Quick Questions: Waste

We are a very wasteful society. I don’t think there’s any question about that. But a lot of the waste we generate is in the interest of health, safety, and cleanliness. When you see any medical provider, they have disposable gloves and masks and all of the tools are sealed in one-time-use plastic. Whenever a repair or service person comes to your home, they have disposable booties they put over their shoes. Food service has disposable gloves and masks and hairnets. Disposable wipes and paper towels have replaced sponges, mops, and cloth towels. The question is: Are we any cleaner, safer, or healthier now than we were when we washed our hands and reused things more often than not? Is all of this useful or merely performative?

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Quick Questions: Renewables

Climate activists are always talking about renewable sources of energy. Why is that? The danger isn’t running out of fuel. Fossil fuels can last a long, long time. The danger is putting carbon (and other greenhouse gasses) in the air. Are people that afraid of nuclear energy? Should they be?

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Keep What Going?

Photo by Bahman Adlou on Unsplash

It’s election season again. Not that it ever really ends, but we’re less than a month away from Election Day. So, the usual decorations (lawn signs, billboards, Op-Eds) are out in full force. I always find it a bit funny that people pay less attention to odd-year elections. They have a bigger impact on our day to day lives than other elections, but that’s neither here nor there. My medium sized suburb of Newington is electing our mayor, town council, and board of education. In recent elections, the parties have gotten a lot more coordinated. All the Republicans have matching themed signs, plug the whole slate, etc. The Democrats do the same thing. The incumbent mayor is a Republican. And the messaging across all of the Republican signs is that we should vote Republican to, “Keep it going.”

This strikes me as perhaps the strangest rallying cry ever. They don’t say, or even hint at, what “it” is. And, the past few years have been really, pretty, objectively crappy. So, I’ve been wracking my brains trying to find out what the Republicans in my town want to keep going so I can decide if I should vote for them or not. Here’s what I’ve been thinking:

Keep the pandemic going. This is the most obvious interpretation. Nothing has been more top of mind the past two years than the pandemic. Plus, it would help explain all those “Unmask Our Kids” signs and the resistance to vaccination. But “we want our residents to continue to get sick and die” is odd messaging, even for Republicans.

Keep the joblessness going. Politicians usually brag about all the jobs they’ve created. This is a bold strategy, but I guess it’s possible.

Keep the empty storefronts going. Instead of talking about how the town has lots of successful businesses, they are highlighting the fact that there is plenty of space. Interesting.

Keep the education gap going. I’m sure it builds character or something.

Keep the homeless beggars going. Even our town’s worst off are plucky and resourceful.

Keep the mental health crisis going. It’s good for the booze industry, the drug trade, and even some health care providers.

I know the Newington Republicans can’t really be blamed for these things, but there’s precious little else happening to keep going with. There was a referendum a couple years ago to see if we wanted to make repairs to one of the schools. It passed by a wide margin, but the current administration has been dragging their feet and not letting the work happen. Maybe they want to keep the foot dragging going? Or keep the ignoring of the resident’s wishes going? I’m stumped. What do you think the town Republicans want to keep going?

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Breast Cancer Awareness Month – What Happened to Mommy’s Boobs?

Seven and a half years ago, I self-published a short eBook called What Happened to Mommy’s Boobs. This is what I had to say about it at the time:

A short time ago, a good friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer. When I asked her if there was anything I could do, she responded by asking me to write and illustrate a poem in the style of Dr. Seuss called, “What Happened to Mommy’s Boobs”. Since I’m usually game for a challenge, and not likely to say no to a cancer patient, I gave it my best effort. This is the result. My only goal was make my friend smile. Apparently, it worked and she suggested I publish it. Again, since I’m not likely to say no to a cancer patient, here it is. I hope it makes you smile, too. And, even if it fails to make you smile, rest assured that some good will come from the experience. I will donate $1.58 to Dana Farber’s breast cancer research for each copy sold.

This is what my friend said when it was published:

On a dare, I asked my brilliant friend Gene Glotzer to write a story about how a mother would explain breast cancer to her daughter. There were some stipulations though. He had to write in the style of Dr. Seuss, he had to illustrate it, and it had to be about me. A tall order, I thought. Impossible, in fact. But he did it. What he has created is a wonderfully illustrated book of verse. If you know me and you know Gene, this may be even funnier. If you’ve been affected by breast cancer or you know someone who has, then you may find this delightful. Please consider purchasing this book on amazon. Gene has committed proceeds to go to a breast cancer charity. And get those mammograms! xoxo

It has been a while since I actively promoted the book. I’d love to sell more copies, but life and work and family keep me pretty busy. At work yesterday, we had a wear-pink-for-breast-cancer-awareness day and that got me thinking about my old book again. Breast cancer still sucks and I’d like to do more with what time I have, so here’s a start.

And, if you’re curious, my friend is cancer free and doing great, although we haven’t managed to hang out in ages.

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Quick Questions: Nation States

Many people blame capitalism for many of the world’s ills. Most, if not all, of these problems have been present in non-capitalist societies, too. Do you ever wonder if capitalism is not actually to blame? Might these be political problems rather than economic? Do you think competitive nation states might be the actual cause of our problems?

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Quick Questions: Prohibition

There are two sides to every story, or so the saying goes. The exception that proves the rule, however, is prohibition. No one ever says what the positives of prohibition were. We hear about the crime and infringement on freedoms without a counterbalance. That’s extraordinary. Even when discussing fascists, people take the time to mention that they got the trains running on schedule. It’s my understanding that prohibition was actually a feminist issue. Can anyone enlighten me? What is the other side of the story of prohibition?

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The Skeevy Anesthesiologist

Photo by Matías Ramos on Unsplash

I’m currently writing something about capacities and how they relate to morality. I thought of a scenario and just assumed it had been written about and discussed before. So, I tried to find some of the discussion. Unfortunately, I came up empty. This scenario is so obvious that I can’t believe I’m the first person to think of it. Not being in academia, a lot of the literature is behind paywalls and not accessible to me. That’s my best guess for why I can’t find anything. But, even if that’s the case, it’s strange that this hasn’t been popularized like Trolley Problems and Chinese Rooms. So, I figured I’d give my two cents.

Here’s the scenario*:

There’s an anesthesiologist. Whenever he gets a female patient, he cups her breasts while she’s under. He does no physical damage and leaves no evidence. He gets a thrill out of it and no one else, including the patient, ever know that it happened. Is he doing something wrong?

I’m pretty sure that everyone, at least I hope everyone, agrees that the anesthesiologist is doing something wrong. It’s a violation or molestation or assault or something like that. But why? His act has only one consequence, it gives him some pleasure. No one feels any pain or displeasure at all. No one’s life is affected in any way except for the anesthesiologist, and his life is better for it. It seems like a strict utilitarian has to say that the anesthesiologist is doing good. He is increasing the sum total of happiness at no cost.

I can’t accept that, though. He is clearly doing something wrong, very wrong. But I can’t come up with a coherent reason why without needing the help of things I don’t believe in. It’s easy if you believe that God sees all or something like that. It’s also easy if you think of goodness as being an essence and anyone who would grope a patient is missing at least some of that essence. But, I don’t believe those things. Maybe the categorical imperative or some form of contractualism could be formulated for this scenario, but I don’t exactly believe those either. Virtue ethics could stipulate that it’s wrong because a good person wouldn’t form that habit, but I can’t think how it would explain what makes the act wrong. That’s why I really wanted to see what people had written about this scenario and why I’m so disappointed that I can’t find anything.

Anyway, if you have any thoughts that might help, let me know. Or if you know of any discussions that I’ve missed, please point me in the right direction. Philosophers like to talk about violinists being grafted onto your body and brains in vats. I can’t believe a pretty run of the mill pervert has never come up before.

*I feel like I need to explain where this came from. I was trying to think of the basis for something being wrong. Every bad thing that I thought of had bad consequences or set a bad precedent. So, I started to wonder if there are any bad things that don’t have bad consequences or set bad precedents. This is what I thought of. I know it couldn’t happen. Anesthesiologists work as part of a team, for starters. (Although, if the rest of the team were in on it and enjoyed it, it would create even more pleasure. . .) In my defense, it’s not like the Ship of Theseus or the Ring of Gyges are particularly realistic.

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A New Chapter

Photo by Mwesigwa Joel on Unsplash

It’s been a big September for me. My tutoring job is back on campus for the first time since March of 2020. I got a new job as a permanent building substitute teacher in a middle school. And I started taking classes to get my teaching certification. It’s going to be a busy nine months. People who have known me as an adult for a while probably think it’s about time. I should have done this years ago. People who knew me when I was a student are probably laughing at the irony of me being a teacher. Either way, it’s a big change. The change feels even bigger because of COVID. I interacted with more people last week than I had in the last year and a half combined. We’re wearing masks, I’m vaccinated, and all that, but I’m still hyper aware of it.

I’m not even sure why I’m telling you about this. I have no real idea what my daily life will look like for the next year. I’m hoping I find a groove by the end of the month. I want to continue writing. I think the baseball writing has been going well. (If you haven’t yet, check it out. I’d love some feedback.) And I’m still submitting things, so maybe more stories or essays will pop up soon. I guess I’m mostly just looking to mark my beginning. That way, I can look back next year and see how far I’ve traveled.

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Quick Questions: Never Forget

Every September 11th we are told, quite adamantly and passionately, to “Never Forget.” Barring severe injury or illness, it is very unlikely that we would ever forget a day like that. That raises the question, when they say, “Never Forget,” what is it that they want from us?

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Photo by Joshua Olsen on Unsplash

The current conversation around labor is odd. Many (most?) labor advocates still talk about their fight in Marxist terms. Never mind the more theoretical aspects of Marxism, his views on history and progress, etc., and just look at labor. Labor, in this view, is the foundation for all value. Capitalism developed when labor was commodified, allowing the bourgeoisie, the capitalists, to exploit the labor of others to steal that value. (I know this is a gross oversimplification. There are plenty of places to get a more detailed and nuanced view. That’s not my point here, so please bear with me.) They did this through the control of the means of production. Since people first read Marx, there has been debate about the validity of this view. What I find odd is that with all the changes the world has seen in the last 200 years we are still using the same terms in the same way for the debate.

How elastic should the definitions of labor and value and capitalism and means of production be? When I listen to, and read, these debates, I find myself wondering if we even live in a capitalist society anymore. Capital used to be used to exploit labor to make commodities that were sold in markets to enrich the capitalists. That does still happen, but many of the ultra-wealthy no longer participate. They don’t worry about selling commodities in the market, they trade financial instruments with each other. Add to that the fact that they have discovered that they can make a fortune by allowing the workers to own shares of capital. All of these concepts have become muddy, to say the least. You can contort them to fit the modern world, but is that the best way to move forward?

I do not believe it is. By framing the debate with such old-fashioned notions, it is limiting our options for solutions. In the old way of looking at things, where labor is the source of all value, but capitalists exploit labor, people feel like they need to keep labor. Otherwise there would be no value for anyone. The trick is to let labor keep its value instead of being exploited. Ideas for doing this range from collective ownership of the means of production to minimum wage laws. Overtime, social-security, welfare, the weekend, and many other things have been used to work towards the goal.

We need to be bolder. Labor and value need a divorce. We’ve been operating under the assumption that work is good and it’s the exploitation we need to fix. In fact, work is bad. It has been a necessary evil for a good chunk of human history, at least since we decided to stop being a foraging species. We have moved past that. We’ve reached a point of abundance. The goal can no longer be to keep labor and end the exploitation. We need to abolish labor.

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