1/15/2023

On being ... a time out

By Ingrid Sapona        

I’m easing into the new year by taking a time out for tacos and tequila, sun and sand, and rest and relaxation (not necessarily in that order). So, On being … will be on hiatus till mid-February. 

In the meanwhile, I hope you are able to ease into 2023 in your own way. 

© 2023 Ingrid Sapona

12/30/2022

On being ... an alphabetical walk through 2022

 by Ingrid Sapona

I start this list early in the year (not necessarily January, but early). I add phrases or words as they jump out to me, whether in the news or just in terms of what’s on my mind. As I have the past few years, I’m including links to articles and other information that helped me formulate different entries. I imagine some of these concepts and ideas are things you’ve reflected on this year – and I hope I’ve drawn your attention to a few things you maybe haven’t focused on. And, to the extent you may have been struck by other words and phrases not on this list, I’d love to hear about them. 

A is for aggrieved entitlement – a term sociologist Michael Kimmel defines as the perception that the benefits and/or status you believe yourself entitled to have been wrongfully taken away from you by unforeseen forces. Sadly, politicians wishing to create a wedge in society have employed this to great advantage this year.   

B is for burka – In May the Taliban once again started requiring Afghan women to wear them. As the months passed, we realized that the burka decree was only the start of the total repression of Afghan women, as the Taliban now prohibits girls from going to high school and university.  

C is for critical minerals – these are “the building blocks” of the green and digital revolutions – things like lithium, cobalt, magnesium, nickel, platinum, titanium, aluminum, graphite, iridium, tungsten, and so on.  These minerals are critical as an input in different devices and processes, but another aspect of what makes them of critical interest and concern is the fact that some of the places these minerals are found are not always friendly to the west or politically stable. 

D is for DeSantis, Don’t Say Gay, and Disney World – a Florida triple-play. 

E is for emboldened – hate has become emboldened and easily spread via digital megaphones like tweets and chat rooms.

F is for fusion – this is a last-minute addition to the list. On Dec. 13th it was announced that U.S. scientists carried out a nuclear fusion reaction. I’m sure you read about it, so I won’t try to explain it… though I must say, one of the takeaways I got from all the stories was that it creates helium. Whew… that means that for generations to come kids will enjoy the sound of their high-pitched voice after inhaling a bit of the gas. (Friendshoring was my original choice for F – it’s the practice of relocating supply chains to countries where the risk of disruption from political chaos is low.) 

G is for grifter – the most apropos description of Donald Trump that I’ve have ever heard.  While Trump has the distinction of having served as Grifter in Chief, this year confirmed that Millennials have also gotten into the game: Theranos’ Elizabeth Holmes and FTX’s Sam Bankman-Fried.

H is for hate – hate has been around forever, but the fact that hate talk has become normalized is an emerging trend that should concern us all. 

I is for the Inhumane Weapons Convention – what does it say that we even have this? 

J is for January 6th – the irony of it being Epiphany hit me as I was watching the January 6th hearings, which were, as the word epiphany means, revealing. 

K is for Kyiv – here is to hoping Kyiv still exists a year from now. 

L is for lies – we will suffer the consequences of many of Trump’s legacies or a long time to come but perhaps none will have as devastating an impact as the normalization of lies. I don’t know if it’s just considered impolite – or impolitic – to call a lie a lie, but it seems few people are willing to do so. Instead, we find polite ways to refer to lies, as the New York Times did in describing Representative-elect George Santos’ resume as “largely fiction”. 

M is for Marina Ovsyannikova – the Russian woman who on March 14, 2022 burst into a live broadcast of Russia’s most watched news show and held up a sign that said stop the war and “they’re lying to you here”. In the fall she fled house arrest and is living in an undisclosed European country.  

N is for nuclear weapons – this year the notion of Russia deploying “tactical nuclear weapons” made the news, as did the reality that a nuclear power generating station can become, in effect, a nuclear weapon.  

O is for oligarch – before 2022 many of us were familiar with the term. But this year, thanks to a number of Russian oligarchs, we also learned the meaning of defenestration. 

P is for Putin – Putin certainly was front and centre in 2022. However unintentionally, his actions this year made him a uniting force: he helped unite much of the west. 

Q is for Queen Elizabeth – though the past few years she became visibly frail and we knew her age, it was still a bit of a shock when she passed away. It’s odd to think that in my lifetime there likely will not be another Queen on the English thrown. 

R is for rage – rage is the physical, often deadly, expression of anger and hate. And, like hate, overt expression of rage is on the rise. While that, in itself, is troubling, the fact that politicians and power mongers have learned to exploit others’ rage to their advantage presents a huge risk to democracy around the world.

S is for special military operation – war by any other name is still war.

T is for thermobaric weapons – a true sign of human depravity. These weapons create high temperature fireballs the literally suck the air out of any living being in the vicinity, according to experts. And yet, they have not been banned by international convention. 

U is for undersea cables – I was surprised to learn that 95% of international data transmission occurs via undersea fibre-optic cables. I read about this in the aftermath of a post-earthquake tsunami off Tonga that snapped an 872 km. long fibre-optic cable connecting Tonga to the world.  

V is for variant – talk of variants of the Covid virus have subsided, at least as compared to how much attention they got in the first quarter or so of 2022. But, I’m guessing variants will still be a news story in 2023, especially with China lifting its zero Covid restrictions. Hope I’m wrong…

W is for Wordle – what else? It’s fun to play, but I don’t mind admitting that I find it a bit odd when people post how they did on social media.

X is for (e)xtreme weather – bomb cyclones, floods that devastated Pakistan, and record heat in England and Europe are just some of the catastrophes suffered this year due to extreme weather. In the face of all these things, I don’t see how there can be any doubt that climate change is real. I also don’t understand why it’s not obvious to everyone that unless we all work together to restrict greenhouse gases, we’ll all end up paying the price for weather-related catastrophes.

Y is for the Y chromosome – apparently it is degenerating. No need for immediate panic though, so long as evolution kicks in sometime over the next million or so years. 

Z is for Zelinskyy – surprising how a guy whose name is linked to the first Trump impeachment would go on to be a major world figure in 2022. I doubt it was a coincidence, but the historians will have the last word on that. 

And finally, with a heartfelt Thank You for reading On being… , I wish you good health and much happiness throughout the New Year.

 

© 2022 Ingrid Sapona


12/15/2022

On being … fee’d up

By Ingrid Sapona  

The other day I got an email from a theatre company announcing their 2023 schedule. One particular play sounded interesting so I clicked through to see the prices and dates. For that play, seats on the main floor ranged from $33.90-$146.90, with seats in the balcony ranging from $124.30-$146.90. Fortunately, there are special rates for previews: $27.12-$102.83 for seats on the main floor and $87.01-$102.83 for balcony seats. Given the odd prices, I assumed they included the 13% sales tax.  

Tickets had just gone on sale and they still had a couple of the $27.12 seats on one of the preview nights. With my credit card ready, I started to place my order. When I clicked on “Purchase”, the total that came up was $64.24 – not $54.24, as I expected. That’s when I noticed a $10 service charge was added. Frustrated, I cancelled the order.  

So, in effect, $27.12 tickets are really $32.12 tickets. I know – we’re talking a difference of only $5/ticket, which doesn’t seem like much. And really, $32.12 to see live theatre is pretty reasonable. Still, it bothered me to have that additional charge, especially given that they don’t even send out real tickets – they are electronic only. I stewed about it for a few days. Ultimately, I ended up shelling out the $64.24 for the two tickets. I rationalized the purchase based on my belief that $32.12 (the true cost to me) seems reasonable to see a live production of this company’s calibre. 

That said, I really don’t understand why they don’t just increase the cost of each ticket to include all their costs. Since they don’t really specify what services are provided for that service charge, why bother breaking it out? Heck, for on-line purchases they don’t break out the sales tax portion of the $27.12, so why not include the service charge in the on-line per ticket price too? Surprisingly, just yesterday I got a printed brochure from this company and it shows all ticket prices before the sales tax. So, the ticket I paid $32.12 for is really a $24 ticket, before the sales tax and before the service charge. I also read in the printed brochure that the service charge ($10) is per order, regardless of how many tickets you buy. But, there was no explanation of what the service charge is for.  

As a theatre patron, I assume there are all sorts of costs that go into putting on a play but the company doesn’t bother breaking out any other specific costs. I assume that running a box office, whether staffed in person or done using software, is just one of the many costs of doing business – it’s called overhead. To me, adding an itemized service charge just feels like a cash grab. 

The past few years I’ve noticed more-and-more purveyors of non-essentials are adding additional fees and charges for “services” that aren’t really adding value as far as the customer is concerned. The most galling example I’ve come across lately was a hotel restaurant that had advertised a $44 three-course Thanksgiving dinner that included turkey roulade, a vegetable, and a slice of fruit crumble – for take out or dine-in. 

A friend and I were going to celebrate Thanksgiving together and we talked about perhaps doing a pot luck. But, neither of us really felt like cooking a huge, traditional Thanksgiving meal. So, when we read about the $44/person menu we decided that ordering it to go would be perfect.

We figured we’d drive over together to get it and bring it back here to enjoy with a bottle of wine of our choice. I offered to place the order, which I had to do on-line, as they didn’t accept them on the phone. When I went to click on Pay, I was expecting the bill to total $88+tax (so, about $99). 

I couldn’t believe when $119.00 came up! On review, it showed $88 plus sales tax plus a 20% service charge. (20%!) What the …? I had no intention of paying $59 for a slice of turkey, a side, and a berry crumble that I had to go get. I emailed my friend to see how she felt about the whole thing, and she agreed. Both of us were quite incensed. You know, it’s not that she and I can’t afford – or are too cheap – to have a nice meal at a restaurant. And perhaps if we were at the restaurant and had seen the same three-course menu priced at $59, we might have been fine with it, even knowing full well that our final out-of-pocket costs would be higher because we’d add a healthy tip if we were eating there. 

But to price the meal at $44 and then charge a “service charge” of 20% for the pleasure of picking it up to take home. Come on…. Preparing the meal is a service, but at a restaurant you expect that to be included in the menu price. And with customers picking up their own meal, there isn’t even the cost of a server, or the cost of cleaning up after the meal. Sure, there are costs associated with “to go” containers and packaging and if they wanted to itemize those things and charge me, fine – but not 20% of the price of the meal! We ended up reverting to plan A and we made a turkey breast roulade for ourselves, which meant we had delicious leftovers, at no extra charge! 

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting pretty fed up with these kinds of games. I resent being put on the spot at the end of the deal – after I’ve decided to make a purchase at a price the seller set and then advertised. It’s not fair to slap on additional fees over and above what the buyer expects to pay and it seems a bad business practice to me. When I see an unexplained or unexpected service charge tacked on, regardless of the actual amount of the charge, I end up thinking much longer and harder about whether to make the purchase. And, more often than not, I decide not to patronize businesses that charge such fees. Maybe if other patrons did the same, businesses might think twice about this questionable practice. 

© 2022 Ingrid Sapona

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