’m sure Regina and I will both enjoy them and that’s really when the luxury of Niagara peaches will seem… well… priceless.  

© 2022 Ingrid Sapona