“Create No Garbage” and Other Flawed Heuristics

Awhile back Buzzfeed video made this video about trying to make no trash for a month. The young woman who made the video tried to eliminate her garbage creation for a whole month. She apparently did this mainly by choosing foods that don’t include packaging (bulk foods, produce, etc) and by composting food waste. She also talks to experts on waste about the quantities people create.

I’m torn about this kind of stunt. Decreasing trash is in a general sense a good idea because a lot of packaging materials are excessive and therefore require excessive resources to create, and moving trash around uses resources. But landfills are less of a problem than people think, and trying to solve environmental problems on an individual (rather than systemic) level can result in making decisions that may actually increase environmental impact. In particular, when we respond to environmental issues on an individual level by applying some simple heuristic, such as “create no trash,” we may instead create other problems.

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“Create No Garbage” and Other Flawed Heuristics

Not Just Flipping Burgers

When people discuss raising the minimum wage some argue that people should not be paid more for “just flipping burgers.” Often their image of a low wage job is something they consider easy, and they don’t really think about all of the awful parts of those jobs. They imagine “flipping burgers” to be like cooking a meal in their own kitchen, not an 8 hour shift on their feet in a hot kitchen. They don’t imagine hauling out big bags of greasy dripping trash to a dumpster several times a day. They don’t know that you have to smack that dumpster a few times before opening it, or you’ll end up with a rat jumping out at you. They don’t think of the manager who keeps cutting their hours, and thus their pay, every time things slow down.

Those who disparage low wage workers don’t know about the aspects of those jobs that never appear on the job descriptions. They don’t know about the hotel housekeepers who are constantly sexually harassed by guests. They don’t know that the night auditor at that same hotel has to try to get the passed out drunk guest up off the hallway floor almost every night. They never realize that the cashier at the grocery store has to listen to that guy with no boundaries tell his entire life story every week, and she has to smile while he does it and look like she cares the whole time because her boss is watching.

They don’t have to hear “I guess it’s free then!” every single time an item doesn’t scan. Every time. All day. All week. All year. They don’t have to try desperately not to scream in the face of the next person who says it, and laugh like the joke is clever.

The person who says “minimum wage is supposed to be for high school students and low-skill workers” doesn’t understand the skill it takes to carefully de-escalate the customer who throws a full-blast tantrum because he has just been told “no.” They do not recognize the problem solving skills required to calculate the fastest way to get from your second work shift of the day to the daycare center to pick up your kid on time.

They think that because a job doesn’t require a college degree it doesn’t require skills, because they don’t recognize the things these employees do as skills. They believe the work is easy because if they see these jobs at all they only see a few moments of a long shift in a long week.

All work should be paid a living wage, because after fighting off rats in the alley the burger flipper should get to have a good meal too.

Not Just Flipping Burgers

Environmental Worldview

I am coming close to finishing my degree in Environmental Science and was asked by a professor to write about my environmental worldview. What follows is my response to that assignment.

The world is an old and natural place, built and maintained by physical forces, and occupied by chemical living things that evolve and change over time. I do not believe that life has intrinsic purpose, or that this planet we live on exists for us, any more than it exists for any other species, extant or extinct. I believe that the forces that control Earth and all life on it are natural, understandable, and even predictable with the right knowledge. Since humans have rational brains that are able to learn about our world, we also have a moral obligation to make choices that will keep the world a livable place for our fellow humans and other species.

My sense of justice requires that I try not to make the world harder for others that I share this world with. This means that I want to work for environmental justice, especially focusing on people who have had environmental harms pushed on them by a racist, classist, and ableist culture. This means that I want fight policies that lead to the destruction of the land of indigenous people, or that lead to climate change that disproportionately impacts developing nations. The same groups of people who have been economically and socially marginalized in the United States and around our globalized world also experience environmental injustice and I believe my efforts to improve the world must be focused on these people.
I also believe that humans are not the only species worthy of my efforts, and that humans should not destroy other species for our own ends. I am outraged by the rate of species loss created by environmental harm caused by human activity. I believe that we have a responsibility to preserve the planet not just as a place that humans can live, but as a place where we can coexist with the other life.

I also believe that the best way to make decisions is to ensure that those decisions are informed by accurate facts. I do not want to make my environmental decisions based on what feels good, but on what the best scientific knowledge shows. I believe that while scientific methods do not always come up with the correct answers, they are still the best methods we have to understand the world and predict outcomes. When I work based on scientific consensus, rather than fallacy or propaganda, I believe my work will be most likely to have the outcomes I desire.

I understand that working from a scientific basis means making hard choices. I do not believe that science will bring us a panacea through technology, but that technology may be one part of larger tactics to make the world a better place. Sometimes the facts show us that any decision we make will have consequences that we do not desire. It can frustrating for individuals and for cultures to decide between environmental causes and economic ones, for example. But I believe that in the long run protecting the environment from further harm is usually the best choice for everyone, because we need to think not only of ourselves, but of other people, species, and the future.

Environmental Worldview

Missing Niki

When I started playing the Mass Effect series I named my Commander Shepherd “Niki.” Niki Massey was such a geek. She loved those games, especially around the time I played through them, and naming my character for her felt appropriate and I loved and gushing about the game together on Twitter. I was so grateful to her for talking about her love for those games because I would not have gotten to enjoy them without her.

Others have written beautifully about who Niki was, but I knew her best as a geek. Niki and I first met at Convergence, when I was a timid newbie to the Skepchick network, and she was incredibly friendly to me there. Two years later when I returned to Convergence we geeked out about her new costume together and shared in our mix of both loving, and struggling with, the party atmosphere. Niki understood my conflict with that perhaps better than anyone else, but over and over she dressed fabulously (I adored her cool outerspace dress) and turned out to party because she cared so deeply for her community of geeky atheist friends.

When we talked it was about video games and cats. Niki was accepting and welcoming of me and my friendship in an intense way I treasure when I find it. Everyone who knew her knew that Niki accepted no bullshit, but she was also able to see good in people and accepted me without hesitation.

What Niki was able to accept so easily in me and others, she struggled with accepting in herself. It is sometimes harder to deal with our own weaknesses or struggles than those others experience, and she was no exception to this. She could be HARD on herself, and reassuring her of her value didn’t always work. Now, though, all I want is more time to tell her over and over how important she is to me.

But I can’t.

Missing Niki

Invasion of the Cisgender Heterosexuals

CN: Generally terrible and abusive behavior towards people across the queer community.

Usage note: “Cishet” is short for “Cisgender and heterosexual.”

On August 11th The Daily Beast published an article that was basically a straight man ogling the cruising culture of gay and bisexual men at the Olympics. There was no particular point to the article other than heterosexual fascination with the sexuality of queer athletes. In the process he outed several of these men, giving enough information to easily identify some of them, without caring if their careers, families, or lives may be threatened by being outed. Many writers have responded to this article with outrage, including Greta Christina here on The Orbit, leading to Daily Beast eventually taking it down, but of course nothing ever really goes away on the internet.

Last weekend a transgender performer called Valentine Steaphon was kicked out of a New York gay bar after a cis woman complained about her using the women’s bathroom. Steaphon says the security at the bar told her “Well we cater to straight women here,” which is not likely to be a big shock to anyone who has attended a drag show in a gay bar recently. Cishet women are a huge part of the audience for these shows, and bars have increasingly geared their businesses towards that audience.

In fact, many people in the queer world have discussed the increasing prominence of cishet people in gay bars, at Pride events, and on hook-up apps. Those articles are only a tiny taste of the huge number of pieces out there about all of the ways cishet people are invading queer spaces.
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Invasion of the Cisgender Heterosexuals

Go Outside and Do Something! Except Not That

One of many criticisms of the millennial generation is that we spend too much time surfing the internet and playing video games, and we apparently don’t get outside enough. This accusation has been levied against us for our whole lives, since our early days of teething on Nintendo controllers. I do not remember a time in which people older than me did not lament “Go OUTSIDE! Do something!”

This week Niantic Labs (the same company that makes my beloved game Ingress) released a new game aimed directly at users mostly younger than me. Like Ingress, Pokemon GO is an augmented reality game, requiring players to actually move around in the real world in order to play. Those who want to play need to go outside and do something, just like we’ve all been told we should.
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Go Outside and Do Something! Except Not That

Getting My Beloved Beverage Back

Until last October it was pretty rare to see me without a Diet Pepsi in my hand. I was a deeply devoted fan of the stuff, and had been for many years, ever since my days working third shift in dorms and through many years of overtime hours in a terrible, boring office job.

Then last fall Pepsi Co. decided to discontinue the use of aspartame in many of its products, including Diet Pepsi due to declining sales that Pepsi Co. thought were due to people’s fears about aspartame’s safety. Those fears are completely unfounded but that doesn’t stop people from believing things. They replaced the sweetener with sucralose, a newer artificial sweetener.
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Getting My Beloved Beverage Back

Grief Is Weird

CN: Pulse shooting, sort of. Pet death. Particularly for my poly family, this is about Jordan.

Grief is fucking weird.

The tears finally came. I’ve “teared up” more times than I can count since Sunday morning. Finally, now I have cried. Sobbed. Certainly not for the last time, but the first comes with some relief.

It was triggered by a fucking commercial for dog food of course. Because although I have not talked about it much, a dog I love enormously passed away in April. Jordan was an incredibly sweet, loving, happy dog who lacked significantly in the brains department. My metamour and I joked that we wished Boyfriend would love us like he loved her. She was a big dog, and insisted on cuddles from Boyfriend by trying to be a lap dog. He never said no, as far as I saw. It filled me with joy to see them together, because it was compersion every time. Beings I loved, loving each other.


This picture is of Jordan (black) and Bailey (brown). I take shit photographs, and Jordan refused to be in good photos for me, so this is the only one of her I have. My family got a few in the last few days of her life (because then she’d hold still) but they’re too hard for me to look at.

When I slept in Boyfriend’s bed, Jordan slept between my legs, pinning me down very effectively. When I came home to the family house she would greet me with pure joy at my presence, while the other two dogs show more complicated feelings*. She was pure hierarchical polyamory – loving Boyfriend most of all, but happy to share cuddles with any of the rest of us otherwise. I miss her so much.

So now, today, the grief I have been trying to deal with since Sunday morning let loose…. over my grief for Jordan’s death. I didn’t get to say goodbye to her. I miss her so much.

Grief over any one thing brings up our other grief over others. This is normal, I’m told. But today, while heartbroken and angry over a hate crime in Orlando I finally broke down in sobs over the death of my family’s wonderful dog.

*Not that complicated. Bailey is willing to graciously accept my scritches and Babs hates me with every fiber of her being until I have been in the house for at least a half an hour, then she insists on cuddles.

Grief Is Weird

A Well Founded Fear of Violence

CN: Discussion of Orlando shooting, the shooter himself, hate speech, and my own fears about violence.

Drunk, loud, and belligerent. That’s what the news is saying those who had run into the shooter at Pulse said about him. He’d previously been thrown out for being drunk, loud, and belligerent. These facts are leaving me even more freaked out. See, I work in the service sector, and I work at night.

I work with drunk people.
I work with loud people.
I work with belligerent people.
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A Well Founded Fear of Violence

How Many Harmed While The Courts Work?

Each time the news of a discriminatory law passing, or a terrible school board decision is passed around, someone replies “That won’t stand up in court” or something similar. In my experience this happens both in person and on social media, and often then devolves into a discussion of the legal and constitutional merits of the law or rule. This discussion generally takes place among people who are not lawyers, and more importantly those who are not part of the class being discriminated against.

Sometimes they are wrong. Courts don’t always end up on the right side of a discriminatory issue in the long run. But even when they are right, the legal system takes time, and while that time is passing the discriminatory laws have real impact.
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How Many Harmed While The Courts Work?