Saturday, December 30, 2023

On being … the 2023 Alpha Year-in-Review

By Ingrid Sapona 

As you’ll see, this list includes more than 26 entries. That’s because there are a few letters for which I couldn’t decide on one meaning for 2023. I do wonder what stories and topics caught your attention this year and – by extension – what different letters of the alphabet stood out for you. 

A is for Adriana – the ship that capsized off Greece on June 14th. More than 600 people died in this disaster that few people took notice of, especially once the submersible with the millionaires looking for the Titanic went missing. 

B is for Bharat – India by any other name

C is for CHAT GPT – the app that had 100 million monthly users in January 2023 and over 180 million users by November. Hard to say what the ultimate impact of the AI “disruption” will bring, but surely it will not be positive on all fronts. 

D is for dictatorship – see also the entry for J. 

D is for divorce – Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted in February that a U.S. civil war between the left and the right can be averted with a legal agreement she termed a “national divorce”. Ok, so will the first clause of the agreement require everyone to turn in their guns? If not, such an agreement wouldn’t be worth the paper it’s written on. 

E is for ESG (which stands for Environmental, Social, and Governance) – a bogeyman for right-wing Wall Street critics but ethical, responsible concerns to the rest of us. 

F is for fire – wildfires blanketed much of the North East in June, with New York suffering the worst air quality in the world at certain times. For those with respiratory issues, such events are a literal taste of climate change. 

F is for fealty – this is what Trump will demand, if re-elected. (Maybe it’ll be the word of the year for 2024?) 

G is for global south – less developed countries in the southern hemisphere that stand to suffer most in the near term from climate change even though they’ve only negligibly contributed to climate change. 

H is for hyperbole – some meteorologists expressed concern this year that weather forecasts talking about things like “bomb cyclones” end up turning people off to the point that they are in danger from having ignored the real danger. 

I is for International Criminal Court – sadly, 2023 was a very busy year for this earnest body and it’s looking like 2024 will bring even more atrocities and dictators and generals for it to prosecute. 

J is for joking? – after all that we’ve witnessed with Trump, how can anyone believe that when he says he’s going to be a dictator on day one he’s joking? See the entry for R. 

K is for ketchup – well, not just any old ketchup: Pepsi Colachup is the official name of the Pepsi-infused condiment developed by Pepsi in conjunction with the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). It was launched at four different pro baseball fields on July 4, 2023. If you missed it – like I did – well, you missed it. "The concept is both simple and creative," said David Kamen, director of client experience for CIA Consulting, the institute's consulting arm, in a statement announcing the condiment. "The distinctive flavors and vibrant citrus blend of Pepsi enhances the bright and tangy characteristics of ketchup, offsetting the smokiness of the hot dog." (If you’re like me, you aren’t feeling too bad about having missed it.) 

L is for lima beans – what ever happened to them? Granted, I’m probably the ONLY person you’ve ever heard of who likes – no, LOVES – lima beans, but my question is why are they so hard to find nowadays? 

M is for microplastics – humans dump 11 million tons of plastic into the ocean every year. Microplastics (generally defined as pieces that are less than 5 millimetres long) and nano-plastics (bits smaller than 5 millimeters and that are capable of crossing the membranes between cells) are showing up in fish, not to mention human breastmilk and placentas. Given that one of the perceived benefits of plastic is that lasts so long, shouldn’t we all be alarmed enough to realize we all have a role – and a stake – in reducing plastic waste? 

N is for New International Economic Order (NIEO) – In May 1974 the U.N. General Assembly adopted a Declaration on the Establishment of a New International Economic Order. To prepare for the 50th anniversary of the NIEO declaration, delegates from over 25 countries met in Havana in January with the intention of developing a new political vision for managing the world economy. With so much political backlash aimed at the folks behind World Economic Forum, and with so more countries concerned about the cost of climate change-related matters, attempts to revive interest in a NIEO have to be a positive step. 

O is for oil – oil interests succeeded in resisting calls for phasing out fossil fuels at COP 28. Instead, participants agreed that the world must transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems. The results of COP 28 weren’t that surprising given that, for example, in May Exxon rejected a shareholder proposal requiring it to report on the risks to its business from restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions. Exxon said the prospect of the world achieving net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050 is remote because: "It is highly unlikely that society would accept the degradation in global standard of living required to permanently achieve a scenario like the IEA [International Energy Agency] NZE [Net Zero Emissions]." 

P is for passkey – tired of passwords? Don’t worry, they are so yesterday! Passkeys are – apparently – the next wave. So eventually, all 500+ passwords that I store in SplashData (my password app) will become obsolete as websites will encourage use of passkeys instead. Great … 

Q is for QAnon – just because some of us aren’t paying attention to conspiracy theories and other craziness doesn’t mean it’s not front and centre (and motivational) to many, many “believers”. 

R is for retribution – at the CPAP conference in March, Trump made it clear that that’s what he’s all about, saying: “In 2016, I declared: I am your voice. Today, I add: I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed: I am your retribution.” Ugh … 

S is for skunk terms – these are term that politicians and others latch on to and that are “increasingly used in such toxic ways that they “stink” too much to be used in their original context.” See the entry for W. 

T is for trigger warning – they’ve become so commonplace they’re probably losing their oomph

T is for Türkiye – apparently in 2022 the United Nations approved of this spelling and in January 2023 the U.S. State Department adopted the change in its written communications. Seems Turks have used this spelling for the past century! Here’s to finding the alternative alphabets in your word processing program. 

U is for unidentified anomalous phenomena – this is a re-branding of unidentified aerial phenomena and its predecessor: UFO. Regardless of what we call them, rest assured UAPs are not aliens, according to July testimony before a House Oversight Committee hearing on UFOs. Whew …

V is for vindication – what Donald Trump thinks he’s going to get when re-elected. See also the entries for R, J, and D. 

W is for woke and weaponized – the fact that certain groups mislabel any social justice matter as woke and thereby something to be ridiculed and dismissed shows their ignorance of the word’s meaning. The extent to which those same people have managed to weaponize their use of the label is scary. 

X is for Twitter – so says Elon Musk. For the rest of us, it’s just a silly name change that requires news folks to add the disclaimer “formerly known as Twitter” every time they talk about some tweet. 

Y is for younger – in June, South Koreans became younger because South Korea officially abandoned its “traditional” way of counting age. They used to consider you one (1) the day you are born and then on the following January 1st they added another year, so someone born on Dec. 30th, for example, was one that day and – two days later, on Jan.1st they were two – then on the following Dec. 30th they were three! Now South Korea uses the “international norm” for calculating age. 

Z is for Zelenskyy – how frustrating it must be for Volodymyr Zelenskyy – and for the people of Ukraine – that he has to go hat in hand to different countries for military aid while the people of his country are battling every day for their lives and land. 

As you finish reading the 2023 list, I don’t mind telling you that right now it feels like the 2024 list will start with A for anxiety. I’m quite worried about how 2024 will unfold for the world. Here’s hoping that by this time next year A – and all the other letters – will stand for positive things. 

Before you go, I want to thank you for reading On being … it means a lot to me. 

I wish you and yours good health and much happiness throughout 2024 and I pray for hope and peace for the world. 

© 2023 Ingrid Sapona

Friday, December 15, 2023

On being ... a wastrel (not)

By Ingrid Sapona 

I’m a bit embarrassed to start this by talking about shaving my legs. Yes, seems like TMI (too much information), but I’ll explain… 

Back in February I picked up a can of shaving cream. The day I was shopping for it the store brand was about 60 cheaper than my usual brand. The two looked identical: same size can, same colour scheme on the logo and cap, same scent, etc. So, I went with the store brand. 

I keep the shaving cream on the rim of my tub alongside the shampoo, conditioner, and other bath products. But, because the shaving cream comes in a can, I make sure it sits on a piece of plastic. (The plastic lid of a Pringles container is the perfect size!) I do this because sometimes the rim of the can leaves a bit of rust on the tub, despite the manufacturer’s claim the cans have a rust-proof aluminum bottom. 

Two or so weeks after I bought the shaving cream, I noticed a trace of rust on the plastic. (Sure glad I’ve got that Pringles lid, I thought.) After a few more weeks the ring of rust was dark and thick. I picked up the can for a closer look and I noticed that it didn’t mention a rust-proof bottom. So, the 60 discount wasn’t the only difference; next time I’ll look for a brand with a rust-proof bottom, I promised myself. 

Simple enough promise to keep, you’d think, right? But, turns out there’s something else about this can that’s unusual: it seems to be refilling itself. After 10 months of regular use, the can still feels more than half full! (Actually, for the past couple months I’ve been spritzing out a more generous amount each time in hopes of using it up, but no such luck.) There is so much rust, you’d think the bottom of the can would detach!  

And yet, I can’t bring myself to toss it because it seems such a waste. It’s not just the false economy of the initial 60 savings. It’s about my concerns that we live in a wasteful society and tossing something that is (irritatingly) still usable seems wrong on many levels. I realize that when the can is eventually empty, I’ll toss it and it will end up in some landfill. So what’s the big deal if it ends up there in 2023 or 2024, right? Well, I think it matters because disposing of it while still half full artificially increases demand for the product, which drives increased manufacturing, with all its negative environmental effect. I also think that the ecological impact of a half-full can of chemicals degrading in a landfill has to be worse than an empty can.  

Food waste is another thing I’ve focused on more over the past couple of years. Growing up people used to say “finish your peas” (or whatever) because there are children starving in (fill in the name of a third world country). Well, we don’t say that kind of thing any more because it’s rather racist or in poor taste. But every time I have to toss something that’s gotten fuzzy or moldy or otherwise rotten, I get mad with myself for the waste. With increased famines, floods, heatwaves, and wars making food processing and distribution so difficult, how dare I let food get bad.  

And then there all the “things” that I have (some bought, some given) that I have no use for and that I end up getting rid of. Stuff like costume jewellery or a purse (or tie) that you wore once, or a kitchen or garden tool that someone gave you but that you have no use for. After a bit of a grace period (as I like to think of it, particularly with items I was gifted), I end up “donating” them to places like Goodwill, where they have a reasonable chance of finding a second home. 

Yes, there’s a satisfaction to “donating” such things, but it’s not really all that altruistic. When you think about it, such places are doing us the favour of taking unwanted items off our hands. Sure, the stuff is going to someone who needs/wants it and they’re keeping items out of landfills. That’s all fine, but I think it would be even better if we didn’t have so much stuff that we didn’t need goodwill-type charities in the first place. Indeed, I suspect that more often than not, the main motivation behind such donations is to make space for new things. 

I realize that guilt and worry about waste may not be top of mind as we head into the holiday season. But, a statistic I read the other day made me think that reflecting on wastefulness is perhaps most important at this time of year: of the more than $15 billion of unwanted gifts purchased (just think of that for a minute) by Americans for the 2019 holiday season, 4% went directly to landfill! Unreal on many levels, don’t you think? 

I wish you and yours a holiday filled joy and love and other things that will never rust, go out of style, or end up in landfills. 

© 2023 Ingrid Sapona