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


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