On being … an alphabetical look at 2021

By Ingrid Sapona

Though 2021 hasn’t brought a return to pre-Covid life, I decided to return to the year-end alphabetical review. But before doing so, let’s pause to reflect on the over 5.4 million Covid deaths world-wide and the many millions of people left grieving those who died of the virus…

Now, my list for 2021:

A is for anti-democratic – the new laws enacted in various U.S. states that make it harder for people to cast a ballot are anti-democratic. Pure and simple. Interestingly, A is also for authoritarianism, which is the direction those who passed such laws have veered toward. 

B is for Biden – definitely not Trump, but not the breath of fresh air that many around the world were hoping for. Nearly a year into the Biden administration and many are coming to the realization that the U.S. will not revert to being the ally it once was.

C is for cheugy (pronounced chew-gee) – apparently, it’s Gen Z slang describing someone – or something – that’s late to a trend or someone trying too hard. For folks of my generation, I think the proper translation is: Oi…  

D is for Delta variant – you know, that scary Covid variant before the even scarier Omicron.

E is for enhancements – I suppose some people don’t necessarily see Botox as an enhancement, but apparently in the word of camel beauty pageants, injecting Botox to enhance a camel’s lips will disqualify you.  

F is for filibuster – unyielding adherence to the filibuster is more proof that the U.S. political system is broke.  

G is for ghost guns – these are guns that are assembled from kits and so they don’t have serial numbers. Apparently ghost guns aren’t treated as firearms under most U.S. gun control laws. But, not to worry – in practical terms, they’re as lethal as guns with serial numbers (and bonus: they’re easy to assemble).

H is for heartbeat – under Texas’ anti-abortion law – the Texas Heartbeat Law – anyone can bring a civil lawsuit (they’d be the plaintiff) against someone (they’d be the defendant) the plaintiff believes is involved in providing or facilitating the abortion of a fetus with a heartbeat. I wonder, do the folks who are anti-science (and don’t trust vaccines, for example) realize that we have science to thank for fetal heartbeat monitors?  

I is for is ivermectin – a medication meant for horses that, apparently, some people think is safer than the Covid vaccines millions of people have taken. How is this even a thing??

J is for Just-in-Time (JIT) inventory systems – turns out, JIT doesn’t work so well when shipping grinds to a halt.

K is for Kabul – you know, that city of over 4.5 million in Afghanistan that the U.S. and its allies couldn’t get out of fast enough as they abandoned the country in August. 

L is for legal fees – leave it to Texas to take the sting out of legal fees you may incur if you sue someone. Under Texas’ Heartbeat Law (see H, above) if someone (a plaintiff) brings a civil action under this law and they win, in addition to receiving damages of at least $10,000, the person they sued (the defendant) must pay the plaintiff’s legal fees. If a plaintiff loses in such a suit, however, they aren’t on the hook for the defendant’s legal fees – after all, Texas wouldn’t want to do anything that might discourage anti-abortion plaintiffs from suing.

M is for Miller vs. Bonta – a case in the U.S. District Court for the southern district of California that overturned California’s 30-year-old assault weapons ban. In the decision, which was handed down on National Gun Violence Awareness Day, Judge Roger Thomas Benitez termed the ban a “failed experiment”

N is for non-fungible tokens – if you don’t know what these are, you’re better off. Even if they aren’t all scams, they’re a tremendous drain on the energy grid. I say, if you’ve got money to burn, why not just respond to one of those emails from a Nigerian prince or from someone who promises to transfer funds to as soon as you provide them with your bank account number.

O is for Omicron – with a lower case “o”, omicron is the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet. But, with a capital “O”, it’s the current variant of concern related to Covid. Unless the folks naming the variants are just choosing random letters, it’s a bit scary to think that there have been so many variants of concern already! Let’s hope the world doesn’t learn more letters of the Greek alphabet in 2022 – or any other names for Covid variants, for that matter.

P is for predicted – Despite Biden saying no one expected Omicron, scientists who model pandemics told us that as long as there are many people who do not have defenses against the virus (because, for example, they’re not vaccinated) the virus would mutate. See D and O, above.

Q is for the Queen – say what you will about monarchy, I think Queen Elizabeth’s strength, stamina, and grace are remarkable. I hope that in 2022 she’s able to celebrate her Platinum Jubilee in recognition of 70 years of service on the throne.

R is for Reddit and Robinhood – on an internet forum (Reddit) a group of retail investors started buying up shares of GameStop, which started the year selling at about U.S.$17. Apparently the Redditt group were trying to make a point because they noticed that hedge funds where short selling GameStop. The Reddit users drove the price of GameStop up, causing big losses for the hedge funds. Then, in late January, a popular investing app (Robinhood) that allows users to do certain trades for free, stepped in and prevented users from buying Game Stop shares on their platform (at this point the shares were trading at about U.S.$348). This series of events brought outrage on both sides. The hedge funds called for the government to make short selling illegal and the Robinhood users were outraged that the trading platform didn’t allow them to trade as they wished. I see this as whole saga as an example of what happens when things are designed with the goal of being disruptive. 

S is for the shadow docket of the Supreme Court – this refers to rulings the U.S. Supreme Court makes through summary orders, without the need to write an opinion and without pesky things like multiple rounds of briefings and oral arguments. A prime example was the Supreme Court’s granting of an emergency injunction in April blocking California’s Covid-based restrictions on in-home gatherings. Such rulings have been around for awhile, but the current Court is issuing them way more than the Court has in the past: from October 2020 through April 2021, it issued at least 20 rulings from the shadow docket. Of course, just because something happens in the shadows doesn’t mean it won’t have wide-ranging impact. 

T is for trust – without trust in those who govern, society will fall apart. Question is, can such trust be regained? Maybe the answer to that lies in asking ourselves who gains if trust in government isn’t re-built.

U is for unusual and unreal – the latest twist on ways of monetizing one’s home certainly struck me as unusual: people renting out their pool by the hour through Swimply. What’s unreal is how much people apparently are willing to pay by the hour to swim in someone’s pool. Sonny Mayugba, Swimply’s vice-president of growth, says that some folks are clearing $100,000 for the season.  

V is for vaccine – the Christmas gift science gave the world in 2020. The 2021 news about this phenomenal gift is not exactly what the public health experts had hoped for, however. In 2021, where vaccines were widely available many people were too stupid or stubborn to get it and where vaccines were not plentiful, millions wait to get it.  

W is for walked away – that’s what the world did in (or, more accurately, did to) Afghanistan this year.

X is for double x – I never realized there are two x’s in vaxxed. Did you?

Z is for Zoom bookshelves and other fake backgrounds people use during on-line meetings – the proliferation of such meetings led to people ordering customized fake backdrops, including bookshelves designed to reflect one’s interests and/or political bent

I thank you for reading On being… and I wish you and yours a safe, healthy, and fulfilling 2022. 

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona


On being … the difference

By Ingrid Sapona 

I know people are tired of hearing about and thinking about Covid. But the fact is, Covid-19 is still killing with ferocity – it’s not slowing down. It took 114 days for the U.S. to go from 500,000 Covid-relateddeaths to 600,000 (Feb. 2, 2021 to June 16, 2021), then 107 days for the total to hit 700,000 (June 16, 2021 to Oct. 1, 2021) and just 74 days to reach 800,000 dead in the U.S. 

In mid-November I finally got down to Western New York. I hadn’t been in the U.S. since March 6, 2020. I was quite struck by the comparative lack of pandemic precautions taken by individuals and businesses there. On my return here, I jokingly told some Canadian friends that Covid is over in Western New York – or at least that’s the impression I was left with. For example, when I was there, masks were basically optional – waiters and waitresses didn’t even have to wear them. (Because of an increase in cases, I believe masks are now required in some places in Western New York.) 

I was also surprised at having to pull or push on doors in stores and restaurants. Early on in the pandemic touchless options were widely installed on doors and in washrooms here. Hitting a button with your elbow to open a door is pretty standard now. Most public places here have hand sanitizer dispensers located near the door and staff often ask you to sanitize before you head in. In Western New York, the only sanitizer I had access to was what I carried in my purse. The idea of “Covid protocols” – wearing masks, social distancing, good ventilation, hand washing, and the need to get vaccinated – can be found on posters and signs all over here. Not so in WNY. 

The past month or so I’ve also noticed that many American mainstream news outlets have taken to reporting that the majority of Americans are vaccinated. Even when there’s something particularly new and noteworthy to report related to the pandemic – like the emergence of the Omicron variant – U.S. news reports seem to always include the “fact” that the majority of Americans are vaccinated. They seldom specify, however, that by “majority” they mean 60% of Americans. 

Not continually pointing out that 40% of the U.S. population is unvaccinated – despite the fact that vaccines have been widely available in the U.S. for a year already – just seems irresponsible. During the height of the Vietnam War, it was scenes of body bags – not stories about the soldiers who came back alive – that focused the public’s attention and that finally led to change. Similarly, on hearing of the sinking of the Titanic, I’ll bet no newspapers wrote about the number of icebergs the ship missed that night! 

Here in Ontario, data related to Covid-19 is very much the focus of the mainstream media. The number of Ontarians who have tested positive is reported daily, usually by the noon newscast. The precise percentage (to one decimal point) of the population that is vaccinated is on page 2 of the Toronto Star every day. In fact, they report the percentage by age, as well by the percentage that are double dosed versus single dosed. 

For example, today’s paper reported that of Ontarians of all ages, 77.1% are fully vaccinated and 81.8% have had at least one dose. Of Ontarians five and older, 80.9% are fully vaccinated. While those numbers provide some reassurance, officials and media also often remind us that in Ontario we still have about 830,000 unvaccinated (that includes those under five for whom the vaccines are not yet approved). 

And now, Omicron is on everyone’s mind – and lips – here. Yesterday morning I held the elevator for a gentleman. As he neared, he mentioned how because of “this Omicron thing” he’s a bit reluctant to be in the elevator with anyone else. (Because we have to wear masks indoors in public places – including condo hallways – we were both masked.) I mentioned I got my booster the other day and, visibly relieved, he got on. 

Like everyone else, I wish the pandemic was over. But it’s not and so I think it’s important to keep talking about things like vaccination statistics and status. Indeed, I was reminded of the power of engaging people in the discussion just the other day. A friend was speaking with her 93-year-old neighbor who was excited that two of her grandchildren will be coming up from the States on December 20th. The 93-year-old mentioned that her grandkids would be staying in the basement for the first five days of their visit just in case, because she’s not vaccinated yet. Surprised to learn that her elderly neighbor isn’t vaccinated, my friend gently suggested she get vaccinated right away, because “having 9 days of vaccine is better than nothing.” Well, somehow my friend’s comment did the trick – the woman went and got the jab the next day! I wonder how many others just need a personal nudge… 

I know the pandemic won’t go away just by talking about it. But ignoring it, or putting a positive spin on it, won’t make it go away any faster either. Instead, I think a more effective strategy is to realize that while we have to take personal responsibility for our own behaviour, we can also make a difference by openly and actively encouraging others to do the same. 

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona