March 6, 2016

Sunday Diversions: March, Part One

Everyone has their own marker of home. For some, they know that a new city is home after they’ve unpacked all their boxes, or after they’ve started their new job. Some feel at home once they are recognized by the folks working at their local coffee shop or grocery store. I feel at home once I’ve visited the public library and gotten a library card. It’s a marker of place, for me: if a library is the lifeblood of a vibrant community, then I am only part of that community once I belong to the library.

Now that I have a library card here, the new city, the new neighborhood, feels more like home.

Here are some of the pieces that have made me smile, think, cry, or reflect, these past two weeks:

The story of how scientists discovered gravitational waves is a triumph of foresight and investing in big ideas:

It never should have been built,” Isaacson told me. It was a couple of maniacs running around, with no signal ever having been discovered, talking about pushing vacuum technology and laser technology and materials technology and seismic isolation and feedback systems orders of magnitude beyond the current state of the art, using materials that hadn’t been invented yet.” But Isaacson had written his Ph.D. thesis on gravitational radiation, and he was a firm believer in LIGOs theoretical underpinnings. I was a mole for the gravitational-wave community inside the N.S.F.,” he said.

In their proposal, the LIGO team warned that their initial design was unlikely to detect anything. Nonetheless, they argued, an imperfect observatory had to be built in order to understand how to make a better one. There was every reason to imagine this was going to fail,” Isaacson said. He persuaded the N.S.F. that, even if no signal was registered during the first phase, the advances in precision measurement that came out of it would likely be worth the investment. Ground was broken in early 1994.

The new federal cabinet in Canada has been lauded for its diversity, but its makeup highlights the erasure of Black Canadians in our discussions on diversity:

For many black Canadians, especially those of us doing the difficult labour of anti-racism, Trudeau’s pithy Because it’s 2015” answer struck a far different note than intended. The sight of the prime minister — a young and handsome white man — succinctly dispensing with the notion that gender parity in his cabinet should even need to be explained, right after implying that a cabinet lacking black Canadians is a cabinet that looks like Canada, was by no means an unfamiliar one. Our story in this country, as reflected by white-dominated media and an education system birthed from the womb of colonialist white supremacy, is a story of existing only when we are granted permission.

While we’re making progress in increasing awareness about mental health, the armchair diagnosis of celebrities like Kanye West puts that progress at risk:

It’s telling to see who is allowed” to be openly depressed, and who is not. The fact that depression can be nearly fetishized in Twitter accounts that seem to cater to young white women and viewed fearfully and dismissively in the case of a rapper like Kanye is particularly resonant. Communities of color and black people in particular are much less likely to receive adequate mental health care, and since 1993 the suicide rate among black children aged 9 to 11 (yes, you read that right) had more than doubled, in comparison to a decline for whites in the same age group.

But armchair diagnoses—the endpoint of mental health talk on Twitter—are always reductive and often actively harmful. Delivered haphazardly, a diagnosis of a celebrity’s mental illness perpetuates the stigma surrounding people with mental health issues—by and large, people much less powerful than Kanye—and it also furthers the notion that anyone behaving in a particular way must have some modicum of mental health issues, and is exerting correspondingly less control over his own actions.

As part of work, I’ve been doing a lot of research on physician-assisted dying, so these two pieces (By the time you read this, I’ll be dead and In assisted dying, remember this: We all are fragile) are quite poignant:

Living in a society that values independence over interdependence, we fear becoming a burden or losing the capacities that we think make us valuable or loved. Instead, we must be independent and strong, rather than vulnerable and weak. We dare not ask others to care for us. We feel shame when we imagine ourselves needing others — even when we think of needing our family and kin.

This fear is not a healthy state of mind. It is a symptom of how we view vulnerability and our responsibilities to one another. In a society where we show compassion and afford dignity to everyone, we do not need to fear the transition from one phase of life to the next. It is part of our humanity that we provide care to one another, and also that we receive care from one another.

We lived in the neighborhood adjacent to Regent Park for a few years before moving to London, and used all the services (like the pool and the parks) in the area. So glad to see the revitalization of the neighborhood getting some love in international media:

Until not too long ago, the mention of Regent Park here in central Toronto brought to mind cockroaches and drug-fueled gang violence. It was an embarrassing stain on a progressive city that for decades had welcomed immigrants fleeing war, famine and poverty only to leave them trapped in an isolated collection of decrepit brick apartment blocks where crime and despair took root.

Hard lessons have been learned, and today, an ambitious rejuvenation plan for the 69-acre neighborhood, with the aquatic center as its centerpiece and a ring of condos that are helping to pay for new subsidized and affordable rental housing, is disrupting entrenched notions of class, race and religion at a time when concerns about income inequality and immigration are growing in the West.

The new Rihanna Work” video shot in Toronto’s The Real Jerk restaurant brought back memories of growing up in Toronto in the 90s and going to dancehall parties. We used to dance. We used to dance and party and laugh and sing and smoke and drink and then dance some more. The video felt like a replay of actual life events, of what partying used to be like when I was sixteen and seventeen, where we would dance with reckless abandon with anyone that was there, strangers and friends alike, and move to the rhythm, together, of the dancehall coming through the speakers until the next dance partner came along.

I miss those days, so I’ve been fascinated recently by reading about the video and the resurgence of dancehall culture:

Dancing and sex are tied together in America—if you’re dancing with somebody that means you’re sleeping with somebody. But that doesn’t mean that in our culture it’s the same. In West Indian culture, you’re dancing with someone because you’re dancing with someone. You’re having fun. […]

It’s just a dance. I like the world seeing what that is and I like seeing people dance, guys and girls dancing together. It’s a big missing element of our world right now. Men don’t dance and women don’t dance. The men don’t dance at all and when they do they’re grinding and pumping. A man and a woman should be able to dance together without everyone thinking they’re sleeping together! You just dance. When the song is done, step away from one another. If you want to stay together—if not, move on! […]

It’s the same culture, right? It’s a dance culture. It doesn’t matter where you’re at, if you play the music and there’s room to dance, they’re going to dance. Even if there’s not room to dance, they’re going to find room to dance. I wanted to do something different from what you’ve seen so far. I feel like [in this video] I didn’t make it fully clear that it’s a restaurant. You did see the woman cooking, which I’m glad is there because I didn’t want it to just be, Oh that’s some West Indian club.” I wanted to give you that piece of the culture. That’s why you feel that connection. It has a different vibe than a nightclub. There’s no couches where bottles are served. There are tables where people ate.