Tag: state of the world

Tearing down the rainbow

I was waiting for a friend in the surgery waiting room. Beside me, a mother was reading to her daughter on her lap. It must have been a kid’s science book or something. I heard mum say ‘lightning’, ‘space’ and ‘plants’.

The mother read, “Sometimes, after when it rains, there is a beautiful rainbow in the sky.” The little girl bounced up and down. Mum asked her, “Do you know how rainbows are made?”

“Oh! Oh! I know this, I really do!” The girl was excited. She concentrated. “Mmmmm…I do know… After lots of rain, God made the rainbow to promise that it would never rain lots again!” She looked at mum, triumphant that she had remembered her lessons.

Mum laughed. “Er…yes. That’s… one way to say it. Another way is that sunlight can be split up into lots of colours. Did you know that?”

“No!” the girl cried.

Mum ploughed on. “The light gets split up in the raindrops… But I wonder why the rainbow is curved?”

The look on the little girl’s face — it was like she had just been told Santa didn’t exist.

Weapons of mass production

Last December, I heard that the New York Board of Health banned restaurants from serving food with trans fat. More specifically, the law:

…allows restaurants six months to switch to oils, margarines and shortening used for frying and spreading that have less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving. After 18 months, all other food items – including all margarines and shortenings – must contain less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving.

I had never heard of trans fat, which I read greases the slippery slope towards heart disease. I thought, ‘Ah, those fatty New Yorkers. It’s probably all that gloopy stuff in super-pizzas, fried chicken and chips. I don’t have to worry. I eat healthily.’

But look what I’ve discovered! This PDF flyer publicising the ban tells me that trans fats are not only in deep fried and fast foods, they’re also in margarine and ‘most baked goods’.

‘Most baked goods’? What does this mean? Am I doomed because I like muffins?

Here it is again, the line-up of the condemned.

  • Vegetable oils used for frying, baking, and cooking
  • Shortening (hard vegetable oil)
  • Margarine and other spreads
  • Prepared foods, including:
    • Pre-fried foods, such as French fries, fried chicken, chicken nuggets, fish fillets, chips, taco shells, and doughnuts
    • Baked goods, such as hamburger buns, pizza dough, crackers, cookies, cakes, pies, and pastries
    • Pre-mixed ingredients, such as pancake mix, hot chocolate, salad dressing, croutons, and breadcrumbs

What a frighteningly comprehensive list!

To be honest, I don’t often eat those (yummy, yummy) kinds of food so I’m not going to be changing my lifestyle. However, I’m suddenly sympathetic to all the restaurateurs scratching their heads, trying to figure out how to make cheesecakes and croissants without breaking the law.

Her Royal Majesty, Joanium

I’m reading The Divine Right of Capital by Majorie Kelly, which is essentially a critique of the prevalent unquestioned self-evident truth that companies exist to profit shareholders. That is, for the majority of companies, the measure of success is how much wealth they generate for stockholders. And sometimes, it is necessary to trade in the welfare of employees, communities and the environment to achieve this aim.

I began reading this book with a certain level of hostility. In fact, I am still wary. I am wary because:

  1. Bloody hippies, kill them all.
  2. I am a shareholder and I’m not evil.
  3. I couldn’t imagine a different world, where society was arranged so that companies naturally delight in increasing community wealth, instead of being pressured to do it by regulators. (Okay, so now I’ve revealed myself for the right wing economic rationalist that I am. Yeah, that’s right. I’ve only been pretending to care about the environment and people and all that other crap.)

I haven’t converted or anything as wholesale as that but there was a turning point in my thinking in my early readings of the book. Ms Kelly seems to have anticipated my lack of imagination. She says approximately, “Once upon a time, the aristocratic class lived off the productivity of peasants, while contributing nothing themselves. It seems ludicrous now but in those times, it was simply the natural order of things. Some people were closer to God than others. How could it be any different? In much the same way, we accept that the only way companies can work [innovate, be productive, compete] is when they’re driven to generate profits for shareholders, who really contribute nothing to the productivity of companies.”

This was a useful analogy for me, not because I was convinced that shareholders are modern day aristocrats (read: societal deadweight) but I was suddenly able to conceive that truths and foundations that seem self-evident now may not be self-evident and essential in some future.


As I read further, I started thinking about these rich young (or old) things, canny investors, people who caught the wave and are so invested up that they can live off their passive income (dividends, rent, interest etc.). They drive around in their Porches, hop between holiday homes, may choose to work or choose to play golf depending on the weather. In all the investment books that I’ve read, this is the ultimate goal, right? “Make your money work for you!” they cry. It’s what the smart people do. It’s what I’ve been trying to do ‘coz I’m a smart person.

Now I’m thinking, “Is this fair? Is this desirable? How can there be people who live so comfortably off other people’s labour without having to contribute to the community? Are these the new aristocrats?”

And that makes me uneasy because maybe I am evil after all.

What should I do? Do I stop investing? Stop buying shares that produce dividends? Stop putting my money in the bank? Should I live on my salary alone? Isn’t that really stupid? If the system’s there, why not educate myself and use it to my advantage? If I think it is unethical, can I protest the system with the left corner of my mouth while telling my stockbroker to ‘buy buy buy’ with the right corner of my mouth?

I don’t know. I don’t know.

I am Woman

Yesterday, six of us went to a Thai restaurant to celebrate the end of the last audit. Celebratory dinners seem to have become a tradition.

The food was flavoursome and the conversation was extremely stimulating. I was surrounded by five of the most intelligent, experienced and wise people I know.

Yet, the discussion made me feel… sad. Critical thinking, such a driver and tool for scientific and social advancement, makes me sad.

Those older and wiser than me explained why our company, despite the progressive field we work in, does not encourage innovation and change. It’s our systems, it’s the nature of the consulting industry. Where time is exactly equivalent to money, it is a battle to even allow time to think further than one financial year into the future.

Don’t tell me that, please. Don’t warn me of frustrations and barriers I haven’t yet faced. Don’t disillusion me about this company that I love working for.

The women at the table railed against society’s ingrained culture of gender discrimination. “Joan,” they assured me, “Sex discrimination is definitely alive. We see it all the time, women not getting the same opportunities as men.”

“Even in our company?”

“Even in our company.”

To which I could only protest in bewilderment, “I’ve never, never experienced discrimination. I’m getting paid the same as the male graduates, surely. I’m have the same responsibilities and privileges. I’ve experienced nothing but support being a woman in engineering.”

“Ah, but look at management. Look how male-dominated it is.”

“Isn’t that historic? Isn’t only a matter of time before there are capable women in these roles? And who’s to say women even want to be in these roles?”

Oh, I know the arguments about how business is built around the male culture. To succeed, you must be aggressive. You must be ruthless. For women to succeed in business, they must be more… like men.

Is that fair?

Maybe that’s what my dinner companions meant. Maybe they’re demanding not female representation in management for the sake of numerical equality. Maybe they’re demanding a change in corporate culture so that women can contribute in their more empathetic, multi-tasking, communicative, no-sense-of-direction way.

Woe. Woe.

Arts bitterness

One morning, I wanted to treat myself to a hot drink. I considered awarding my patronage to Gloria Jeans, Hudsons, Coffee HQ or some other coffee chain store but then I decided to support local business. I walked into a new coffee shop near the train station. Staff there had been trying to woo me in for weeks with their free raisin toast samples and mo’aves.

“One soy latte please,” I said to the attendant.

“Sure,” she said brightly. She tapped a fellow staff member on the shoulders to pass on the message. He got to work straight away.

“So,” she said in a friendly way, “What do you do?”

I was a little surprised by the directness of her conversation starter (What happened to ‘How are you today?’) but I proudly said, “I’m an environmental engineer.”

“Where do you work?”

“Just over there, in that building.” I felt the need to add something. “I only started a few months ago.”

“Oh!” she exclaimed. “So you did one of those degrees that actually gets you a job.”

Whoa. I stepped back a little.

“Um. Yeah. Environmental engineering. It’s quite vocational…”

“I did Arts. Lucas here did Graphic Design.”

Lucas stiffened and continued making my soy latte in uncomfortable silence.

“Oh.” I tried to nod understandingly. Quick! Say something not condescending! “…Do you find yourself using your skills now? This seems like a pretty… funky place.”

“Nah. Not really.” She looked at me expectantly.

(Cautiously) “Is that disappointing?”

“Yeah. I guess. But we all knew when we were at uni that we weren’t going to get jobs. We were expecting it. Now I want to do Education so I can get a job.”

“Ah… Some of my friends who did Arts have done that and they love Education now.”

“Yeah,” she nodded enthusiastically. “But, you know, I kind of look back on it and think, ‘What was the point of those three years?’ “

“Surely it wasn’t a waste of three years, though…” I murmured.

“One soy latte.” Lucas had spoken for the first time. He pushed my take-away cup towards me.

“Thanks.” I wrapped my fingers around the insulated hotness.

“See you next time!” she called as, stepping back onto the street, I walked towards my professional career.