Should you #BoycottPeterRabbit ? We didn’t.

This weekend my wife and I decided that we had hibernated enough this winter and it was time to get the kids (3 and 5 years old) out of the house and do something fun!

Saturday we kicked off our weekend with helmet-less tobogganing over snow jumps, and yesterday we took in the Peter Rabbit movie. I never would have guessed the danger I would be placing my kids in! Well, maybe the tobogganing thing was a little obvious in retrospect, but the controversy surrounding the Peter Rabbit movie certainly wasn’t!

The scene in question has pitted Peter and has gang going up against their newest neighbour, Mr McGregor’s nephew Thomas (I think that’s the relation).  You see, and SPOILER ALERT, the longtime character of Mr. McGregor passed away earlier in the film suffering a heart attack while chasing Peter through his garden for the billionth time. His nephew inherited the place and was planning to tidy it up, sell it, and make a fortune which he would then use to destroy his enemies, or at least make them feel really bad. However, a relationship began with the attractive young female neighbour Bea, played by Rose Byrne. A woman that Peter Rabbit also fancies himself, and hence you have the adversaries.

Well, Peter learns through eavesdropping on a particular conversation that Thomas is allergic to blackberries. So during one of their many altercations in the film he proceeds to fire blackberries into Thomas’s mouth forcing him to use an Epi-Pen to avoid certain death.

To put this into context, there were MANY incidents of violence depicted throughout this film. Thomas was powerfully electrocuted several times, once causing him to fall off a roof. Peter and Thomas kicked and punched and choked each other as often as they could while Bea wasn’t watching. And explosive devices were hurled at the rabbits as the scattered throughout the garden.

Isolating the blackberry incident as boycott worthy seems peculiar to me, because it seemed in line with the tone of the entire film. As well, for your information Peter Rabbit was rated PG and not G, in Ontario at least. This blackberry scene may be the perfect opportunity for parents to provide some guidance if they feel like it is an issue that needs to be addressed.

To be fair, I’ve read some of the comments on Twitter from parents of children with potentially lethal food allergies and I do feel their pain. The fear that at any moment your child’s life could be in fatal danger must be overwhelming. And you can sense that from the intensity of their responses.

But I am still not of the opinion that every movie must be a perfect reflection of an idealized society. When these incidents in movies rear their heads, we deal with them as parents if we think they need to be dealt with. We shouldn’t always take the approach to control the entire environment through some sort of boycott.

And speaking of a boycott, why does it always have to go right to the nth degree? I understand the message that they are trying to get out. I understand the importance of allergies being respected in real life. I think our schools do a great job of educating our students, and the parents, of what is going on in the classroom and what type of food is and isn’t allowed. So yes, go ahead and use the movie to get the message out but there’s no need to cast the film as a villain. It is a story about imperfect characters facing challenging situations.

When thinking of the controversy that has arisen from this movie I was reminded of another kids flick “Smurfs: The Lost Village” where Brainy, Hefty, and Smurfette were being pursued by Gargamel on some sort of magical floating river. Luckily the evil warlock, along with his cat, were knocked off their raft and into the water. However, immediately afterwards he was flailing about in the current claiming that he couldn’t swim. The Smurfs, who were right on the verge of escaping his wrath, decided that they had to go back and save him because that’s the ‘smurfy’ thing to do. So they did, and then they were captured by him…. sigh.

Surely, that scene could have unfolded differently with Gargamel finding his way to shore by grabbing a branch or something. But maybe the producers were ‘smart’ and knew they would be the target of some water safety based boycott unless they saved him.

Regardless, Sony did the right PR thing this morning and released the following statement about the Peter Rabbit fiasco:

“Food allergies are a serious issue. Our film should not have made light of Peter Rabbit’s archnemesis, Mr. McGregor, being allergic to blackberries, even in a cartoonish, slapstick way. We sincerely regret not being more aware and sensitive to this issue, and we truly apologize.”

Perhaps in the end, awareness about allergy dangers will be at an all-time high, much more so than if the blackberry incident was cut from the movie to begin with.

Image Courtesy of Shutterstock.com/effective stock photos

 

 

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Personal Boundaries and the Evolving Workplace

As we witness the almost immeasurable success of the world’s leading tech companies we also observe innovation and experimentation in the design of the modern workplace.

The new style is usually very sleek, and the amenities are plentiful, but dedicated personal space is at a minimum.

The immediate response is to say “So what?”. With all of the evolution in technology that allows us to basically work from anywhere why would we use up so much valuable real estate by giving everyone their own private space.

And there are plenty of people who don’t have dedicated space today. There are people who work construction, load trucks, and work the fast food counter.

But there is another issue in play and that is the loss of personal boundaries. Boundaries are the things that enable us to draw a line between where I end and you begin. And one of the major ways that this is accomplished is through the use of personal space.

Everyone is different. Some people don’t mind not having very much space of their own and the space between their face and the monitor may be enough. Others need more and having four half-walls around them is vital to nurturing their personal identity.

Current office layout strategies don’t really allow for that kind of variability as the amount of office space you have is reflective of your rank within the company. It is seen as a status symbol of sorts.

I suspect that even within these modern workplaces there will be issues with employees well-being directly related to the lack of personal space. Yes having these large open spaces can create a very collaborative environment, but it also may affect the performance and mental health of others.

How about introducing choice into the situation? A choice with minor financial implications. If you require nothing but a chair and a flat surface, and are quite willing to work in a different location everyday, your salary will be X. But if you require 4 half-walls your salary will be (X – $2000). Or if you need a closed in room it will be(X-$4000).

Real estate does cost a corporation money and we want to balance that by giving people the work environment they need. But we don’t want to bribe people into accepting a work space that they really can’t stand.

Thoughts?

 

Photograph courtesy of Shutterstock.com/g-stockstudio

The Renault Symbioz Autonomous Car

Step one, watch the video below of the incredible Renault Symbioz. This car is what they call a level 4 autonomous vehicle. For perspective the Tesla version is a level 2 and complete automation is level 5.

During the video, Alex the host and man in the “drivers” seat, pays very little attention to the actual driving of the vehicle. It switches lanes, goes through a toll booth, and maintains a speed of 130 kph, all on it’s own. Meanwhile Alex spends a great deal of his time facing backwards talking to his colleagues and the camera, playing with his mobile device, and at one point puts a virtual reality set on his head.

A number of safety precautions were put in place for this demo including a man with a joystick in the passengers seat ready to take over, and another car following them from behind.

The reps from Renault said they expect this type of vehicle to be a production car in 2023, just 5 years. The two main obstacles are affordability and regulations.

One of the main takeaways I had from this video was when Alex said that their 50 km trip felt more like 15. There must be a huge reduction in stress levels because you aren’t always having to make sure you don’t die. When we are behind the wheel in the back of all of our minds we know it could go sideways, literally, at any moment. Having confidence in the vehicles ability to avoid such accidents, likely much more effectively than any human driver, must be very freeing.

When I envision a world full of autonomous cars it is definitely a safer place. I can also see this vast network of autonomous vehicles communicating with each other and using an incredibly complex algorithm to get everyone to their destination in the most efficient way possible. They would also communicate things like road conditions, accidents, and detours, to all other autonomous vehicles.

The only downside is that we would no longer need the clever banter from the radio personalities who cover our morning and afternoon commutes!

Some Facts about the Flu

Every year around this time we are bombarded with news reports about the deadly flu season that’s only going to get worse, how hospitals are struggling to keep up, and that the flu vaccination is only marginally effective.

FLu headlines

The latest report from CTV was that it was under 20% effective.

Of course if you read the story it more accurately means it is only 20% effective at preventing infection of the dominant H3N2 strain, while being 55% effective at preventing infection from the B strain. And beyond that it mentions nothing about how the severity of a flu is dramatically decreased when you have a vaccination.

I make a habit of checking the weekly flu reports put out by the Government of Canada to see exactly how things are looking. Below is my go-to graph comparing this year with previous years. It basically counts hospital visits for influenza like illnesses. The shaded area marks the minimums and maximums for the last 5 years.

flu

As you can see, this year is only slightly above average.

Another good indicator is counting the number of hospital admissions of people suffering with the flu. Unfortunately they have changed the format that they are using from last year to this year so it’s not as easy a comparison as it could be. Regardless, below you will see the totals from 2017 (top) and from 2018 (bottom).

Hosp 2017

Hospital 2018

You can see very similar numbers for both years.

However, if we also consider that last years vaccination was twice as effective as this years (as noted in the CTV report) then it seems like 2016-17 might have been the more severe year (more people with the flu). The logic being that despite having an effective vaccine we still saw roughly the same number of hospital  admissions as we see this year, over the same time period.

But what if all the scary headlines we were bombarded with this year caused a lot more people to become vaccinated. Meaning even if the effectiveness was under 20%, it still makes a difference if deployed over a large population. Despite my googling talents I couldn’t get this years data yet but year to year the overall vaccination rate ranges between 30 and 35 percent, not enough to make a huge difference in hospital visits.

Vaccination rates

The problem is that you can never keep this type of reporting in check. If the flu season isn’t as bad as reported they can pat themselves on the back for scaring everyone into getting the vaccination and if they were right, well, an “I told you so” is not far behind.

 

Democratization of Energy

This was an interesting Ted talk on how Africa is beginning to solve it’s energy crisis. There are 3 major things that are happening at the same time that makes this possible.

  1. Cost of solar panels has gone down by 95%.
  2. Appliance network has become more efficient, and cheaper.
  3. Cell phone revolution has enabled payment plans for bigger ticket items making them affordable.

 

If such a trend continues and Africa becomes a network of energy that developed from the ground up it represents a democratization of energy. You decide when you use it, how much you use, and if you share it with your neighbours.

In North America we have had an embarrassment of riches and have developed a lifestyle that far exceeds what solar panels can currently give us. However, in many parts of Africa the needs are much more humble. And if you start from the ground up your needs never outgrow your capacity.

Would you have a baby for $50,000?

Well, maybe that’s not exactly how it works.

The idea is from Darrick Hamilton and it is called a baby-bond. Depending on how much money you earn you will receive an influx of cash accessible when the baby turns 18 (from $500 to $50,000). It’s a trust fund for everybody!

But it comes with strings. It must be an asset enhancing venture

  1. Downpayment for home
  2. Capital for business
  3. Debt free college education

Given the average birth rate in the US, this would end up costing around 80 to 90 billion dollars per year, or 2.2% of current annual budget.

The radio podcast presents a number of critiques of the proposal but I would like to offer a few different ones.

Massive influxes of cash like this are likely to be underappreciated.

After graduating from university I spent the first 6 months of my professional life working in Sweden, a country where university education is free. Based on discussions I’ve had, these free post secondary educations are often taken for granted. It is not surprising that people wouldn’t take these opportunities as seriously as they would have if they had fronted the cash themselves. They don’t have anything to lose.

While wealth does create choice, mandating how cash will be spent limits freedom.

It just doesn’t sit well with me when someone gives a ‘gift’ with conditions. I am sure life has more to offer than the options presented above. And this program seems to be a way of streamlining everyone into a small number of categories. Is this $50,000 going to come with more conditions in the future? Maybe it’s not redeemable if I choose a philosophy degree, or I only receive a portion of it. These possibilities weren’t discussed during the interview but when anything like this gets passed into law you can be sure that the politicians would want to maximize their returns, or minimize their losses.

This could result in more children being born

Does this world really need to speed up population growth? Whether it’s a parent who sees opportunities for their children that weren’t there before, or less than scrupulous individuals who have figured a way to scam the money for themselves when their children come of age, this could actually create a minor baby-boom. And then there is always a possibility of a future administration cancelling the program and then placing a huge strain on social programs.

What do you think of the proposal? Please leave a comment below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Death of the Hobby

You don’t know why you started doing it.

You don’t really know why you love it so much.

And you certainly aren’t doing it for anyone else.

It is our hobbies that define us more deeply than anything else in our lives. It is what you do with your time when there is no burden of expectation, financial gain, or personal need of an ego boost. It is what we do with the greatest gift of all.

Freedom.

However, slowly but surely there is a growing movement that is hijacking this vital element of our identity. With the evolution of social media and these incredible mobile devices there is a emerging segment of society that believes the best way to take control of our lives is to become an entrepreneur.

Sure it is an easy argument to make. Wouldn’t you prefer to make your living selling your homemade scarves rather than loading boxes on a truck at the local plant? Or how about opening a store to display and sell your handmade jewellery rather than pushing papers in a 10 x 10 cubicle for 40 hours per week.

The answer is not as clear as you think it is.

The problem is that when we turn our hobbies into a business the “why” fundamentally changes, or gets massively overshadowed by the goal of turning a profit. Yes you like making 1 scarf, but do you like making 10,000?

With that kind of success you are forced to partner with a friend who knows how to build and maintain your online store, you have to field dozens of customer complaints daily, there are 50 – 100 employees to manage, and a manufacturing facility to maintain. And yes, you are also likely getting wealthy from it all. But man, what you wouldn’t give to just sit down on a Saturday afternoon and knit a scarf.

But there is no time for that.

You need a new marketing plan for the slower summer season, perhaps you want to infiltrate the southern hemisphere so at least part of your customer base is in winter at all times. Time to book some flights to meet with local distributers in Chile and New Zealand. In order to pay for this expansion you’ve had to give a portion of your company to some investors who are now trying to convince you to change to cheaper material to increase profits. You refuse but they manage to convince your initial partner of the idea and together they force you out.

Don’t get me wrong I think there are many people out there who would be incredibly happy with this kind of lifestyle, but what are the chances it’s the same person who likes to knit scarves while sitting in their rocking chair?

Not everyone in the world is an entrepreneur waiting to happen.

For a long time I thought I was. I looked tediously through my childhood photos, artwork, poetry, projects, sport accomplishments, and so much more. I was desperately looking for that one passion that I could turn into a money maker. I’ve tried writing blogs, posting videos on YouTube, and creating gigs on fiverr. The truth is that I really liked the functionality of each of those platforms but I have always hated the money making aspect.

The shameless self-promotion, the manipulation of video thumbnails to get more clicks, the strategic commenting to get views and follows. I hated it all. I just don’t have it in my blood to go out and grind for growth. Other people do and that’s great, but it is not me.

Since I have come to this realization I have become a lot more satisfied with where I am in life. I really do have things pretty good. My plan right now is to get back to having and developing those hobbies I most enjoy. To pay attention to who I am and what I like and pursue them on a much smaller scale. I simply need to focus on staying healthy, being a good dad/husband, and having a little fun along the way.

The Contextual Nature of Religion

Not believing in God because of religion is like not believing in freedom because of politics.

I don’t know how the entire discussion about the existence of God got monopolized by the world’s religious institutions. For sure, there is no doubt that many of the teachings within Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Islam can offer powerful insights into the nature of God but I give none of them complete monopoly over the discussion, and neither should you!

The number one reason I feel this way is the intensely contextual nature of any spiritual discussion. For example, if you can forgive the pop culture reference… we’ve all seen The Matrix right? And we remember the scene where Neo has to go meet the Oracle to find out if he’s the one. Well she, the oracle, looks at him up and down, tells him to say awwww, and then says he’s not the one. We all know that was bullshit so what gives?

Neo believes he’s not the one (wrong). The Oracle says he’s not the one (wrong). And all of a sudden the truth emerges and he’s the one.

So how would history remember that interaction in the fictional matrix universe? It’s not that implausible to imagine separate religious denominations emerging: one that believe Neo is the one, and one that believes he isn’t. A separate denomination could even believe Agent Smith is the one if they happened to see one of those alternate theory YouTube videos.

Eckhart Tolle has stated that during a spiritual teaching the depth of his answer to a question depends on the depth of the question. There is this intense relationship that only exists in that moment. What all of these spiritual teachers give us is the ability to exist precisely in that moment with us and tell us exactly what we need to hear. When we only read the transcript or watch the video of such discussions afterwards they will never be as valuable to us as they were to everyone who was there.

There’s a wonderful description of David Godman’s encounters with the famous Indian Saint Nisargadatta Maharaj. In the following video David describes an incident where he was pointing out a number of inconsistencies in Nisargadatta’s teachings until finally the teacher interrupts him and says he is missing the point. He says he is not telling him these things so he can develop a philosophy that is rational and free of contradictions, he is simply planting them in his consciousness.

I believe religious texts are filled with such interactions.

Every individual or group in front of Jesus, Buddha, or Krishna brought with them their own combinations wrong perceptions, bitterness, and anger. All of which required different messages or teachings to give them what they needed. It is the intense presence of these powerful religious figures that allowed them to know what that was.

Now if someone were to document all of these teachings and compile them in a book together, they are not likely to provide a very consistent or relevant message to the reader. Especially if the scribe doesn’t always completely understand what the teaching was about, and even more so if it was 80 years after the fact as was the case with the gospels. The loss of context in this scenario is hard to recover from.

The problems always begins in our search for absolute truths. We want something we don’t have to think about, something that is black and white, and indisputable. So we latch on to these ancient books and turn off the discerning part of our brain.

The ideal way to approach any religion, and its corresponding text, is to search for a context you can relate to on a deeply personal level. Don’t look for consistency, don’t look to prove anything, and don’t look to ridicule it. Simply find a situation that seems familiar and hits close to home and read about it.

One of my favourite religious teachings comes from Hinduism.

Krishna and Arjuna were travelling through the forest and came upon a rich man’s house who hosted them for dinner. He had a beautiful home but was very rude, disrespectful, and spent most of their visit simply counting his money. As they departed Krishna blessed the man with even more wealth. A little time later they came across this poor man who had virtually nothing to his name except a sick and decrepit old cow. But he was thrilled that the magnificent Krishna came to visit little old him. He did his best to be the ultimate host with what little means he had. When Krishna left he gave a blessing that even the poor man’s cow should die.

We are all on our own paths, but going to the same place. The rich man needed more wealth to ultimately understand that his happiness does not lie in having more things. The poor man was so close to ridding himself of attachment to things that the most compassionate thing that Krishna could do is help him complete the journey. Now did this event actually happen? Who knows. Does that matter?

Don’t look for right and wrong in these texts. Simply find something that impacts you in a positive way. Something that brings you peace. And something that tells you who you are.

Autonomy and the Flaw of Activism

I believe this one thing is the greatest fundamental driver of human behaviour. Every single person on the planet is either engaged in the intense pursuit of it, or in the unyielding defense of it. It’s theme is scattered throughout the documents that govern our politics, and in our greatest movie scripts. It is universally desired while almost as equally misunderstood.

It is our sense of autonomy. Or more commonly called freedom.

It is the essence of any great invention you’ve ever heard of. Facebook allowed us all the freedom to catch up with those old friends that otherwise we never would’ve heard from again. The VCR/DVD/Blu-ray gave us the freedom to have the movie experience without ever leaving our homes. The light bulb expanded our potential productive & leisure hours into the entire day. And the airplane gave us the freedom to go wherever we wanted on the entire planet.

It is always about freedom.

It’s why the world sprang into action when Trump got elected. There was/is this huge anxiety that many of the freedom’s we enjoy today are going to be taken away from us. And while the resulting overwhelming amount of activism has given me hope that the people can keep this government in check, it has also pointed out an enormous flaw within some of these movements.

There is this trending tactic of shaming people into becoming an activist for the cause that a particular person holds most dear. Like the BLM internet meme asking where all those Women’s March on Washington people were during their protests. Or when people who choose not to become politically active at all are told that their privilege is showing.

Being on the receiving end of shame definitely feels like an attack on who you are, and your sense of autonomy. The person shaming you is basically saying “Even though I truly have no idea about who you are, what you’ve been through, or what motivates you, you still have no right to behave this way.” If that doesn’t get your back up I don’t know what will.

However, please understand that this post is not a commentary on each movement as I am sure they are all just causes, but it takes all kinds of people to make this world go around. And to shame someone for not taking your approach to progress, requires the mistaken assumption that you, or anyone else for that matter, fully understands how progress happens.

There is merit in many approaches. I could form a human chain around the US embassy. Or I could simply make efforts to get along better with my neighbours and coworkers. Or maybe I could spend more time in meditation so I carry around less anxiety on daily basis. Everyone has their own way of impacting the world in a positive way that fits with who they are.

If you want to gain numbers for your particular cause you would have the greatest success by appealing to this sense of autonomy. To shame someone for not yet supporting your cause will definitely not encourage them to join you. You can never know why they aren’t down on the front lines protesting right beside you, but you can honour their right to do so. Because the front lines in the battle to protect our freedom are not down on the Washington mall, they are within our own minds.

Affirmative Action and the True Nature of Bias

Whenever the topic of affirmative action is brought up in conversation it is inevitable that both sides of the argument will get heated in the defense of their point of view:

“Why can’t we just hire the best person for the job?!”

“This is reverse discrimination!”

“We need to have gender parity in the work place!”

The policy of attempting to forcibly remove bias from a culture or company will always encounter its fair share of resistance. First of all, people do not want to admit that they have a bias. People enjoy thinking of themselves as a fair and level headed evaluator of the facts. To be guilty of bias is to be seen as a blind disregarder of reality in the pursuit of some underhanded hidden agenda.

The definition of bias from Merriam Webster’s online dictionary is as follows:

“an inclination of temperament or outlook; especially :  a personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment”

In modern vernacular ‘bias’ commonly refers to a particular point of view, and often is exclusively applied to what many would call “unreasoned judgment”. But in my own opinion, and even within the above definition, I see personal bias as a necessary ingredient in every single point of view. We all have a unique ‘inclination of temperament’, as Webster’s puts it, which has been shaped over many generations through two major factors: our genetics, and our environment.

I have often been accused of having an even temperament, and perhaps that indicates that I may be able to provide an unbiased opinion, but I would strongly protest that assertion should anyone ever make it. I have been shaped, just like everyone else, by the unique combination of my surroundings and the genetic code within me.

Simply the concept of bias points towards the false notion that there exists an ‘unbias’. That there is an average opinion, or a normal that we should strive for. To vilify bias is akin to saying that someone is too fat or thin, talks too much or too little, or is too lazy or work obsessed. These are all just qualities of being alive. These are the flavours of life. And so it is with our bias.

It’s difficult to even imagine what an unbiased opinion would look like. Without influence from one’s DNA or environment what is left to shape an individual’s thought’s on the world around them? A colourless painting could not be seen, and a flavourless dish could not be tasted. It is our bias that is undeniably and fundamentally part of our personal identity.

Unless you are an enlightened spiritual master that has transcended the idea of a personal self, you are equipped with a natural human bias. And unfortunately for us I think that any such guru would prefer to be meditating in the Himalayas rather than managing the hiring practices of some multinational corporation. This all leads to one undeniable conclusion:

“There is no such thing as an unbiased opinion!”

This is an incredibly important realization in the name of progress. Because no one gets to take the high road as the singular and ultimate source of truth. It levels the playing field. The best we can do is to realize that we ARE biased and to take the best objective look at the situation to locate that bias, and then take measures to fix it.

I take issue with anyone who defiantly believes that we should just hire the best person for the job. I find that approach drastically overestimates a person’s ability to find said “best person”. Anyone who has spent anytime interviewing and hiring new employees would surely agree that is incredibly difficult to determine the best candidate for almost any position. Sure there are fundamental skills and experiences that are required to do any particular job, but once you move past those you get into the intangible qualities that really make a person a great fit. And this territory is highly susceptible to personal bias.

Just for a moment imagine a hypothetical company with a current workforce that is 90% men and 10% women. It is inevitable that the internal hiring processes designed within this organization would be catered highly favourably towards hiring more men. Instituting an affirmative action policy that forcibly injected more women into this company would eventually result in a hiring practice that was fairer to both genders.

It is true that a company may get there on its own without such a sharp change in policy but it would likely take a much longer period of time, and even then it is not guaranteed. People may want to say 90% men work there because it just happens to be work that men find more appealing than women.

That would be putting the cart before the horse.

It is very likely that the 90% group of men that are employed there helped to ensure that any evolution in how work was performed was highly suited for themselves. To be clear I don’t believe at all that this would be done in a devious manner, it is simply a result of the nature of their reality. We all know that there are a million ways to skin a cat, who’s to say that one is better than the other when we haven’t given every approach a fair shot? Everyone not only deserves the opportunity to be a part of the workforce, but also to shape how the work is done.

Image courtesy of Lightspring/Shutterstock.com