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Archive for the ‘philosophy’ Category

As I watch Logan and Kaia gleefully investigate their piles of loot (Dad, what’s a Milky Way? Mom, I have FOUR Kit-Kats!) I remember my own gloriously gluttonous nights of sugar-induced satisfaction. I remember my bag filling with each trick-or-treat until it was so heavy I had to switch hands every few steps. And I remember my eyes getting bigger as I sat on the living room floor and dumped the contents of my bag into an ever-growing pile of chocolate-covered decadence.

 

Sometimes excess is just plain fun. Sometimes.

I was reminded of a Philosophy Bites podcast where scholar Roger Crisp explains that we’ve done a great job of mucking up Aristotle’s idea of moderation by repeating something he never wrote but is now credited with: “Do everything in moderation.” According to Roger, Aristotle didn’t advocate the kind of moderation we now associate with the statement: a constant striving for a “middle ground” with no variation. Instead, Aristotle took a longer view, one that suggested our extremes should balance out over the course of our lives, that the “mean” of all our actions would be a moderate, or virtuous, life. For Aristotle, too much austerity was just as immoderate as too much gluttony, and a day-to-day search for moderation would probably result in immoderation.

It’s analogous to good driving: if we’re looking at the bumper of the car right in front of us and making adjustments every few seconds, we’re reacting to inconsequential events and actually doing a pretty terrible job of driving; however, if we’re also looking ahead, appraising things from a distance, and reacting to events that are of consequence, then we’re doing a good job of driving. Incidentally, the drivers behind us will love us, too, because we’re not hitting our breaks every 25 seconds or swerving for pebbles.

There are practical and psychological sides to this idea as well. What fun is life without a little bit of over-the-top? And how do we know what excessive is unless we’ve experienced it? Roger’s example from the podcast had to do with righteous anger. Aristotle, he said, wouldn’t want us to moderate our response if something made us angry; we should express ourselves, even if the response might be immoderate. If we’re living a moderate life, then the immoderate release of anger would be balanced at some point by an immoderate use of compassion or some other balancing action. Of course, we can have excessive responses, or have an immoderate response at the wrong time. Aristotle’s thoughts on this are a bit more complex than I’m getting in to, here. Best to listen to the podcast if you want a full explanation.

So why am I boring you with Aristotle when I should be peeling my sugar-hyped kids of the ceiling? Because another thought came to mind as I watched Kaia and Logan bartering a Kit-Kat for a Butterfinger: our modern emphasis on “moderation” has resulted in an immoderate lifestyle. Those who would live a modern “moderate” lifestyle are living consistently gluttonous lives. Ever-expanding waistlines are most apparent evidence of this. I’m afraid many kids are not as excited about Halloween as I was when I was young because it’s really no different than a normal day for them.

No less immoderate are the lives of those who seek a countercultural “moderation” rooted in austerity. These kids have apples and carrots on Halloween. Maybe, if they’re lucky, they’ll get a “chocolate” cake made with carob and applesauce. Yummy.

What we need is a new definition of “moderate,” one that takes a long view and allows for excess. We won’t know “too much” unless we experience it. Likewise, we won’t know “too little” unless we experience that as well. Having experienced these excesses myself, I think the “moderate mean” needs to trend a lot closer to what we would define as austerity in our modern, overly consumptive world. Then we’d really appreciate events like Halloween; it would mark a departure from our normal lives. A bag full of candy would again be something to get excited about.

But it has to be a bag full of real candy. Just say no to carob.

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Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow

Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow

350.org is conducting a world wide event on October 24 to bring attention to the critical what-we-need-to-sustain-life-on-earth carbon number 350. We are at 387 and rising.

Every year since 1992, the United Nations hosts a two-week long conference for world leaders to meet and discuss what to do to about the global threat of climate change.

In December of 2009, this meeting will be in Copenhagen, Denmark. There, delegates, non-governmental organizations, and businesses from every nation will meet to finalize a new global climate change agreement.

350.org has launched a massive, first-of-its-kind campaign that spans the entire globe scheduled for October 24. Why? To let those people in Copenhagen know that everybody in the world knows about this carbon thing and to let them know they better do something about it for real. There are events taking place in 158 countries around the world.  This. Will. Be. HUGE. The events from around the world are being televised on the screen at Time Square. On the Monday after October 24th, the 350.org crew will be visiting UN headquarters in NYC to hand-deliver the photos to diplomats and delegates from around the world to make sure they know how much you want a global climate deal that meets the science.

I am going to give you the link for happenings here in SLO. Then you better check out the 350.org site. This is going to be something you are going to tell your kids about. You were there. You were part of it.

Here’s SLO stuff. DO IT. http://tinyurl.com/yzg5g2e

Go here to find out what you can do right now to get on this bandwagon http://www.350.org/9

Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow

Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow

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This is it, we’re off on the big trip to Austin via the Grand Canyon and Carlsbad Caverns, two places I have always wanted to visit and that I think the kids will love.

With an unplanned stop in Las Vegas.

That’s how I roll. Lots of plans followed by lots of changes in those plans.

Vegas is very intersting from a lot of perspectives (some much too interesting to talk about here), but the one that jumped out at me this trip was the now-ubiquitous “we conserve because we care” table tents. The ones that ask you to re-use your towels because it saves the planet.

It also happens to save the hotel a LOT of money. So it begs the question: is it okay if a company’s primary motivation for implementing a green methodology is financial instead of environmental? Does it make any difference to the planet if we conserve water and soap while the hotel conserves cash? I have some thoughts on this but I’d like to hear your POV in the comments first.

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So. I’m moving. To Austin. As in Texas. Packing up the family and leaving in two weeks.

Yes, this is a big deal. We’ve lived in SLO now for a little over 10 years. Both of my children were born here; my sister has lived her for six years; and, of course, my mom is here. It will be hardest on her.

I don’t make this decision lightly. I know what I’m leaving behind: the weather, the beach, our friends, Bellevue Santa Fe Charter School (where both Logan and Kaia were slated to go), and my family.

But, when I shift my perspective a little to the optimisitic (which is my tendency), I can see that I’m only really leaving behind a few things, fixed by geography. The beach and the weather are a total loss. It’s hot and sticky in Austin; the beach is 3 hours away–and it’s more like a lake so surfing is out.

But everything else comes with me, thanks in large part to the wonders of the Internet. Although talking to my mom over iChat isn’t exactly the same as having a cup of coffee in her living room, it’s a damn sight better than corresponding with handwritten letters sent by snail mail. And Facebook will keep us connected to SLO in ways that we couldn’t have been 10 years ago when we moved here from Grass Valley. (I have NO idea what’s going on in Grass Valley).

There are also many things that excite me about Austin: the progressiveness of the people and the local government; my sister in law and her family; the job market; the outdoor opportunities.

I’m also excited about the opportunities this presents Hole in the Fence. Imagine how cool it will be to observe the similarities and differences between sustainability programs and services, philosophies, approaches, and attitudes. In many ways Austin and SLO are similar, in others they seem very different. I can’t wait to explore and learn. I hope you’re as excited as I am and that you’ll make the journey with us. Virtually, at least.

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Apparently, so many people are interested in buying locally-grown produce that even the big guys like Pepsico, Foster Farms, and ConAgra have taken notice. They’re releasing marketing campaigns that tout their “local” credentials. You can read the whole NYT article here.

What do you think?

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This is the first paragraph of wikipedia’s definition of planned obsolescence:

Planned obsolescence or built-in obsolescence[1] is the process of a product becoming obsolete and/or non-functional after a certain period or amount of use in a way that is planned or designed by the manufacturer.[1] Planned obsolescence has potential benefits for a producer because the product fails and the consumer is under pressure to purchase again, whether from the same manufacturer (a replacement part or a newer model), or from a competitor which might also rely on planned obsolescence. [1] The purpose of planned obsolescence is to hide the real cost per use from the consumer, and charge a higher price than they would otherwise be willing to pay (or would be unwilling to spend all at once).

I had a 1940-something Maytag wringer washing machine that I bought  in the 80’s at a garage sale for $5.

I used it for the next 12 years. The only part I had to replace was the motor belt that would wear out. Our local appliance dealer had them in  stock. Planned obsolescence was NOT the marketing strategy  for this company in the ’40s.

I dare say the opposite strategy was the intent. The idea back in the beginning  was to get people to buy their product. Innovation was key; that and offering a product that filled a need. One of the main selling points was longevity for both the product and the company that was selling it.  Start-up companies had to  build a reputation and a name for themselves. Quality, durability, and reliability were the hallmarks. Maytag has been around since 1911. To write this post I checked out the History of Maytag, which was very interesting. F.L. Maytag had a great philosophy and created quite a few firsts for his company.

Quality and trust were paramount. Fredrick Louis Maytag 1909 said, “There is a factor that can not be measured in dollars and cents…the spirit and love that a true craftsman holds for his job.” If this is any indication of what it takes to be a success—and Maytag was very successful—I am hard-pressed to find anything comparable in today’s marketplace.

I am reminded on a daily basis how planned obsolescence plays a major role in my life, a constant reminder of things that just give out or give up, just quit or malfunction because of some minute computer chip, glitch, or flaw. I can not reasonably expect that my laptop, or even my stovetop,  is going to behave in a reliable manner given all the variables that sustain it.

When I was using the old Maytag washer I always had several spare belts on hand.  If one morning I needed to change the belt it was not an event that involved calling or making an appointment with a “genius”, getting into my car and driving somewhere, find and pay for a parking space, wait until my name is called only to learn that they will have to keep it for a week to “reprogram it.”

If I needed to change the belt I went into the junk drawer where the belt and pliers were. I loosened one nut, slid the old belt off, put the new belt on, tightened the nut, put the pliers away and I was good to go.  The part cost me $2.59 which I had on hand and 15 minutes of my time.  It was as good as new.

Why can’t today’s products and  technology make things that last?    Why does it have to be sooo expensive and so hard to maintain and keep up?  I had to throw my first laptop away because the screen started to get lines in it.  The hard drive was fine.   It would cost over  $800 to replace the screen.   I replaced the whole computer.  I could change the spark plugs, oil and pretty much maintain my vehicles which made life a lot easier and less expensive for me.   Now I can’t even find the spark plugs on the newer vehicles and it takes special computerized equipment I don’t own to talk to the on-board computer to find out where the spark plugs are.     I have a 1982 Toyota pickup. It runs great. Everything works great but it will not pass smog.  Why?  The one and only  computer chip that sends air to the carburetor is broken.  The chip cost $230 and the labor is $200.   I can’t do a thing about this.  It cost me $90 to have a mechanic tell me what the problem was.  The State says throw the truck away.  It is not worth fixing.  Again, what a waste.  But that is what planned obsolescence is all about isn’t it?   I grew up with an old saying you do not hear much anymore, Waste not, want not.  It made sense back then and I think it still does.

A disposal, throw-away, get-a-new-one mentality,  is what is making the world go round.  I think I liked it better when things were built to last, workers were proud of their work, and companies planned on being around as a trusted reliable source of goods and services for a long time.

To add insult to injury I tried to extend the warranty on my new computer. The company said no, you missed the one month window to renew.  We don’t want your insurance money.  This does not give me a lot of confidence. They know something I don’t.   They know I will be back in 3 years to replace this one.   I will have to pay 4 times as much for a new computer instead of them repairing the old one on my extended warranty.  In the mean time every upgrade, download, which I don’t want or need,  causes a chain reaction which causes more bugs, and more upgrades and things just get worse instead of better.  Not like replacing a worn out belt and making it as good as new.

Like I said at the beginning. And then, of course, there’s…

Style obsolescence

Marketing may be driven primarily by aesthetic design. Product categories in which this is the case display a fashion cycle. By continually introducing new designs and retargeting or discontinuing others, a manufacturer can “ride the fashion cycle”. Examples of such product categories include automobiles (style obsolescence), with a strict yearly schedule of new models, and the almost entirely style-driven clothing industry (riding the fashion cycle) and the mobile phone industries with constant minor feature ‘enhancements’ and restyling.

Don’t get me started on the switch from analog to digital.   This stuff drives me crazy.

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it occurred to me today what is so cool about grassroot movements. the cool thing is you are dealing with the principals. people in charge of everything.  they can change a light bulb or the direction of a company in the same breathe. things get done quicker and you feel more a part of what is happening. your input is important and makes a difference.  you can see things happening as you speak so to speak. it is actions-speak-louder-than-words in the flesh.  unlike a big company that is 46 menu options  and continents away from a real voice and all you end up saying is ‘what did you say’?  yea grassroots is the place to be if you want to make a difference and get something done. very empowering.  Fun for a change.

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