On being … 2019 by the letter

By Ingrid Sapona

I have to admit, I enjoy doing the year-in-review alpha list. I add to it throughout the year – any time something gives me pause, for better or worse. So, here’s my list. I wonder whether you took note of any of these or what other things caught your attention this year…

A is for attention economy: this term relates to the monetization of human attention through algorithms that lure users to things like clickbait and addictive technology designed to keep us on-line and constantly scrolling.

B is for banhammer: this term refers to when a web administrator decides to ban certain content or users.

C is for circular economy: this term’s been around for awhile, but it’s gaining in popularity, especially with economists and those concerned with waste. At its heart, it’s a refinement of recycling and reusing things. It’s also about designing products to last longer or be repairable and upgradable so they can be reused or resold.

D is for dumbfakes and deepfakes: these terms refer to edited and altered video. Think of it as photoshop taken to a new level. The concern, of course, is that such fakes will make it harder for folks to know what’s real and what’s not.

E is for elements: 2019 was the 150th anniversary of the Periodic Table of Elements. I certainly hope you all celebrated it. (Mind you, I forgive you for not inviting me to your party.)

F is for fake followers: apparently there are companies that can make it seem like you have more digital followers than you really do. Kind of reminds me of folks being paid to attend funerals.

G is for gender lens investing: it refers to analysis of gender risks in investment decisions. It’s one of the less well publicized phenomenon that some say is attributable to Harvey Weinstein’s behaviour.

H is for humiliation: the negative consequences – both domestically and internationally – of Trumps use of humiliation of individuals, groups, and countries is woefully underappreciated, according to somepsychologists.

I is for identifiable victim effect:  This phenomenon explains why individual stories of abuse and tragedy have more impact on people than statistics. It helps explain why people reacted more profoundly to a photo like the one of the father and daughter who drowned trying to cross the Rio Grande in June than stories of the thousands of asylum seekers trying to cross into the US along the southern border.

J is for Jacinda Ardern: The New Zealand PM who showed the world what’s possible when leadership, empathy, and commitment coalesce.

K is for killing: Sadly, no year-end list would be complete without noting the extraordinary number of deaths in mass shooting incidents(those involving 4 or more victims) in the U.S. Even sadder is the fact that there’s no political will in the U.S. to do anything to stop the senseless killing.

L is for livestreaming: the phenomenon of showing things on the internet as they are happening. Sure, it relates to delightful things like webcams trained on eagle nests and other natural phenomena, but its main claim to fame is it’s become the technique of choice for shooters and other terrorists who want to show off their killing. See P below.

M is for maintenance holes: Apparently, thanks to a change in their municipal code, Berkeley, California no longer has manholes. Good for them. For those of you having trouble with the change, perhaps you’ll understand if you stop thinking of it as an attempt to be gender neutral and just see it as being more inclusive.

N is for Nike: this year they introduced a self-lacing shoe – an idea that harkens back to 1985’s Back to the Future II. Though I don’t think Nike had seniors in mind with these, imagine how handy they are for folks who can’t bend over to tie their shoes or who have dexterity issues.

O is for othering: this is where non-whites are depicted (typically in speech) as being alien and (typically) undesirable.  

P is for performance crime: this warped term came up after the Christchurch massacre. It relates to video streaming that’s a central component of the violence itself, not just incidental to it or some sort of record the perpetrator can re-watch later.

Q is for quid pro quo: thanks to Donald Trump, Latin is “having a moment” in the U.S. and Ukraine.

R is for rituals: just as gun violence in the U.S. seems here to stay, so too is the standard ritual that follows: vigils and prayers … and nothing more.

S is for student debt: the U.S. now has more student debt than credit card debt. How can that be?

T is for techlash: this term refers to the backlash directed at certain tech megaliths, like Google and Facebook.

U is for under the radar: While Trump’s wreaking havoc in plain view, what worries me as much is the long-term damage Trump’s family is causing behind the scenes (not to mention the untold ways they’re lining their pockets).

V is for virtual assistant – it seems Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa is an equal opportunity helper. An African grey parrot named Rocco directed Alexa to place an order, and she did. For my fellow lawyers, if the issue of who must bear the cost of Rocco’s order were litigated, one of the interesting arguments that might be made is that the transaction is voidable because a parrot lacks legal capacity to enter into a contract.

W is for weights and measures: for years, scientists have relied on standard weights (and other measurements, including metres, seconds, amperes, and others) to measure things. Well, in May of this year, the folksbehind the International System of Units revised various universal measures –including the kilo. Apparently the changes made are imperceptible to most of us, but if you’re doctor asks why your weight has changed, I say blame the standards folks.

X is for xenophobia: Initially I shied away from using this word because I thought readers simply would assume I was (once again) railing against Trump. Ultimately, however, I decided it makes the list because I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge Don Cherry’s display of it on Hockey Night in Canada in November. 

Y is for youth: It’s a Wonderful Life (one of my favourite movies) is considered a timeless classic. One of the more memorable lines in that film is: “youth is wasted on the young”. Well, this year Greta Thunberg and other young people throughout the world have proven that to no longer be the case. Their eloquence and activism is admirable and hopefully it will rally adults to action.

Z is for zero: the chance that America will be great again if Americans continue to see those who may not look like them, think like them, or pray like them as an enemy.

© 2019 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... crafty

By Ingrid Sapona

I don’t know if you saw the news video in November about a woman in Australia who ran into a fire to rescue a koala bear. The poor little guy was singed and traumatized and it whimpered as she splashed water on its burnt paws. It was one of those stories that’s both heartbreaking – seeing this animal disoriented and in pain – and heartwarming – seeing someone fearlessly head into a bushfire to try to help a wild animal.

The desire to help animals is nothing new, I know – that’s what organizations like the SPCA are all about. But this particular act involved bravery and selflessness of a different sort. To me it was an uplifting example of what differentiates humans from other species, not to mention showing humanity at its best…

About a week after the koala rescue story there was an article in The Conversation by an Australian academic titled, “Crafting in times of crisis helps critters and creators”. I wondered if it had something to do with the rescuing of animals from the wildfires in and around Sydney. In fact, it did. In the wake of the horrendous fires and the suffering they are causing to lots of animals, thousands of knitters, crocheters, and sewers mobilized. Apparently they heard (or knew?) that rescuers use pouches to soothe and keep rescued animals quiet as they are cared for. (The pouches aren’t just for rescued kangaroos and other marsupials.)

The article mentioned a similar mobilization in 2012 when German knitters crafted 40,000 (!) sweaters for rescued penguins from Phillip Island. (The sweaters were put on the penguins by rescue workers after spilled oil washed onto their feathers. Covering the penguins prevented them from licking their feathers and ingesting the toxic oil before the rescuers had a chance to clean the penguins with soap.)

Interestingly, the article also talked about the therapeutic benefits of such action for the crafters, especially in the face of traumatic events, like the raging wild fires in Australia. Crafting helps you focus on something positive and provides a sense of accomplishment, both of which can help ease anxiety. As well, creating something that’s needed helps the solitary crafter feel part of something larger than themselves. As someone who has always enjoyed making things with my hands, the idea of crafting for a cause really speaks to me. (And, if I’m honest, makes me think I should learn how to knit!)

Stories of people showing compassion toward other species – whether by running into a fire to rescue an animal, or by crafting something to help with the rescue effort – pretty much embody the Christmas spirit, don’t you think?

Now, for those who might want a little extra time to want to get back to some Christmas crafting – or other acts of compassion and kindness – I thought you’d appreciate a shorter column than usual.

Happy Holidays to you.

© 2019 Ingrid Sapona