Friday Round-up – July 31, 2020

Here is my round-up list for the week ending on July 31st:

💭Reflection – Writing Daily, But Posting When Ready | Derek Sivers

I started this blog for two reasons – because I wanted a public way of practicing what I was learning at the time, and to force myself to write consistently. I decided posting once per week was a manageable target, and I’ve been relatively successful for the last few years. Recently, I’ve added the Friday Round-up as a way to force myself to write more and to share interesting content I stumble upon. When I added the Friday posts, I questioned whether it was worth putting in the effort – was I adding value to any part of the process? On some level, I feel it’s worth it, if for nothing else than to force myself to be a bit more reflective on what I consume. However, Derek Sivers’s point about forcing one’s self to post rapidly comes with some trade-offs. I imagine Seth Godin (another prolific blog poster) sometimes feels the same way by posting daily – that most of his posts aren’t what he would consider good. The mentalities are a bit different; Godin posts as part of his process, whereby you have to make a lot of crap to find the good stuff. Sivers would rather keep the crap more private to give him time to polish up the gems. I’m not sure which style is better. Both admit to keeping the daily writing practice, which is probably the more important lesson to draw from their examples, but it’s still worth considering.

*Addendum*

After drafting the above, I kept reading some bookmarked posts from Sivers’s page and found this one written in 2013 after a friend of his died. It’s a heartbreaking reflection on how one spends their time, which included this:

For me, writing is about the most worthy thing I can do with my time. I love how the distributed word is eternal — that every day I get emails from strangers thanking me for things I wrote years ago that helped them today. I love how those things will continue to help people long after I’m gone.

I’m not saying my writing is helping anyone, but the thought that my words will live beyond me touched something within.

📽Video – The Biggest Bluff: Poker as Life | Book Review from ThePoptimist

I’ve known the author of this YouTube channel for a few years, and I follow him on ye ol’ Instagrams (I love his scotch and cigar posts). But I didn’t know until last month that he also reviews books as part of the BookTube community. I wanted to share this link to show him some love, and because it reminds me of one of my roomies in undergrad who introduced me to the world (and language) of poker. While I’m a terrible player, I have fond memories of watching my roomie play online, if for nothing else than the humor of him yelling at the screen.

Oh, and I like Maria Konnikova’s writing, so I think I’ll check out her book. Another good book by a poker player about thinking better – Annie Duke’s Thinking in Bets.

🎧Listen – “Your mask questions answered” | The Dose podcast by CBC

With all the anti-mask beliefs floating around, I wanted to do my part to share good information about the benefits of masks and to help dispel some of the dis/misinformation out there.

Wear your masks and stay awesome,

Ryan

Letter to my Ward’s Councillor

When it comes to political engagement, our attention is typically drawn to issues at the federal and provincial levels. That is where the majority of our conversations centre – big events, big policy, and big money. But when it comes to politics that affects us directly as citizens, we shouldn’t forget the third level: local municipal politics. Municipal politics works quietly in the background, appearing in local papers and managing the invisible supports that allows a community to flourish. As I gain experience in life, I’ve slowly narrowed my focus from the federal to the municipal, realizing how important this layer of governance is.

Last week, our county’s council voted on whether to implement a mandatory face covering bylaw for indoor spaces. While the province has been responsible for most of the implementation of emergency and health measures, some decisions have been left up to the municipalities to determine how best to move forward. Cities and counties around where I live have begun voting in favour of enacting face-covering bylaws, often with majority or unanimous support.

Which is why I was very disappointment by last week’s council meeting. They thankfully passed the bylaw into effect, though it came at a slim margin of 6-5. Some of the dissenting votes were the result of residents contacting their Ward’s representative to express a desire to vote down the measure. Other felt it was too paternalistic for a county council to make these decisions. Some mentioned that this shouldn’t be the responsibility of the municipality, while others wanted to trust that citizens are smart enough to decide what’s best for themselves. A few also took issue with the specificity (or lack thereof) of the language of the bylaw, though when the bylaw wording was amended they still voted against.

I was happy to see my Ward’s Councillor both speak in favour of masks and vote to support the measure. In an effort to be more engaged, I wrote an email to my Councillor to commend him on his performance at Council, and to show my support for a continuation of support for the bylaw, since the bylaw was only passed with a proviso that the bylaw will expire before each council meeting unless it is re-affirmed at each regular meeting moving forward. I sent him the letter below, and I wanted to share that here as an example of how one can engage with their local politics. My Councillor responded almost immediately to thank me for my show of support and to assure me that he’s working on plans should the bylaw not receive ongoing support at future meetings.

Subject: Regarding Mandatory Mask Bylaw

Councillor Laferriere,

I am writing to show my support and gratitude for your leadership during the council meeting this week.  I thought your comments were thoughtful, forward-looking, balanced, and compassionate, and you demonstrated good leadership for the Ward.  

I’m not sure what your personal emotions were during the meeting, but I doubt I would have held the same composure that you showed.  In reading the emails sent to the council, I’m saddened by some of the beliefs held by my fellow citizens, especially those who purport to have medical knowledge but claim that masks are harmful.

I hope, given the narrow margin that the vote passed, that the bylaw isn’t defeated in the next few meetings due to the grumblings of people who don’t care enough about all of us to be a little uncomfortable when out and about.  Please continue with your support of the Medical Officer’s direction to help keep us safe.

I hope you and your family are keeping well!

Ryan

Provincial and Federal politics might be more glamorous, but remember that municipal politics affects us in many important ways.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

Friday Round-Up – June 19, 2020

After a poor performance last week left me with no Friday post, and even though today’s post is much later than I intended, here I am to make good on my promise to do better.

Here is my round-up list for the week ending on June 19th:

📖Article – Jon Stewart Is Back to Weigh In | The New York Times

Sorry if you hit a paywall on this article (I managed to read it fine from Pocket). I’ve lamented elsewhere that I genuinely miss Jon Stewart, not just from his tenure on the Daily Show, but also from other initiatives he’s thrown his weight behind (remember his masterclass in oration?). While this interview is part of Stewart’s media blitz for his upcoming movie release, it is also chocked-full of wonderful insights and observations about the world we find ourselves in. He’s ever poignant in his wit, but also speaks from a cautious place. The interview is so good, I quickly reached the limit of my free highlights in Pocket.

💭 Reflection Mega-Thread – How We Process Information

I want to turn this into a more formal blog post in the near future, but for now I’d like to lay out a few strands that have come together over the last two weeks about how we process, curate, and digest information.

🎧 Listen – You Must Avoid This Weakness | The Daily Stoic Podcast

First, a short listen from the Daily Stoic reflecting on how our minds are not reliable when it comes to processing truth. Instead, we are bound up in our own biases that we seek to confirm. If we want to be functioning, contributing members of society, we must actively exercise our critical faculties, including seeking out when we are wrong. Or as the closing lines state: “It’s the snowflakes who fly into a rage when someone challenges their views. It’s the snowflakes who can never admit they’re wrong or address deserved criticism or feedback.”

🎧 Listen – 479: Post-truth Expertise | CBC Spark Podcast

Next, a thought-provoking podcast episode from the CBC that tackles expertise in a seeming post-truth world. There is a lot of good information floating around in the ether, waiting for us to latch on to its wisdom. And yet, despite good information there for us to seize, we see many people in our peer groups turn away and distrust the experts. Shunning the norms of knowledge communities, they instead embrace their own norms of knowledge and assertion.

📣 Twitter – Carl T. Bergstrom (@CT_Bergstrom)

Speaking of experts, one of the voices I’ve turned to on Twitter to help me filter the signal from the noise is Mr. Bergstrom. He has provided both some levity :

As well as valuable information to help stop me from embracing each news article that flies out with clickbait titles:

I have a blog post percolating in my mind about curating news feeds, but I’ll leave that breadcrumb here for now.

🏳‍🌈🎧 Listen – I Don’t Want To Get Over You (Season 3 Mission 9) | Zombies, Run!🏳‍🌈

Finally, I want to give a huge shout-out to the writers and folks behind Zombies, Run! for this episode I listened to last week. The episode really stuck out for me. A large portion of the dialogue involves two lesbian characters discussing a mutual love interest (the love interest is the current partner of one of the characters, and a former lover of the other character in the conversation). The conversation between the characters touches on topics like “gold stars” and the fears that bisexual partners may have, even in committed relationships. I’ve heard my own queer friends discuss these topics, and while it felt noteworthy that the development team included “voices” from a wide range of folks, it was awesome to hear conversations that weren’t centered on the heterosexual experience that’s often given as the default in media. It gives the game a sense of realness and depth, despite it being about living in a post-apocalyptic zombie wasteland. It’s also important, as we reflect on this Pride month, to think about the kinds of voices we engage with that represents life, and whether we are seeking out sources that look to bring more diversity to the table. I’m happy to be supporting the app and the team.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

Reflection: T1J – On Riots

My Monday post this week is late. Instead of trying to cobble something together, I will share this video from T1J’s YouTube channel published last week. It gave me a lot to think about.

“Now these stories are very complex and nuanced, and American schools generally do a bad job of teaching Black history. But the point I’m making is, it’s not true that Martin Luther King Jr. did some peaceful protests and gave some speeches and then single-handedly changed everyone’s minds. The progress we’ve seen is due to the combined efforts of Black leaders and activists throughout history, some of whom disagreed on the best path forward, but all of whom contributed towards shaping the world and making the world a little better for people of color. Another thing people fail to realize is that Martin Luther King Jr. was very unpopular during his time. So, whether or not something is palatable to the white masses is not a good measure of whether it is the right thing to do.”

“On Riots” 7:24-8:07

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

Friday Round-up – June 5, 2020

My attention this week has largely focused on what’s happening in the United States with the protests and marches. As such, the vast majority of this week’s round-up are a collection of posts from social media that I want to help amplify.

Here is my round-up for the week ending on June 5th, 2020:

📖Article – James Mattis Denounces President Trump, Describes Him as a Threat to the Constitution | The Atlantic

I read Mattis’s memoir a few months back, and in it he specifically states that he does not intend to publically comment or speak out against a sitting President. He notes that it’s inappropriate as a former military member (he feels that there should be a separation between executive politics and the military) and as a former Cabinet member. The implication is that while he resigned his post in protest over the policy decisions being made by the White House, there will come a time when he feels it would be appropriate to finally criticize the President he served under. That is what made this post all the more surprising (thought not surprising when you read it) – things have gotten to the point that he feels his silence is counter-productive to upholding the American Constitution. Based on his memoir, I hold Mattis in high regard, both as a leader and as a thinker, so this is something I took note of.

💭 Reflection – What can I do as a white ally?

When this week started, I could find no words that would be appropriate. This is, of course, a huge privilege – that I can choose to remain silent while people are out fighting for their lives and a better world.

It would be inappropriate for me to wax on about my thoughts because that would mean centering my voice (even if this is my blog). My voice, my thoughts, and my opinions are not important in this social conversation. Instead, I want to share and amplify some of the great ideas that I bookmarked in my feed.

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Volume I of Creative Ecosystems and Funds that are doing the work to support Black people, especially Black queer, trans, and nonbinary folks, and Black women. ⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣I’ll be making an updated version of this graphic every 2 weeks through July to show new adds.⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣ Donate directly to the funds! ⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣ What this moment cannot be is a momentary surge of white guilt translating to temporary care and funds to Black people. White people, how will you use your wealth and power to create strategic plans for societal reparations for Black folks? ⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣ How can you put pressure on your workplaces, governments, etc, to pay reparations to Black folks? How can you make this your own person practice? How will you support not only organizations, but also local Black folks?⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣ Do reparations make you feel a type of way? Go to google. Do not ask a Black queer woman to explain a concept that has been well researched by Black people across time.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣ SUPPORT AND FOLLOW THESE ORGS AND FUNDS. They have been doing the WORK long before I made this graphic. ⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣ You can view the full list of ecosystems & funds by clicking my bio link.⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣ If you’d like to submit your Creative Ecosystem or Fund, please hit my bio link and fill out the form. This list in no way encompasses all creative ecosystems, it needs to grow & it needs your help to do that work.⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣ ⁣ ⁣⁣Note 1. While I focused this post on reparations for Black folks, Indigenous folks also need to be included in conversations on land & monetary reparations. This is all a part of the larger convo on white people redistributing their power and wealth to the people they’ve stolen from. ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ Note 2. My repost guidelines are in my “repost” story highlight. ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣⁣ Note 3. I could only tag 20 max in this post, I’ve tagged all of orgs in my “blk ecosystems” highlight! ⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ Note 4. Every listed org/fund is not solely run by or only supports Black people. Some of these organizations support NonBlack people as well, but they (1.) Show dedicated support to Black people, and also (2.) Have Black leaders on their core teams/boards.

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Sending love and hugs to you all everyday. ❤️ Just wanted to take a moment to say and address this again in a post on my feed so this is embedded here. That I will continue to share important information in my stories always at the start of each day, along with swipe up links to things I’ve found helpful in educating myself. I also have a highlight on my page and link in my bio, along with important petitions, donation pages and any further information for books to read, movies to watch, podcasts to listen to that are all really helpful in educating and learning more. I’ll also be sharing any movements and protests we can take part in around the world. . And of course I will continue these conversations offline not just in this online space always. This isn’t a trend, I stand with each and every one of you. Today, tomorrow and always. Change needs to happen and this broken system needs to be fixed. I think, it’s so important we all make sure we really are taking a stand together and help create conversations within our day to day lives always. . I also want to say it’s important right now, we do what we feel works for us in terms of educating, learning and supporting in ways we can. Whether it’s finding and educating online or educating offline. TO make change, we need to continue to speak up, embed conversations in everyday life, help one another carry this throughout all our lives. I’ve attached @nataliesoutlet guide to how to use our voices for change and empowerment in this post as a carousel, which are ways offline we can also show our support and use our voice to fight for what is right. Let’s all continue to positively encourage each other to work together to fight for the change that is needed. If any of you also have anything you’d like me to share, please send them my way ❤️ I also have listed below some incredible, inspiring, amazing and wonderful WOC and MOC creators who I absolutely adore!!! ❤️❤️❤️ @stylebyaysh @laurennicolefk @nimiblackwell @sarahjoholder @basicstouch @styleidealist @iansangala @nicoleocran @_marisamartins_ @eniswardrobe @freshlengths @perpetualplaces @sulsworld @daisyboateng @brenna_anastasia @emmanuellek_

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ok it took forever (there are so many great books!!) but thanks to all your recommendations here’s a stack for kids, from babies up to about 12, I’d say (YA/teens set coming soon). it does include books about racism and how to be antiracist, but also about what it’s like to be made to feel different and other or to be welcomed and included with love, and about how to love everything about yourself ❤️. (also to be clear, it does include books about some experiences other than being Black and dealing with systemic racism in the US; I went a little more broad for this one!) 📚 let me just say up front that there are way more I could have added, but already it’s hard to read the tiny titles even zoomed in. so please comment below with everything I left out! also, I don’t have kids, so I could be a bit wrong about what age a book suits, please correct me on that below too. (for instance, I’ve learned the young readers’ adaptation of Born a Crime and Stamped might be better for older kids!) 📚 also, if you can, as always, please buy books from your local bookstore (and even better if it is Black- or minority- or woman-owned!) instead of from a giant online retailer ☺️. 📚 yes you can repost, just please don’t crop or alter the image, and tag @jane_mount and @idealbookshelf in the image and the caption, thank you! 📚 https://www.idealbookshelf.com/pages/ideal-bookshelf-1163-antiracist-kids-booklist

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THIS POST IS FOR WHITE ACTIVISTS! Please read all of the slides and the caption before commenting or sliding into my DMs on this one because I anticipate some push back. I will ask that you read this post more than once before you challenge me and I’ll be happy to engage. Over the past week I’ve watched as white activists call one another out, publicly shame one another, and cancel each other. It astounds me that folx cannot see how they’re using the very tools of white supremacy and the prison-industrial complex under the guise of social justice and activism. Shame is the tool of the oppressor. We must stop using it. We must stop weaponizing social justice. White folx are being told “you should have known better” (maybe they should have) and that their allyship is “performative” (and maybe it is). But there are just so many assumptions being made. It’s like we forget that everyone started somewhere when they began their activism work. As white folx, it is our job to call those white folx in, not shut them out. It is our job to call them in, so that they can learn and do better next time. What also blows my mind is the complete lack of engagement with disability justice within activism. I’m really just over white folx telling other white folx to “google it.” Do you not see the ableism and classism there? If you’re so much further ahead in your activism, why not share resources? Why not have a conversation? My social justice knowledge is a privilege that I gained through a critical education. Not everyone has that. So here are my thoughts on this particular form of white activism. I’m not here for it. I want y’all to know that wherever you are in your activism, I see you. I’m always here to answer any questions you have and will share resources or point you in the direction of the answer if I don’t. I will never shame you, belittle you, or call you out. I’m committed to meeting you where you’re at if you’re willing to do the work. Image IDs are in the comments! Apologies to folks that are having to dig for them. Full body pain flare + brain fog meant that I spaced out on adding them right away and so there are some other comments in the way!

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Friday Round-Up – May 22, 2020

Note – this is an experimental posting format. I’ve thought about increasing the number of posts I commit to per week, but I don’t want to add unnecessary work if I’m not willing to stick it out. Let’s be honest: sometimes it’s really hard to get a single post out each Monday that I’m satisfied with, so increasing my posting frequency just to for the sake of increasing my output is a terrible idea. I will run a short experiment to see how easy it is for me to get out a Friday Round-up for the next month. If the experiment goes well, I’ll consider making it a part of the regular rotation. You can find the first round-up post here from April 24ththe second on May 1st, the third here from May 8th, and last week’s on May 15th.

I’m enjoying this posting format so far, so I’ll continue for a few more weeks before making a decision whether it’ll stick around. This week, I stumbled across a lot of heartwarming videos and some cool, creative content.

Here is my round-up list for the week ending on May 22nd:

📷 Photography – This Joker Photo Was Shot with a Toy Figure and Household Items | Peta Pixel/Arjun Menon

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FREE FALL. This image is shot with action figures and household items only. . . I was listen to this song by 'Gorillaz: plastic beach' when this idea popped into my head. Joker falling down a sky scraper and yet showing no signs of fear or remorse! Afterall being a sociopath come with their own ups and downs. BTS (swipe for video): For this image I wanted to show a realistic city scape, something that wouldn't be too distracting. Realistic sets make bigger problems I realised. I began by choosing my skyscraper, needed a long grill that looked symmetrical and could pass light. Tada, found my rooms AC cover as the perfect candidate. I used it's filters and the other two surrounding buildings. Found a few more things like Keyboards, Bluetooth speakers, dumbbells as buildings. Then made a road map with rice lights. Added candle leds as building lights. Loved the way this shot came to life with practical effects! For the video my freind @shahidgire helped me out, thanks so much man, he's a kick-ass artist. Follow him! As always a lot of the effort and feedback from @hungryalisha and @sibyeduthafoto. Hey @joaquinlphoenix @hamillhimself @willsmith Hope you enjoyed this, a lot of effort goes into making these. Guys sharing goes a long way as support 🙂 . @hbo @hbomax . #actionfigures #joker @behindthescenegram #toyartphotography #toyartgallery #articulatedcomicbookart #acba #epictoyart @french_toy_love @epictoyart #toy #toyunion #endoskeleton @onlyfilmmaker #diyphotoshoot  #kaiexposeyourself #articulatedphotography #createathome @cinematogr #filmmakersworld @filmlights  #creativequarantine  #marvelactionfigures #op_h #batmanjoker #toysyndicate #dccomicsart  #breakfromboredom #toyaremydrug  #batmanart  #quarantineproject #dccomics @camera_setups

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I stumbled across Arjun Menon’s work through a post on Peta Pixel, however I really encourage you to check out his Instagram page. Once you get past his recent project of filming figurines, you’ll also find many incredible photos from his portfolio. But his figurine photos are super creative and inspiring!

📽 (Wholesome) Video – broxh_| YouTube & Twitch

The link above takes you to broxh_’s Twitch page, but I learned about this sweet and wholesome dude on a compilation video elsewhere on the interwebs. Check out how awesome this guy is!

GAH! I just can’t get enough of how genuine and good he is. He’s so friendly and just wants to share his craft with people. I would gladly travel to New Zealand just to meet him in person.

📽 How To Videos – Dad, how do I? and Mom, how do I? | YouTube

The “Dad, how do I?” YouTube channel has blown-up recently, and I stumbled across a “Mom, how do I?” companion channel that was likely inspired by the Dad channel. The apparent story behind the Dad channel is the host, Rob, wanted to create videos to impart his wisdom now that his kids have grown. Rob’s father walked out on his family when he was in his early teens, so these videos also serve to help kids who were like him who don’t have someone they can turn to for how-to help. Like broxh_ above, the Dad and Mom channels show us that there are wonderful people out there who are spreading kindness in small, meaningful ways.

💭 Reflection – On Experimentation and the Unknown | Think Like a Rocket Scientist by Ozan Varol

This was an interesting observation that I stumbled across while reading Varol’s new book. While there are pedagogical reasons why we do experiments with known outcomes, I think sometimes we forget that the point of experiments is to test hypotheses because we don’t know the outcome with certainty. This pairs nicely with a quote Varol includes a few pages later from Richard Feynman: “Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty – some most unsure, some nearly sure, none absolutely certain.” We tend to demand fixed answers from our experts and media, when instead we should be reminded repeatedly and often that our understanding of the universe is based on probabilities and not binary truth-conditions.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

Friday Round-Up – May 8, 2020

Note – this is an experimental posting format. I’ve thought about increasing the number of posts I commit to per week, but I don’t want to add unnecessary work if I’m not willing to stick it out. Let’s be honest: sometimes it’s really hard to get a single post out each Monday that I’m satisfied with, so increasing my posting frequency just to for the sake of increasing my output is a terrible idea. I will run a short experiment to see how easy it is for me to get out a Friday Round-up for the next month. If the experiment goes well, I’ll consider making it a part of the regular rotation. You can find the first round-up post here from April 24th, and the second here from May 1st.

I was pretty happy with last week’s roundup, but I felt like sharing some less heavy, though no less important, links this week.

Here is my round-up list for the week ending on May 8th:

📖Article – Breaking deaf stereotypes and normalizing sign language through gaming – Anthony McGlynn | Ars Technica

This was such a cool story to read and is worth signal-boosting. An important lesson I’ve learned in my time reviewing community-based research ethics applications is that we should be sensitive to how stories get told. As a general rule, our default should be that communities of people are the authors of their own stories. That’s not to say that outsiders should never tell stories outside of their experience, but instead we should actively promote stories told by members of a community and we should be mindful of how characters get portrayed. Characters will often get saddled with stereotypes and short-hand signifiers in the pursuit of easily conveying information to an audience, which has the dangerous possibility of spreading misinformation or perpetuating harms to the community. Therefore, I’m happy to share this story about a game that is created by the deaf community and tells their story for others to learn from.

As I drafted today’s message, I was also reminded of Loud as a Whisper from Star Trek: The Next Generation’s second season. One of the guest stars was a deaf actor who also brought the story penned by his wife to the producers.

📽 Video – YOU’RE AN ALL STAR! – vlogbrothers

Until this vlogbrothers episode from John Green, I hadn’t heard about the weird world of Singamajigs. I share this not because of the weird toy, but because it’s a heartwarming story of how the vlogbrothers community of Nerd Fighters came together for John’s brother’s birthday to find a rare version of a Singamajig that sings Smash Mouth’s song, All Star. Not only did they manage to find one, but the community also sent in some fun projects that they attempted as gifts to Hank Green. With all the bleak news circulating around, this was a welcomed bit of frivolity and celebration.

📽 Video – Weird, or Just Different – Derek Sivers | TED

This video is super-super short, but packs a punch. It’s an important reminder that just because something is different from how we do things, it doesn’t mean it’s weird or wrong. That’s the beauty of different cultures – they provide us with new and exciting ways of seeing the world around us. It’s also a good reminder to check our own biases and received habits, because they are often just as arbitrary.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

Second Order Brother’s Keeper

person behind mesh fence
Photo by Mitch Lensink on Unsplash

I apologize for the late post this week. I had a few ideas kicking around in my head, but given the updates, I felt this ramble-post was a better attempt to capture some of the zeitgeist, rather than my usual attempt to feign some sort of authority on whatever it is I’m trying to accomplish on this site. Maybe I’ll rant another time about the scummy people who are profiteering through the COVID-19 scare.

Most of the information circulating concerns how an individual can help protect themselves from contracting the virus. Obviously this information is spread around not to protect any one individual, but because it’s the government’s attempt to flatten the curve and ease the economic and public health downsides to the current behaviours of people, from clogging up emergency rooms with sniffles to wholesale runs on items in the grocery store.

I’m heartened by some of the genuinely positive messages being shared around, from people finding clever ways to spend time with loved ones in lockdown, to our Canadian Prime Minister ending his recent public address with a message of watching out for each other, to care for each other, and reinforce this as a Canadian value.

I’m not entirely sure what I should write about this week. It’s pretty hard to form a coherent thought when the majority of my bandwidth is occupied with keeping up with the shifting narrative around what’s going on. Thanks to technology, information (or misinformation) spreads quickly, and we are seeing multiple updates per day as a result. At my place of employment, they took the unprecedented step of shutting down face-to-face curriculum delivery. Unlike the faculty strike from Fall 2017, the College is working to keep the educational process running. While it may be that in the School of Engineering it can be impossible to replicate lab or shop time, the majority of faculty are working hard to translate their delivery to an online format.

So far, our employer has done a good job, in my opinion, with taking prudent steps to a.) keep people meaningfully occupied in their work so that no one has to lose their salary, and b.) do its part to stop the spread of the virus. I’m not saying that things couldn’t be better, but given the circumstances they’ve done a good job.

I’ve been thinking about the purpose of social isolation as a pandemic response. As I said above, the point is less about protecting oneself and is instead about protecting hospitals from being overwhelmed. If we’ve learned anything from countries around the world that are going through the worst right now, it’s that it becomes impossible to protect our vulnerable when there is a shortage of hospital beds. Hospitals are having to triage patients to focus on saving those who can be saved, who have the highest chances of recovering.

It is because of this that I’ve been thinking about the concept of a “brother’s keeper.” It’s not necessarily enough that governments or citizens remain mindful about the well-being of our vulnerable populations. Oftentimes while we are focusing on immediate dangers before us, we tend to not anticipate higher-order consequences of our policies or decisions.

Closing schools is great in theory – children are rabid spreaders of contagions, whether they are actually symptomatic or not, which means they infect their parents (some of whom are front line medical workers). But when we close schools, you have second order consequences that parents struggle with childcare, or children living in poverty lose access to food that is supplied at school.

When you close borders, you stop carriers of the virus from entry. But it also means that our international students (who are in some cases being vacated from post-secondary residences as school’s work to limit social contact among students) have no where to go. Airports are limiting international travel and the cost of purchasing tickets are skyrocketing. By them being in a foreign country, these students are vulnerable and caught in difficult positions on how to keep themselves safe.

By shutting down public spaces, you are helping to keep people from accidentally infecting each other. But when you close down businesses such as restaurants, you cut off people from the economic means they need to support themselves. Sure, the government is offering assistance to persons and businesses alike, but that will provide little comfort to people who can neither travel for groceries, nor pay for the supplies they need.

And let’s not forget what panic purchasing is doing to our supply chain – leaving store shelves cleared out of supplies, which means folks like the elderly are left without.

The hardest part I’m finding in all of this is the feeling of being powerless. You can’t control other people, and so you are forced to anticipate their moves to ensure you won’t be left without. But it’s this kind of thinking that leads to more drastic measures being taken. The virus also makes you feel powerless because you feel like an invisible stalker is coming for you – you don’t know who will be the final vector that leads to you. And you aren’t totally sure if our ritualistic hand-washing and hand-sanitizing is actually keeping us safe, or merely providing comfort. You can’t predict the future, and you can’t be sure you’re doing everything you can; you always feel like there is more you could be doing.

This reminds me of the story of the tinfoil house and pink dragons. A person covers their house in tinfoil, and when asked about it they say it keeps the pink dragons away. When asked if it works, the person shrugs and says “I don’t know, but I haven’t been attacked yet.” Of course, asking “if it works” is the wrong question here because there are no pink dragons. But as Taleb tells us in his book about Black Swans, there are always those highly unprobable events with massive downsides that we don’t see coming. Public policy and budgets are created to deal with clear and present dangers, and those policies and budgets are eroded when it’s felt that the money is not being allocated optimally. Therefore, you run into problems where you are never sure if the resources you spend to prevent something actually works – it’s really hard to prove causality in something that never happens.

Instead, we often are left to scramble to try and get ahead of trouble when we are already flat-footed, which means that our vision narrows as we focus on the fires in front of us that needs to be put out. Fighting fires is great (even heroic at times), but often the measures we take to deal with crisis have unanticipated second-order consequences that become difficult to deal with.

I’m not sure how to deal with this, but it makes me wonder about being my brother’s keeper, and what I can do to protect them.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

Informed Consent and the Virus of Harmful Rhetoric

person injecting someone on his arm
Photo by Hyttalo Souza on Unsplash

In the ethics of conducting research with human participants, there is the concept of “informed consent.” At its foundation, informed consent is the process of communicating a sufficient amount of information about a research project to a prospective participant so that the prospect is able to decide whether they want to consent to being a participant in a study. There is a lot of nuance that can go into selecting what gets communicated because you have a lot of necessary information that needs be shared but you don’t want to share so much information that the participant is overwhelmed by the volume of information.

When I review research ethics applications, I am privy to a lot of information about the project. In the course of reviewing the project, I have to make judgement calls about what should be included in the informed consent letters that participants read. It would be counter-productive if the participant had to read all the documentation I am required to read when reviewing an application, so we use certain best practices and principles to decide what information gets communicated as a standard, and what is left in the application.

There is, of course, some challenges that we must confront in this process. As I said, when reviewing a research project, you have to balance the needs of the project with the needs of a participant. All research, by virtue of exploring the unknown, carries with it an element of risk. When you involve humans in a research project, you are asking them to shoulder some of the risk in the name of progress. Our job as researchers and reviewers is to anticpate risk and mitigate it where possible. We are stewards of the well-being of the participants, and we use our experience and expertise to protect the particpants.

This means that one challenge is communicating risk to participants and helping them understand the implications of the risks of the research. In many instances, the participants are well aware of risks posed to their normal, every-day lived experiences and how the research intersects with it. The patient living with a medical condition is aware of their pain or suffering, and can appreciate risks associated with medical interventions. A person living in poverty is acutely aware of what it means to live in poverty, and understands that discussing their experiences can be psychologically and emotionally difficult. Our jobs (as reviewers and researchers) is to ensure that the participant is made aware of the risk, mitigate it as much as we can without compromising the integrity of the research program, and to contextualize the risk so that the participant can make choices for themselves without coercion.

The concept of informed consent is hugely important, arguably the most important component of research projects involving humans as participants. It is an acknowledgement that people are ends in themselves, not a means to furthering knowledge or the researcher’s private or professional goals. Indeed, without a respect for the autonomy of the participant, research projects are likely to not be moved into action even when research funds are available.

All of this is a preamble to discuss the anger I felt when I read a recent CBC report on how anti-vaxxer advocates are using the concept of informed consent as a dog-whistle to their adherents, and are using informed consent as a way of both furthering their awareness and raising money with well-meaning politicians and the public.

In fairness, I can see the chain of reasoning at play that tries to connect informed consent with concerns about vaccines. For instance, in the article there is a photo of supporters of a vaccine choice group with a banner that reads “If there is a risk there must be a choice.” This sentiment is entirely consistent with the principles of informed consent. The problem with this application is that the risk is not being communicated and understood properly within context, and instead fear, misinformation, and conspiracies that lead to paternalistic paranoia are short-cutting the conversation. Further, the incentive structures that are borne out of the economics of our medical system are doing little to address these fears. Because so little money is flowing from the government to the medical system, doctors are forced to maximize the number of patients they see in a day just to ensure enough money is coming into the practice to pay for space, equipment, staff, insurance, and supplies. Rather than seeking quality face-to-face time with a patient, doctors have to make a choice to limit patient time to just focus on a chief complaint and address questions as efficiently as they can.

I don’t think it’s all the doctor’s fault either. I think we as patients, or more specifically we as a society, have a terrible grasp of medical and scientific literacy. I don’t have a strong opinion about what the root cause of this is, but some combination of underfunded schooling, rapid technological innovation, growing income disparities, entertainment pacification, a lack of mental health support, increasingly complex life systems, and precarious economic living in the average household are all influencing the poor grasp people have about what makes the world around us work. Rather than being the case that we are hyper-specialized in our worldviews, I think it’s the case that “life” is too complex for the average person to invest time into understanding. Let’s be clear, it is not the case that the average person isn’t smart enough to grasp it (even if sometimes my frustration with people leads me to this conclusion). Instead, I think that people are pulled in so many directions that they don’t have the time or economic freedom to deal with things that don’t immediately pay off for them. People are so fixated on just making it day-to-day and trying not to fall behind that it becomes a luxury to have the leisure time to devote to these kinds of activities.

What this results in, then, is the perfect storm of ignorance and fear that congeals into a tribal call to rebel against the paternalism of a system that is ironically also too cash-strapped to allow the flexibility to educate people on the nature of risk. People don’t have the time and ability to educate themselves, and doctors don’t have the time to share their experiences and knowledge with their patients.

Within this gap, opportunistic charlatans and sophists thrive to capitalize on people’s fears to push their own agendas. This is why bad actors like the disgraced former doctor Andrew Wakefield and movement leader Del Bigtree are able to charge fees to profit from speaking at anti-vaccination events. I’m not saying a person who spreads a message should do it for free. What I am saying is that they are able to turn a personal profit by preying on people’s fears while doing little to investigate the thing they claim to worry about.

We must find a way to communicate two simultaneous truths:

  1. There is an inherent risk in everything; bad stuff happens to good people, and you can do everything right and still lose. Nevertheless, the risks involved when it comes to vaccines are worth shouldering because of the net good that comes from it and the risks themselves are vanishingly small.
  2. In the 22 years since Wakefield published his study and the 16 years since its retraction, there has not been any peer-reviewed credible evidence that supports many of the claims given by the anti-vaxx movement. The movement is predicated on fears people have of the probability of something bad happening to them or their loved ones. The motivation behind the fear is legitimate, but the object of the fear is a bogeyman that hides behind whatever shadows it can find as more and more light is cast on this area.

The anti-vaxx ideology knows it cannot address head-on the mounting scientific evidence that discredits its premise, and so it instead focuses on a different avenue of attack.

This bears repeating: the anti-vaxx ideology cannot debate or refute the scientific evidence about vaccination. We know vaccines work. We know how they work; we know why they work. We understand the probabilities of the risk; we know the type and magnitudes of the risks. These things are known to us. Anti-vaxx belief is a deliberate falsehood when it denies any of what we know.

Because of this, the anti-vaxx ideology is shifting to speak to those deep fears we have of the unknown, and instead of dealing with the facts of medicine, it is sinking its claws into the deep desire we have for freedom and autonomy. It shortcuts our rational experience and appeals to the fears evolution has given us to grapples with the unknown – the knee-jerk rejection of things we don’t understand.

Informed consent as a concept is the latest victim of anti-vaxx’s contagion. It’s seeping in and corrupting it from the inside, turning the very principle of self-directed autonomy against a person’s self-interest. It doesn’t cast doubt by calling the science into question. Instead, it casts doubt precisely because the average person doesn’t understand the science, and so that unknown becomes scary to us and we reject or avoid what brings us fear.

Anti-vaxx ideology is a memetic virus. In our society’s wealth, luxury, and tech-enabled friction-free lives, we have allowed this dangerous idea to gain strength. By ignoring it and ridiculing it until now, we have come to a point where it threatens to disrupt social homeostasis. Unless we do something to change the conditions we find ourselves in – unless we are willing to do the hard work – I fear that this ideology is going to replicate at a rate that we can’t stop. It will reach a critical mass, infect enough people, and threaten to undo all the hard work achieved in the past. We have already seen the evidence of this as once-eradicated diseases are popping up in our communities. The immunity and innoculations have weakened. Let’s hope those walls don’t break.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan